Vegetarians, here are your proteins

One of the most frequent questions that vegetarians face is, "You're vegetarian, but where do you get your protein from?" In spite of there being a wide variety of sources other than meat, from which one can add protein to a vegetarian diet, the lack of awareness around it often takes a toll on one's nutritional input.

Proteins are essential for building lean mass, boosting metabolism, getting those curves and cuts, hormonal balance and staying disease free, as 80% of your body works on protein. Lack of consumption for the body's basic requirements of this vital compound can cause serious complications.

Only when a protein contains all nine of these essential amino acids, it can be considered a "complete" protein. It's an established fact that food derived from animals such as meat, milk, and eggs have complete protein structures, while plant-based foods such as nuts, beans, grains, lentils, vegetables, and seeds have incomplete structures. However, just because they are incomplete, that doesn't make them inferior, though, they need to be combined with other food items to provide the right balance of essential amino acids.

Here are some tips for vegetarians to take into consideration, in order to meet their body's basic protein requirements:

Dal is a good source of protein, especially when paired alongside generous portions of rice.

Curd-rice is a lesser known source of protein, it also helps to replenish the bacteria in the gut.

Every vegetarian diet should include at least one kind of bean or lentil, at least once in a day combined with generous portions of grains. Beans are a great source of protein with low levels of glycemic carbs.

Paneer is a delicious, versatile source of protein, particularly Casein. The slow digestion of this type of protein elicits protein synthesis during the period between meals.

Low-fat dairy products are a good source of protein for vegetarians who are also looking to control their fat intake. They are easily accessible and fun to incorporate into various meals and snacks.

Soy either in the form of bean, milk or tofu is the saving grace for vegans, and an excellent source of protein. Despite the considerable fears about its effects on human beings, there's no reason to be alarmed as the anti-nutrients are destroyed when cooked. In fact, soy is the only plant based source of protein that is complete all by itself.

Edamame beans (which are a type of immature soybean) are very nutritious choice for snacks.

Cheese, apart from being practically everyone's favourite food, just so happens to be a very good source of protein. Make sure you keep the portion sensible as its high in fat.

Eating foods with the right amounts of protein are just one side of the equation, the other side, which is often overlooked, concerns the rate at which one's body absorbs protein. Here are three ways to ensure that your body's capacity to absorb the proteins you eat is most efficient.

Creating a gut environment that facilitates absorption: This can be achieved by including fermented foods, garlic, green bananas, barley, rice, and vegetables in one's diet, while cutting down on unnatural sugar intakes and low glycaemic carbs.

Include nutrients that support assimilation and absorption: Vitamin B6, a primary nutrient that helps enzymes break down protein and deliver it to your blood is essential to get the most from one's protein intake. While nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and whole grains are good sources of B6, they are highly susceptible to degradation upon cooking; therefore it's always advisable to use B vitamin supplements.

Spaced out protein consumption: The human body can only absorb certain amounts of protein per meal, which varies from person to person, therefore eating one's daily quota in a single sitting is redundant. What truly helps is to space out one's consumption over the course of the day to facilitate more optimal amounts of protein absorption.

Vegetarians have long suffered from the ill effects of a protein deficit diet. Fortunately, dietary science has evolved to the point where we can address this serious issue with simple changes to one's food intake, without significantly infringing on anyone's beliefs.

(The writer is head nutritionist at The Food Analysts)

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