Essential Amino Acids, Complete Proteins, Incomplete Proteins—The Basics to Remember!
Why are proteins the big emphasis in nutrition no matter what diet we are talking about?
And what do we need to know as vegans?
Proteins are one of the three macro-nutrients the body needs to function and grow. The other two are carbohydrates and fats. All the other vitamins and minerals we need are called micronutrients and needed in fewer amounts. However, proteins do not store long term in the body, like carbs and fat, and therefore must be consumed daily. Proteins are used to produce enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters in our body and they are the building blocks for muscle, skin, blood, and the immune system. So, proteins are very important to almost our entire body system.
Proteins are made up of 21 amino acids. And, our own body's cells make 11 of these amino acids! The 9 amino acids our body can't make are known as essential amino acids and we must look to food to get these. The scientific names of these 9 essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. When one food ingredient contains all of these in equal amounts it is called a complete protein.
Here are some samples of complete proteins that are plant based: soybeans, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, blue green algae, nutritional yeast, Spirulina. In addition to these, there are several other plant-based foods, if sprouted, become a complete protein. This is so amazing because Sprouting also increases digestibility. These include sprouted brown rice, sprouted lentils.
Do animal products more readily provide all 9 essential amino acids in one food? Yes, and this is why we hear from so many omnivores that they can't get enough proteins on a vegan diet. But it is a myth that one needs to get all of these essential amino acids from one food. Or even two complimentary foods as previously rumored in the vegetarian world. Sure, it may be easier…but…easier and faster to consume…does not mean it’s the better way or only way.
Please note: A human does not need to eat foods with all 9 of the amino acids in one food or even at one meal, as long as they are getting a sufficient amount from a variety of foods throughout the entire day.
Amino acids survive in the body for up to 12 hours and as long as you are getting enough varied calories, you can feel confident that you are getting your protein needs met.
So, the great news, the more dynamic news, the fun news: as vegans we get to eat in the playground! We can eat an endless variety of different foods throughout the day from grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables to get those EXACT same amino acids needed by our body. Our body collects them and digestion absorbs them.
And the wonderful thing about that variety is you are also gaining in many other essential vitamins and nutrients the body needs in one day, that meat will not provide! So, Veg on your body will love you for it!
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. To find out your average individual need, simply perform the following calculation:
Body Weight (in pounds) x 0.36 = Recommended Protein Intake (in grams)
NOTE: Choosing the number of proteins you need should be done carefully with your medical practitioner as different activity levels and medical issues may require different recommendations.