Protein is one of the three macronutrients along with carbohydrates and fats that we need for proper growth and function of the human body. It plays an important role in building tissue, hormones, and maintenance of muscles. Protein is made up of 20 amino acids. It is an important foundation for building blood, immunity, skin, hair and bones. Out of the 20 amino acids, our body can make 10 called non-essential amino acids, meaning that they do not need to come from our diet. The other 10 need to come from our dietary choices. These are known as essential amino acids. Our body does not store protein, so we eat to replenish it daily with our food choices.
You may have heard about complete and incomplete proteins. You might wonder what that is all about. Well, it is very simple! Complete proteins have all the essential amino acids while incomplete protein lacks one or more essential amino acid. Complete protein sources are found in dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, and meats. Incomplete proteins can be found in plant-based proteins such as beans, grains, fruits nuts and vegetables.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, what is the best way for you to get the protein and essential amino acids your body needs? Complementary proteins! You can combine two incomplete proteins to form a complete protein. Aim for a variety of plant-based proteins daily to be well-nourished. (You may even save money at the grocery store.)
Here are a few recipes of things you can put together to make a complete protein:
- Brown rice and black bean burritos
- Brown rice with lentils and apricots
- Middle Eastern rice with black beans and chickpeas
- Pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans)
- Black bean and corn salad
- Corn and black-eyed pea salad
- Pasta with lentils and kale
- Barley bean vegetable soup
- Quinoa lentil salad
- Vegan bean and cornbread casserole
- Quinoa breakfast (with seeds and dried fruit)
- Pasta with pumpkin sauce and toasted walnuts
- Lentil veggie burger
So how many grams of protein do you need daily? The result of dividing your ideal weight in pounds by 2 is the minimum number of grams of protein your body needs on a daily basis. This is about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (1kg = 2.2 pounds). The protein requirement could reach 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight if the body is experiencing extreme muscle wasting as a result of cancer or cancer treatment. A registered dietitian can help you determine your individual protein requirements.
Besides getting enough protein, it is very important for you to consume enough calories so that your body does not have to break down protein to use as fuel. If you are not eating enough protein, boost your protein intake with a dry milk powder. It’s inexpensive, and you can easily add it to casseroles, soups and even pancakes. Overall, eating a healthy balanced variety of foods each week can make a huge difference on your cancer journey.
Michelle Robles, Senior Student in the Lipscomb University Didactic Program in Dietetics