Smart ways to get the protein you need without meat or supplements

by Jennifer Bowden / 13 February, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - how to get the protein you need without meat supplements

Photo/Getty Images

QUESTIONI have friends who are very conscientious about what their children eat. They eat wholefoods, minimise refined sugar, avoid junk food, emphasise fruit and vegetables and limit meat consumption. They generally eat meat two or three times a week. Are these children getting enough protein for their growing bodies?

ANSWER: Protein is both a handy energy source and an important building block for the body. The physique of a 70kg adult, for example, contains about 11kg of the organic compound.

Proteins, which are complex molecules made up of amino acids, have many important roles in the body. They form enzymes to help carry out the thousands of chemical reactions in our cells, blood-transport molecules and hormones. They also act as antibodies in the immune system and have structural roles such as providing support for cells and skin.

Protein is found in all living cells, including both animal and plant foods. Foods such as meat, fish, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds are rich protein sources. Milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products, and whole grains, vegetables and fruit, contain smaller amounts of protein.

Human proteins are made from about 20 different amino acids, most of which can be synthesised by the body. However, there are eight essential amino acids that we cannot make and that must be provided by our diet. Interestingly, milk and eggs have an amino-acid composition most similar to our bodies.

A well-balanced vegetarian diet that completely excludes meat can provide the protein needs for growing children. For example, two slices of wholemeal bread (6.4g of protein), a glass of milk (8.5g) and half a cup of yogurt (5-6g) provide the daily protein needs of a child aged four to eight.

For an adult, two slices of wholegrain toast with baked beans and a pottle of yogurt contain about half of our protein needs; a beef or lamb steak and a glass of milk would provide 80% of requirements. An average-sized woman aged 19 to 70 needs about 46g a day of protein, whereas an average man would need 64g.

Legumes are one of the most underappreciated classes of vegetable. Yet legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are a highly nutritious source of protein, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium and fibre. They’re also low in fat and contain no cholesterol, making them a healthy meat substitute.

The need to soak dried beans overnight before cooking runs counter to our fast-food culture, but there are many varieties of tinned beans available. Simply rinse canned chickpeas, lentils, white beans and kidney beans and use them in casseroles, salads and other recipes.

A well-balanced diet containing protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish and/or legumes normally provides enough protein for a healthy adult. Even athletes with tough training regimes can typically meet their protein needs without supplements, according to the Australian Institute of Sport.

The best idea, though, is to include protein- and fibre-rich legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils, if we’re reducing how much meat and fish we eat. It’s easy to boost protein intake with a few simple swaps and additions (see box).

But will the children of our correspondent’s friends be getting all the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong? In short, if their diet follows the sort of guidelines given here, they should thrive, although one of the main nutritional deficiencies the young are vulnerable to is lack of iron. Legumes, nuts and seeds are rich sources of iron, as is, of course, red meat.

This article was first published in the January 26, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Why you shouldn't force kids to eat everything on their plates
107161 2019-06-18 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Why you shouldn't force kids to eat everything on…

by Jennifer Bowden

Forcing children to finish everything on their plates sets them up for a bad relationship with food.

Read more
Can defending free speech boost David Seymour's fortunes?
107279 2019-06-17 00:00:00Z Politics

Can defending free speech boost David Seymour's fo…

by Graham Adams

The policies announced at Act’s relaunch are mostly standard party fare, but freedom of expression is an issue that could pull in new voters.

Read more
Oranga Tamariki inquiry won't be released to the public in full
107264 2019-06-17 00:00:00Z Social issues

Oranga Tamariki inquiry won't be released to the p…

by RNZ

Oranga Tamariki's inquiry into its attempt to take a newborn baby from its mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital will not be released to the public in full.

Read more
Writer Stephanie Johnson on five pioneering Kiwis who crossed the ditch
106770 2019-06-17 00:00:00Z Profiles

Writer Stephanie Johnson on five pioneering Kiwis…

by Diana Wichtel

Stephanie Johnson likes a good story and she’s found one in a collection of colourful Kiwis who made their mark in Australia.

Read more
The science behind finding the perfect sports bra
107091 2019-06-17 00:00:00Z Health

The science behind finding the perfect sports bra

by Ruth Nichol

Insufficient breast support is a barrier to exercise for many women, but with the right sports bra, there can be less bounce in your step.

Read more
Jessica McCormack: The Kiwi jeweller sparkling in Mayfair
106986 2019-06-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jessica McCormack: The Kiwi jeweller sparkling in…

by Clare de Lore

Diamonds and books are New Zealand designer Jessica McCormack’s best friends.

Read more
Sometimes Always Never is a triple-word-score of a film
107199 2019-06-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Sometimes Always Never is a triple-word-score of a…

by James Robins

In a delightful film about a father whose life has come unstuck after a contentious Scrabble game, Bill Nighy is superb.

Read more
Cocaine and cleavage: The iconic TV series Westside returns
107210 2019-06-16 00:00:00Z Television

Cocaine and cleavage: The iconic TV series Westsid…

by Fiona Rae

In the return of the West family saga, it’s 1987 and Ted West and the gang are waiting to rob a safe.

Read more