Vegetarianism and protein
Lot of people across the globe are turning to vegetarianism for various reasons. India has always had a large population of vegetarians. Most of the vegetarians in India don’t eat even egg but a few do. Now this is a personal choice but there are a few health concerns that loom over vegetarianism. The most important one being Protein or rather lack of it.
It is commonly believed that animal protein is a richer source of protein and hence vegetarians remain deficient in protein. This concern is responsible for many vegetarians turning to protein powders. Also vegetarian diet usually is carb heavy. But a vegetarian can easily meet his daily protein requirement from his/her regular food without any artificial supplements (unless you are into sports or body building, but that is an altogether different topic).
Let us first understand Protein. Proteins are the building blocks of our body. They are very essential for the growth and maintenance of all body structures. They are also primary components of many enzymes, hormones and facilitate many chemical reactions in our body. Proteins are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. There are total 20 amino acids. 9 amino acids are called essential because they cannot be made by our body and hence have to be sourced from food.The remaining 11 amino acids are synthesised in our bodies and hence called non-essential amino acids.
We get protein from plant sources and animal sources. Animal based proteins provide all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities.. Plant based proteins also provide the amino acids but not necessarily in sufficient amounts.
Now what is the sufficient amount? How much protein do we require?
According to the guidelines of ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) a healthy adult needs 0.8 to 1.0 gm of protein per kg of ideal body weight. Generally an adult male requires 60 gm and an adult female requires 55 gm of protein. This requirement can be easily met by vegetarians from their regular food, they just have to make smart choices. This means that you must combine different protein sources to get all the amino acids. For eg; dal and chawal or nuts and milk make a complete protein. Vegetarians should also try and include one source of protein in every meal.
Following are some rich protein sources for vegetarians:
- Nuts like almonds, pistachios, groundnuts
- Seeds like sunflower seeds, flax seeds
- Soy, soy milk
- Legumes like rajma, chhole, chana, chawli
- All dals
- Paneer (cottage cheese)
- Grains like wheat, bajra
Here are the protein contents of some commonly eaten foods for your reference. (figures are for 100 gm of food)
- Bajra : 11.6 gm
- Wheat : 12.1 gm
- Oatmeal : 13.6 gm
- Bengal gram : 17.1 gm
- Masoor dal : 25.1 gm
- Rajma : 22.9 gm
- Green peas : 7.1 gm
- Almond : 20.8 gm
- Pistachio : 19.8 gm
- Groundnut : 25.3 gm
These are just a few food items. But this will give you a rough idea about planning your meals for meeting your daily protein requirements.
So vegetarians, don’t fret about protein. Just plan and have fun.
P.S. Please don’t make your dal watery, have it thick like a broth. It will give you more protein.