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Protein and Amino Acids For Vegetarians

Amino what now? Today Hollistic Nutritionist Nik Toth give us a run down on vegetarian proteins and amino acids.

Have you ever wondered why high protein diets have become so popular in recent years? Despite of what is commonly believed, consuming adequate protein is not only important for those who are wanting to lose weight or build muscle, but it is also vital for overall health and wellbeing. The human body and musculoskeletal system is made of bones and muscles. Muscles are made of protein, and the building blocks for protein are called amino acids (AAs). There are 20 different amino acids, and we call nine of these ‘essential’.

We call them essential because our bodies cannot produce them on their own, so they must be obtained from our diet. These essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Amino acids contribute to the functioning of our immune system, nervous system, production of hormones as well as tissue building and repair. They are also important for our vital organs and cellular structure. Someone who has too low levels of amino acids in their body may have difficulty concentrating, suffer from fatigue, mood or hormonal imbalance, and it is also common that these people develop depression.

As mentioned, these amino acids must be supplied through food and the protein we eat. Protein can be obtained from both animal and plant sources, but they are not all created equal. The main difference between plant and animal protein is their amino acid profile, and the way these amino acids are absorbed in our bodies.

Animal proteins – since they are much more similar to ours, are used more readily and faster than the plant-based proteins. Animal proteins, such as meat, fish, or chicken, have all the essential amino acids that our bodies require. On the other hand, plant sources only contain some of them.

For those who only consume vegetarian sources of protein such as legumes, grains, tofu or nuts and seeds, need to ensure that they combine certain these foods, for example rice and beans, or nuts and rice to obtain all the essential amino acids. The great thing is that if one food is lacking a certain amino acid, you can just pair it with another food that is rich in that very AA to create a complete protein source. This is called protein combining. It is a common misconception that you need to combine these foods within each meal. The truth is that as long as you consume these specific foods within a 24-hour period, your body is perfectly capable of creating the perfect amino acid combination.

Vegetarian food combinations

Legumes contain the essential amino acid lysine, which is typically low in most grains. Whole grains contain methionine and cysteine that are low in legumes, or beans, peas, lentils and nuts. You can pair these foods to create high-quality proteins in the following ways:

  • Brown rice salad with black beans and corn
  • Nut butter on wholegrain toast
  • Porridge made with rolled oats, stir in some nut butter – this is creamy and delicious!
  • Whole-wheat pita bread with hummus dip
  • Split-pea soup with barley
  • Lentil salad with sesame and sunflower seeds

For a great snack, you can create a healthy trail mix by combining nuts, puffed rice, coconut flakes sunflower and pepita seeds or veggie sticks and hummus dip, which is made with chickpeas and sesame seed paste.

The recommended protein intake for general health is 1-1.5g per kilogram of body weight. Whether you are a vegetarian or not, if you are looking to improve your body composition, wanting to tone up and lose body fat, or simply ensure that you meet your protein requirements each day, it is a good idea to add a high quality protein supplement to your diet. However, we recommend that you only use a natural brand that contains no artificial sweeteners, flavours or additives, such as Wagner Vegan Plan Protein. A protein supplement as such can not only help with the growth and maintenance of muscle mass and bones, but it can also support healthy metabolism and weight.

To find out more about Wagner Vegan Plant Protein head to

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