Best protein sources in a vegetarian diet

Protein is always associated with sportspeople and growing children. If someone is reading up on getting sufficient protein it is usually someone trying to build muscle or a mom trying to get her child to put on weight. But protein as the name suggests, is that which sustains life. We all need it sufficiently throughout our life for healing wear and tear of our body and keeping our immune system strong.

Getting enough protein is not an issue with those who are non-vegetarians. On the other hand for those who are strict vegetarians protein intake could pose an issue. If the right kinds of foodstuffs do not make up the diet, then they could end up eating more carbohydrates and less protein. We need about 10% to 15% of our calories from proteins or 0.8 to 1 gram for every kilo of our normal weight.

What happens when you do not eat the right proteins? What are the symptoms?
• Lack of energy and easy fatigue
• Tiredness on exertion or exercising
• Unhealthy looking hair, splitting, falling and brittle nails
• Dry flaky skin
• Headaches
• Fluid retention
• Failure to grow (in children)
• Delay in healing

Some of the best sources of protein for a vegetarian are

• Legumes – How can we do without our dals and pulses? They are almost 25% protein by weight, containing 3 times more protein than rice or wheat. A variety of pulses, beans and dals should be eaten throughout the day. A vegetarian should have some kind of dal in all his meals be it as curry or in salad. There is no dearth of dishes available in every Indian state that incorporates legumes.
½ a cup of lentils provides 8.9 gms of protein which is more than that in an ounce of meat.

• Soya - Soy needs special mention, as it is the highest and best source of protein for a vegetarian. ¼ litre of soymilk contains more protein than regular milk, and soy products like tempeh and tofu are as good as meat proteins.

• Grains/Quinoa- FAO of United Nations has declared 2013 as the year of quinoa. This is because among grains, the protein content in quinoa contributes as complete protein, compared to other grains. About a quarter cup gives 8 grams of protein.
Among other grains, amaranth and wheat have the highest protein.

• Nuts and seeds – Every vegetarian needs to have an ounce of nuts (peanuts included) daily. Almonds, pistachios, cashews have always been part of Indian cooking and rich in protein. An ounce of nut contains around 6gm of protein and 165kcal. Use it as seasoning, in upuma, as curry base or as chutney. Make your own nut butter by grinding any one kind of nuts be it peanuts, almonds, cashew nuts into a smooth paste and use one tablespoon as spread on whole grain breads.
Seeds like sesame, sunflower, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds are also easily available. Use a variety.

• Milk – Milk, buttermilk, paneer, and sweets or curries based on these are sources of protein in the Indian diet. Luckily we have several dishes based on these. Including these along with a regular intake of milk or buttermilk will provide good protein. A quarter litre of milk contains 8 grams of protein.

• Spirulina – One tablespoon of spirulina contains 4 grams of protein.

Adopt ideas from other cuisine like the Mediterranean where they consume tahini (sesame paste) or hummus as a dip or accompaniment for bread. Make a Greek salad where cottage cheese or white cheese is added to a green salad, or burghul (broken wheat) is added to parsley salad.

Parvathy R Krishnan

The author is a trained Nutrition & Dietetics expert with over 20 years’ of experience in hospitals like Vijaya Hospital in Chennai and the Armed Forces Hospital and New Mowasat Hospitals in Kuwait. She is presently a member of the Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India. Parvathy blogs at http://premadiet.blogspot.in/


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