Monday 2 April 2012

You're a vegetarian? How do you get your protein?

Although I do not classify myself as a vegetarian, meat isn't something I eat on a daily basis. A common misconception is that vegetarians, or people like me who are cutting down on meat struggle to get the protein their body needs.

However, this isn't true.

What is protein?
We are made out of protein and our DNA codes for the various proteins that we need to exist.

What is protein made up of?
Proteins are made up of compounds called amino acids. There are twenty different amino acids and proteins are made up of combinations of these amino acids. If we think of amino acids as Lego blocks, they come in different shapes and sizes. We can use these "Lego blocks" to create various proteins, and these products can be used in the body for various tasks.

Why do we need protein in our diet?
The body is very good at producing most of the amino acids we need, however the body is unable to make all the twenty amino acids. Eight amino acids have to be taken in through our diet, we call these essential amino acids. By ingesting protein in our food, the body is able to break down this protein into amino acids by a process called catabolism. The amino acids produced by this process can be recycled to make new amino acids or be converted into other products.

So what are the other sources of protein?
When people think of dietary protein, they think of meat, however there are other sources of  protein that are found in the vegetarian diet, the list below isn't exhaustive:

So can all of the above provide me with all the eight essential amino acids?
Not necessarily, whereas meat contains all eight amino acids in the right ratios, only certain other food contain the same balance- such as soya, egg and quinola, however as long as you have a healthy and varied diet you should have no problem getting all the amino acids you need.

If you would like more information on Protein and the vegetarian diet, please visit the Vegetarian Society website.

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