My first introduction to the vegetarian lifestyle was when I was in high school and my friend Maggie announced she was giving up meat. I recall clearly going to lunch with her at a local mall, and while my friends and I dined on McChicken sandwiches, she ate a large french fries and that was it. Even as a teenager (who admittedly, didn’t have the best eating habits) I instinctively knew that just eating french fries for a meal and calling yourself a vegetarian did not a healthy lifestyle make.
On the flip side, I know a couple people who advised me on getting enough complex proteins while living on a vegetarian diet that made it sound as tricky as a Biochemistry textbook. Conversations that involved names of essential amino acids and protein building blocks left my head spinning, and my mind wondering if I had it in me to figure all this vegetable protein stuff out myself.
While I am not a nutritionist, I have found a couple resources that helped guide me as I planned meals and daily snacks to ensure proper nutrition for our family. Here are a few things I learned:
--There are only two plant based proteins that are “complete” proteins (ie, contain all essential amino acids): soy and quinoa.
--To ensure complete proteins on a vegan (no animal products—no dairy, no eggs), ensure that your daily diet has whole grains, legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, etc) and nuts. This can give you a good balance of amino acids.
--A vegetarian diet should include the above, as well as milk, cheese and eggs to help complement the plant based amino acids.
Again, I am not a nutritionist, nor do I play one on television, so if any true dietary experts have anything to add, I am all ears.