Updated: Feb 13
Before we talk about getting protein in our diets we first need to talk about what protein is and what it’s for.
Our bodies are mainly made of water, next in line after water is protein. Protein is a long chain-like molecule that is made up of small units known as amino acids, these join together in different combinations to make different proteins which our bodies use for different jobs. Proteins are used to grow, maintain, that is to look after, and replace the tissues that our bodies are made of, our muscles, organs, and immune systems are mostly made of protein. There are over 20 slightly different amino acids. Our bodies can make around 13 of these, but there are 9 amino acids that our body cannot make. These are called essential amino acids and we get these from our food.
Almost every food contains some proteins and those proteins can be either complete or incomplete. Complete protein has all of the amino acids, including essential ones, and can be found meat and other animal products but also in soy. Incomplete protein sources include nuts, grains, fruits, and vegetables. When eating a vegan diet it is important to make sure that you are eating all of the essential amino acids. This can be done by combining foods. For example brown rice does not contain all of the proteins that we need, neither do lentils. They both have a lot of very good things in them, but on their own there are things missing. But, if you eat them together you will make a complete protein source. This is because brown rice and lentils have different amino acids in them that, when put together, make everything that your body needs.
One of the reasons why people give for not going vegan is that they will end up protein deficient, that they won't get enough protein to be healthy. This is actually really hard to do and only usually happens to people that are starving. In those cases it has nothing to do with being vegan, they just don't have enough of anything to eat.
If you eat your beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas and add some grains, brown rice, bulgar wheat, even if you have a bean chili and a slice of bread, you'll be getting your proteins, all of them. It's also important to note that protein from plants is really easy for your body to digest, your gut will break it down and use it to make all of the different things that your body needs. And, because plant proteins are very different to animal proteins, which look a lot like the ones in our body, our immune system doesn't get confused thinking that it's a bad thing. Animal proteins can really upset out immune system and cause tummy problems.
Plant proteins are also better for us than animal proteins because they don't come with any of the bad things found in meat and dairy, but they do have lots of good things that meat and dairy doesn't have. There's a lot less fat and the fats that are there are the good kind that we need, there are vitamins and minerals and special chemicals called phytonutrients that are really healing that are only found in plants. So next time someone asks you where you get your protein from you tell them that you get it from tofu, soy, kidney beans, chickpea, lentils, brown rice, bulgar wheat, millet, quinoa...