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Plant Proteins as Important as Meat for Strength and Proper Weight

Tomato PlantLast week Owen Marcus wrote about the importance of consuming adequate protein to prevent loss of muscle mass especially for athletes undergoing rigorous training.  His recommendation focused on eating meat as the protein source also stating that “vegetable protein in the vast majority of cases does not work.”  I would like to clarify the assumption that people and athletes choosing a vegetarian/vegan diet harm themselves by not consuming meat as their protein source.

Adequate protein must be consumed by all people for maintaining proper growth, maintenance, and repair of muscle tissue, bones, organs, and cellular structures.  Meat products contain complete proteins in that they provide all the essential amino acids required for our health.  Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes also provide proteins along with carbohydrates, some fats, and vitamins and minerals.  The concern undermining these choices for protein sources centers on these foods not providing a complete balance but only part of what is needed that could lead to deficiencies.  Vegetarians learn the importance of consuming many types of foods to provide their bodies with all their protein requirements.

It used to be thought that combining foods such as rice and beans would need to be eaten together to provide a complete protein. While this is true, research has now determined that when we ingest adequate vegetable proteins, the amino acids are broken down and stored in our tissues until we need them for energy.  They are then combined to make complete proteins.  It becomes essential for vegetarians then to consume a wide variety of foods to provide these building blocks throughout the day.

Consuming essential healthy fats is another concern for vegetarians.  Fats slow down the absorption processes and provide more sustaining energy.  Good fats are hemp and flax seeds and oils, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds and their oils.  Coconut oil is also a grand plant based saturated fat providing structure to cellular membranes but also giving us antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral intervention.

Good protein choices for vegetarians include legumes (peas, beans, and lentils) along with grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats.  Nuts and seeds ground or whole topping fruits and vegetables provide balanced and essential amino acids.  Soy foods and quinoa are in themselves complete proteins.

While meat and dairy products are great sources of proteins supporting our bodies, they are not the only source of proteins enabling people to be strong, healthy, energetic, and to maintain proper weight.  For vegetarians, it takes conscientious planning.  Many success stories exist highlighting vegetarian/vegan athletes including Olympic competitors.  Diligence in understanding how all foods work for the body and making those personal choices including plant based diets pays off when considering which proteins to select for health and well being.

Krystle Shapiro, LMT, MSHN owns Touchstone Massage Therapy and Nutrition Plus!  She can be reached at (208) 290-6760.

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