There are a lot of things to worry about and getting all the nutrients you need shouldn’t be one of them. If you aren’t able to have meat or you just want to know how to get the same quality of protein, you can get it without eating meat.
I plan at least 2-3 meals each week that are meat-free, but I still want excellent nutritional value for my children and that mainly includes high-quality protein and iron. So, how do the professionals do it? Let me tell you.
First, let’s break down protein and what it is. Basically, when you eat a protein, it is broken down into individual amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in all, but there are 9 amino acids you can’t make in your body. Those are called essential amino acids. You must get them from food.
When proteins break down to amino acids, they go into an amino acid pool in the body (I’m not kidding, that’s what it’s called). The body is able to pull whatever amino acids it wants for everything from cell repair to immune function and hormone production. So many body processes require protein, not just muscles.
Animal foods contain all essential amino acids and they are called complete proteins. Plant foods (legumes, nuts, bread), while they still contain protein are incomplete proteins. This means that they are missing one or more amino acids to make them complete. Those are called the limiting amino acids.
For example, legumes (lentils, beans, peas, peanuts) have good amounts of lysine, threonine, and tryptophan, but do not have methionine or not enough methionine. In contrast, grains contain methionine, but are limited in lysine. Pair these two together, in any combination and you have a complete protein, or what we like to call complementary proteins.
Nuts and seeds all have varying limiting amino acids, but in general are lacking lysine, so pairing nuts with legumes is a good choice.
Here’s a quick review:
Animal foods – Beef, poultry, pork, fish, dairy, eggs
Plant foods – Quinoa, soybeans, hemp, buckwheat
Rice and beans
Hummus and pita
Peanut butter on whole wheat
Lentils and rice
Falafel on bread
Any soup made with a combination of legumes and grains
Toss Out The Rule Book
So, you might have heard that you need to eat complementary proteins together and at the same time in order to get all these amino acids. Not true. If you eat beans for lunch and rice for dinner, that works too.
The process of digestion is not as quick as you think and breaking down all these proteins takes a little time, so don’t stress. You don’t have to combine these at the same meal. Eating a diet that is rich in plant foods will help you get all the amino acids you need in a day.
You don’t need only animal foods to get enough protein in your diet. Both animal foods and plant foods are good sources of protein. Choose which one is best for you.