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Protein In Vegetarian Diets

Aug 17, 2007
Vegetarian food is often accused of providing a less than adequate source of nutrition. The human body is dependent on a great number of vitamins and other minerals and each of these can be attained in a vegetarian diet as well as any other.

In fact it may well be that a vegetarian diet is better equipped to provide for our protein requirements than any other.

Protein is any one of a class of nitrogenous organic compounds that form the structural components of body tissues. Often described as the building block of life Protein is the second most abundant substance in the human body, after water.

Proteins play a crucial role in the biological processes of the body and are essential for growth and repair. The immune system, the transmissions of nerve and muscle impulses are all dependent on proteins. Proteins also provide the structural support needed for our skin and bones.

During digestion, the human body breaks proteins down into smaller components, called amino acids. Once absorbed they are use to make new proteins as the body requires.

There are approximately 20 different amino acid types in proteins and the human body is able to make all but 9 of them itself. The 9 it cannot produce are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Histidine is essential for the healthy growth of children.

Unlike meat products, vegetables do not contain all the amino acids we need individually, so a varied intake of vegetables is necessary to ensure sufficient protein replenishment.

Good sources of protein for vegetarians include most beans and pulses, nuts, seeds, tofu, soya milk and textured soya protein, wheat, oats, rice, milk and cheese. Egg is also an excellent source of protein and is considered to contain the ideal composition of amino acids. Some of the poorer sources of protein are carrots, apples, sugar and butter.

The recommended daily intake of protein for men is 42 to 56 grams and for women 41 to 47 grams. As a general rule the older the person the more protein is required. Pregnant women require 51 grams and women who are breast-feeding require 53 to 56 grams. Also as a general rule, we are recommended to consume 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh.

Our protein needs do not alter with activity levels, although protein intake needs to increase for the repair of tissues and during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy or in children.

Almost all plants contain protein, so it is unlikely for a vegetarian to develop a protein deficiency while practicing a balanced vegetarian diet. Excessive protein can also causes adverse effects to the human body and may increase the risk of osteoporosis, heart and kidney disease and cancer. However it is now believed a vegetarian diet contains adequate yet not overly excessive levels of protein.

So vegetarians need not be overly concerned with their protein intake, simply practising a varied and balanced diet is more than adequate.

A vegan diet may need to be planned a little more carefully than a vegetarian, to ensure adequate protein levels are met. A good variety of grains, pulses, nuts and starchy vegetables are recommended.
About the Author
Colin Didcott is a life long vegetarian and collector of authentic vegetarian recipes from around the world. Visit Vegetarian Recipes Realm To see his collection of low calorie vegetarian recipes and join in the friendly vegetarian community.
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