Protein deficiency from a vegetarian diet can cause many health problems
A vegetarian diet can provide extreme health benefits if done properly and the right protein sources are included in your meals. One of the first, and most obvious obstacles to overcome is your body´s need for protein. While most people associate protein with muscles, protein is also used everywhere else in the body, including the digestive, immune and nervous systems. A deficiency in protein can cause you not only to lose muscle mass, but also lower your ability to fight disease and could cause neurological and mental problems. Some of the first signs of protein deficiency are frequent minor illnesses like the ´sniffles´ or neurological symptoms like depression, mental confusion and irritability.
Lysine and the importance of understanding amino acids while on a vegetarian diet
When talking about protein, it is important to know that your body does not actually need protein, it needs amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Your body ingests proteins, but then breaks them down into the individual amino acids. There are 22 different amino acids, which are combined in different ways to produce the thousands of different proteins your body needs. The reason it is so important to know this is because your body needs each of the 22 different amino acids. The body is capable of synthesizing some amino acids and converting one amino acid to a different amino acid. The biggest issue of a vegetarian diet is the amino acid Lysine. Lysine is found in large quantities in animal food sources, but is only found in small quanitities in a very small number of vegetable sources.
Dairy products are the easiest way to obtain protein. Milk is readily available in many different forms, all of which are good food sources of protein for vegetarians. Also, because milk is produced from animals, it contains the amino acid Lysine
Beans as a protein source for vegetarian diets
Beans and soy products are another important protein food source for vegetarians. They contain as much protein per serving as most types of meat, and contain many other nutrients that are difficult to obtain from vegetable sources. There are many different types of beans, and even some incorrectly named beans like ´chick peas´ are all very good sources of protein. Even meat eaters can greatly increase their health by switching out red meat for more servings of beans per week. Another great benefit of beans is that they are very cheap in most parts of the world, so are a great way to save money while eating healthier.
Nuts and Honey as protein sources
Honey can be a meaningful source of protein for vegetarians who do not want to eat dairy products. While the overall protein content of honey is small, honey does contain Lysine. Honey contains other nutrients, and is a much healthier sweetener than table sugar. Almost all nuts and seeds contain high amounts of protein, and similar to beans, they contain many other nutrients not found in most vegetables. Obviously if they are to become a frequent part of your diet, the overly salted prepackaged snack items should be avoided. Nuts and seeds are also a great source of fatty acids, which have many beneficial health properties.
Summary of information regarding protein food sources for vegetarians
While it is fairly easy to obtain the recommended quantity of protein using all vegetable food sources, the amino acid Lysine can be problematic. Without Lysine, severe health problems can occur. For this reason, dairy products or honey should be a part of all diets in at least small quantities. Beans, nuts and seeds can then be used as a food source for vegetarians to provide the majority of protein needed for good health.