In order to make sure a vegetarian diet is also a balanced diet many elements need to be considered, one of them is proteins.
Proteins are composed of many different amino acids, nine of these are known to be ‘essential’ and when they are all present in a food this know as containing a ‘complete protein’.
Many vegetable products are labelled as containing some protein, but these may well be incomplete proteins which are not sufficient on their own. Eggs and dairy produce contain all the necessary proteins. There is one vegetable product I know for certain contains all the essential amino acids, this is the soya bean in all its forms: tofu, bean, drink, sauce etc, but the vast majority of vegetables are more or less lacking in some of these essential amino acids.
There are three groups which are only lacking in a few and so are easier to combine to complete the requirements, these are Grains, Nuts and Legumes. Basically the Legumes complement the other two and so combined these provide a useful source of protein.
Other vegetables provide other essential ingredients such as Vitamins and Minerals but are not generally used as a source of protein without detailed information as to their amino acid content.
The Essential Amino Acids Have Important Functions In The Body
- Isoleucine (L–) – for muscle production, maintenance and recovery after workout. Involved in haemoglobin formation, blood sugar levels, blood clot formation and energy.
- Leucine (LGN) – growth hormone production, tissue production and repair, prevents muscle wasting, used in treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Lysine (L–) – calcium absorption, bone development, nitrogen maintenance, tissue repair, hormone production, antibody production.
- Methionine (GN-) – fat emulsification, digestion, antioxidant (cancer prevention), arterial plaque prevention (heart health) and heavy metal removal.
- Phenylalanine (LGN) – tyrosine synthesis and the neurochemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. Supports learning and memory, brain processes and mood elevation.
- Threonine (LN-) – monitors bodily proteins for maintaining or recycling processes.
- Tryptophan (GN-) –niacin production, serotonin production, pain management, sleep and mood regulation.
- Valine (LGN) – helps muscle production, recovery, energy, endurance; balances nitrogen levels; used in treatment of alcohol related brain damage.
- Histidine (LGN) – the ‘growth amino’ essential for young children. Lack of histidine is associated with impaired speech and growth.
|FOODS||LIMITING AMINO ACIDS(low levels, not completely missing)||COMPLEMENTARY FOODS||MENU ITEM EXAMPLES|
|Legumes: lentils, peas beans peanuts||Tryptophan Methionine||Grains, nuts & seeds||Stir-fry veg w/green soybeans, served over brown rice, sesame seeds garnish
Hummus (chickpea & tahini spread), served w/whole wheat pitta bread
|Grains: wheat, corn, rice, oats barley, rye||Lysine Isoleucine Threonine||Legumes, dairy||Grilled cheddar on whole wheat bread
Cornbread & chilli beans, grated cheddar
|Nuts & Seeds: almonds sunflower cashew||Lysine Isoleucine||Legumes||Lentil walnut loaf, cashew gravy|
The letters in brackets (LegumeGrainNuts) indicate what foods the amino acids are found in.
For copyright purposes I collected the information about the amino acids online several years ago and am posting it for possible educational purposes only.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of what is written (for instance the chart had placed peanuts in the nut section whereas they are now known to contain the amino acids of legumes – I amended the chart in that way – ought they be called pea beans? and how is it that people are allergic to them as nuts?) but I have nonetheless found it helpful and hope others do too.
Further reading: there is a vast amount of information available but I also found helpful Anton Mosimann’s “Naturally” cookbook; on p 10,11 – ‘A few dietary Basics’, he explains about complementary proteins and other nutritional information, simply and clearly.