When we eat our breakfast, make our lunch, and prepare for dinner, hopefully we are thinking about what we’re going to get out of our food besides only the most satisfying meal we can prepare in a short amount of time. There can be tension in the triangle of balancing a healthy meal, with time to prepare it, and how satisfied we are going to feel. A healthy thought out meal is going to give us energy we need to perform throughout the day and leave us feeling good.
Throughout life we have been taught that we need certain minerals and compounds to keep a healthy body: calcium, vitamin C, fiber, protein, iron. We learn that calcium comes from dairy, vitamin C from oranges, fiber from bread, iron and protein from meat. While it is true these are sources for these nutrients, there are many other healthier sources besides animal products. What’s the issue with eating animals? Saturated fats and cholesterol that builds plaque along the arteries.
If you think about it, most of our lives we have seen ads to eat beef it’s what’s for dinner, chicken the lean meat, Got Milk?. The notion that meat is the only source for protein has been instilled by the media and government since childhood and that is what we need to eat to get it. Protein is actually found in plant materials as well, and with no saturated fats or cholesterol. Vegetarians and vegans however need to make sure they are getting enough protein daily.
According to WebMD, the average male needs 56 grams of protein a day, and females at 46 grams. Livestrong states the average person needs 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That means a 150 pound person would need 60 grams of protein. Maybe if you’re very active, body building, or pregnant. Food labels are based on 50 gram of protein a day diet. I can’t tell you how much you need and results are varied from sources. I am guessing though that we should aim for 50-65 grams a day for an average person.
Proteins are needed by our body for nearly all processes in the cell. Proteins provide structure to our organs, tissue, and muscles. It allows our cells to communicate with one another for tasks such as muscle contraction and nerve signals. With too little protein, our bodies will break down our tissues and muscles to access those proteins needed for cell function.
The highest plant based protein counts comes from legumes, beans, vegetables, then fruits. We also need to think about the types of protein. All food sources have different types of different amounts of these types. There are around 20 different types of protein and they are called amino acids. Usually meat is considered a complete source of protein because it consists of a lot of essential animo acids while other sources incomplete. But if we’re smart, we can create vegetarian meals that comprise all of the essential proteins. Essential amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysince, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, phenylalanine, and histidine. These are nine amino acids that our bodies are unable to make on their own and we must get from outside sources. One answer is in rice and beans. Beans contain a large amount of lysine, but low in methionine. Rice has methionine, but low lysine. Meals could include beans in a corn tortilla, or tofu/beans/vegetables and rice.
If you do eat meat, you probably need a lot less than you think to meet your protein intake. On average, 3 ounces of meat such as cuts of beef, chicken breast, fish, and pork has 20-30 grams of protein. A large amount of daily protein needed can happen with only 1/4 lb of meat. But there are many sources of protein from gains, buts, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Below is a chart to compare protein amounts in vegetarian foods.