This is the first of what I am calling The Foundation Series. A series of blog posts outlining the 411 of our major nutrients; protein, carbohydrates, water and fat. If you’re anything like me, I am hungry for knowledge when it comes to nutrition. I love to learn and I especially love that nutrition is an ever changing field. Society has a love affair with nutrition. We want to have the latest and the greatest health gadget, we want to try the latest and the greatest diet fad, we want to taste the latest and the greatest superfood…I mean it is never ending! Soon enough we end up getting bamboozled by all of it. So forget the mushroom latte for a moment (this is the latest and greatest superfood I’ve heard of), lets go back to the basics. After all, simple food done well is what I am all about. Today, its all about protein, the 411 to be exact. Lets make a start…
Protein is the key to growth and development, needless to say it plays a HUGE role in our body. Contrary to popular culture, protein is a rebuild component as opposed to just being an energy source. Protein provides us with the ingredients required to make important hormones, enzymes, tissues and antibodies as well as maintain good acid-alkali balance within our systems.
When we eat protein, the body breaks the food source down into amino acids; little building blocks that make up proteins. There are two types of amino acids – nonessential and essential. Amino acids that are branded nonessential does not mean we don’t need them, rather that we do not need to get them from our diet because they are manufactured within our body from other amino acids. The essential amino acids, however, need to be obtained from the diet, because the body cannot synthesize them. In short, we need both types to function at our optimum.
To take the example of building a muscle…when the body builds muscle, it requires a variety of different amino acids for the process – these can be nonessential (coming from our own pool of amino acids) or essential (coming from dietary protein that we have consumed). If we do not eat enough protein, we can experience a shortage of essential amino acids. If this becomes chronic, the body can no longer continue to build protein and the body therefore suffers as a result. In cases such as this, the brain attempts to come to the rescue by releasing vital proteins that can support the body for the short term. Physical signs and symptoms that accompany this include muscle atrophy (wasting) and severe fatigue.
….Anyway that was a fairly in depth detour…but you get the idea…so lets get back on the protein highway…
Although I have stressed the importance of getting enough of both types of amino acids, it is not necessary to get them from meat sources of protein alone. There is this thing called mutual supplementation – the process of combining two incomplete proteins to make a complete protein. Now before I lose you…Ill explain.
Animal proteins contain all 8 essential amino acids and are therefore termed a ‘complete protein’.
Foods such as beans or brown rice , whilst they are high in protein, they do not contain all the essential amino acids, therefore, they are termed ‘incomplete proteins’. However, with mutual supplementation, we can make a complete protein by combining said incomplete proteins, for example. See the table below for more on the principle.
Combine any 2 of these 3 groups below.
Examples of complete protein combinations:
- Beans on wholegrain toast.
- Rice/millet with lentil/chickpea/bean and vegetable curry
- Corn and beans
- Stir-fried vegetables with cashew nuts and rice or rice noodles
- Oats with nut butter
- Chickpea hummus on rye cracker.
Last but not least, there are some plant-based sources of complete proteins that exist and in my eyes, are wonder foods! These main ones include:
- Micro algae e.g. spirulina, chlorella.
- Fermented soy products e.g. miso, tofu, tempeh and soy milk
Like animal protein, eating these alone will provide you with sufficient essential amino acids.
*It is also important to remember that you do not need to combine these proteins within the same meal. Whilst the above examples will mean increased protein usability as they are within the same meal, you could have oats for breakfast and almonds for a snack and be sufficient.
*Also to note, dairy foods are complete proteins within themselves. They do, however, contain extra lysine, an amino acid that grains often lack in. Grains and dairy combined ensures adequate lysine.