For a vegetarian diet to be 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 is known, in that sense, as a ‘complete protein’. Many vegetable products are labelled as containing some protein, but these are mostly incomplete proteins which are not sufficient on their own. There is one vegetable product which contains all the essential amino acids, this is the soya bean in all its forms: tofu, soya milk, soy sauce etc, but as far as I know, all other vegetables are more or less lacking in some of these essential amino acids.
Eggs and Dairy products which are part of a vegetarian diet are ‘complete proteins’. Both can be high in saturated fat, which needs careful consideration when deciding on quantities. On the plus side, dairy products are also a good source of calcium, and albumen, the white of the egg, has no fat at all.
Furthermore, there are three groups of vegetables which are only lacking in a few amino acids: Grains, Seeds, Nuts and Legumes. What is useful is that they complement each other. Grains, Seeds and Nuts on the one hand and Legumes on the other (see chart below). It is therefore possible to have a vegetarian diet rich in complete protein by combining Legumes with Grains, Seeds or Nuts in function of their various protein contents. They need not be eaten at the same meal: the protein content of one meal can be carried forward to complete that of another.
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: Anton Mosimann’s “Naturally” cookbook; p 10,11 – ‘A few dietary Basics’, explains about complementary proteins and other nutritional information, simply and clearly though this is not a vegetarian cookbook as he includes fish.