Proteins are essential for optimal health and are necessary for multiple functions in our bodies.
Proteins are important for the maintenance of a healthy body composition and to produce hair, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, and enzymes, however, meat is not the only dietary source of protein. Since animal proteins especially are highly acidic, intake for many of us can be minimized.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which equates to about 48g per day for a 60kg person. The average piece of steak contains about 22g of protein per 85g of meat, so it is certainly not a huge portion. Obviously, the RDA calculates the amount of a nutrient needed to meet our basic nutritional requirements and to keep us alive, so in most cases you can have a little more than the RDA. My recommendation is about 100g of your protein of choice per meal and about 30g per snack. Protein consumption should ideally be spread out over the day and not all consumed at once. Protein sources should also be varied for optimal nutritive value.
Proteins can be complete or incomplete according to their amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and while some can be made by the body, many must be supplied through our diets.
Animal sources of protein, which include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, contain all nine essential amino acids and are therefore complete proteins.
Many plant sources of protein can have low levels of essential amino acids or could be missing some altogether and are therefore incomplete sources of protein. This can be overcome by combining certain food groups to make complete proteins. By eating a variety of foods throughout the day, in the right combinations, most people should be able to meet their daily protein requirements. Food combinations such as legumes and rice or nuts and grains are good alternatives for animal proteins.
About 1 cup of rice and beans, for example, contains 12 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa is an ancient gluten-free grain that has many benefits. It contains 8 grams of protein per cup. It has a nutty flavor and can be added to soups and salads. It is also a good source of magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is a friendly yeast and very good for the digestive tract. It has a cheesy flavor and contains 8 grams of protein per 15 gram serving.
Pulses, which include beans, peas, and lentils, are a wonderful, inexpensive alternative to animal proteins. They are high in fiber and minerals and are helpful for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Pulses are great additions to soups, and stews. They can either provide the entire protein value or can be added to mince or other meat dishes to make them go further and increase the nutritional value of the meal.
Soya beans are a complete protein so can be used as a protein alternative. Tofu, soya milk, or soya yoghurt are good ways to introduce soya to the diet. If you are going to be eating soya products, be sure to check that they are GMO free so that they do not trigger any other health issues.
Nuts and seeds are also a great source of protein and can be eaten as snacks or added to salads and stir-fries. Due to their higher fat content, nuts should ideally be consumed in moderation.
I think we would all benefit from reducing animal protein in our diets. It is a good idea to regularly assess our diets so that we can make adjustments and choices that will be best for our bodies. The risk with reducing protein is that we tend to increase refined carbohydrates and sugars, so if you are wanting to eat less meat, make sure your diet remains balanced so that you don’t land up with another set of problems.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 15 July 2021 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am