How this incomplete protein is changing the nutrition game
ONE of the rules of a healthy diet is to eat a balanced meal. Health experts emphasise a balanced meal because it provides the complete nutrients the body needs.
Because there is no single food that can do the job, a balanced meal must consist of food from different groups — fruit, vegetables; fish, poultry, lean meat and legumes; rice, noodles, bread, cereals and tubers; and wholegrain as well as dairy products.
Each of these foods is packed with macro and micronutrients. Macro nutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats while micronutrients are vitamins and minerals.
Without these nutrients, we will have increased risk of various diseases including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes. It is believed that diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking.
Lack of certain nutrients can also lead to nutrient deficiencies. This can occur when the body does not get enough nutrients from food or is unable to absorb nutrients from the food consumed.
Of the three macro nutrients, protein is the most important for optimal functioning of the body’s cells, growth and repair.
Sunway Medical Centre dietitian Ang Hui Inn says our bodies needprotein in relatively large amounts to stay healthy.
Protein is a component of every cell in the human body which uses it to build and repair tissue as well as make enzymes and hormones.
It is needed for formation of hair, nails, skin and organs such as heart, kidneys and liver. Protein is also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood, she adds.
Ang says protein is also required to make antibodies to defend the body against diseases. Under certain circumstances, protein will be used to provide glucose as fuel for the body.
“Consuming foods containing protein helps your body to develop, grow and function properly. It also provides energy and gives you great satiety level.
“Based on studies published in the American Journal Of Nutrition, adequate protein in the diet helps to stabilise blood sugar levels. Protein also plays an important role in the maintenance of lean body mass or muscle mass to increase metabolic rate for better weight control.”
She says an individual’s protein needs are determined by several biological factors such as age, gender and physiological issues that include the presence of infections or injuries, pregnancy and lactation.
Lack of protein in the diet would result in decreased muscle strength, a loss of body fat, delayed wound healing, ulcers and a weakened immune system.
According to the Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) Malaysia 2017, the protein requirement for infants is 8-10g per day. For children aged 1 to 9, it is 12-23g per day. Those aged 10 to 17 need between 31-42g per day.
Those aged 18 to 59 need between 52 and 53g per day while those aged 60 years and above have to consume 50g of protein per day.
Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, of which 11 are labelled as non-essential that are synthesised by the body. The remaining nine are essential and must be obtained from food.
The nine essential amino acids are methionine, valine, tryptophan, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, threonine, phenylalanine and histidine.
There are two food sources that provide these essential proteins — animal and plant. Animal protein — also known as complete protein — is found in meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese.
Plant protein or incomplete protein is found in vegetables, grains, and nuts.
Ang says animal protein is considered high quality and complete as they contain a large amount of all the nine essential amino acids. Animal protein is also more biologically complete with regards to their amino acids composition.
Besides the difference in amino acids profile, animal protein contains vitamin B12 which is crucial for the formation of red blood cells and production of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). In addition, the type of iron in animal protein is heme-iron, which is more easily and better absorbed by the body.
“Unfortunately, animal protein is often high in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. And when taken in excessive amounts, it can increase cholesterol level in our blood which poses a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
“Because of this, there is a growing body of research backing the replacement of animal protein with plant protein for health benefits.”
Ang says plant protein is still packed with other beneficial nutrients including fibre, vitamins, minerals, healthy fat and antioxidants. Plant protein also has very little saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol.
Some of the best sources of plant protein include tofu, soyabean, tempeh, edamame, kidney beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, peanut, walnuts, almonds, quinoa, oatmeal, kale and spinach, she says.
Ang says according to a meta-analysis review published in the Journal Of The American Heart Association, replacing a few servings of animal protein with plant protein every day can reduce cholesterol markers by five per cent.
According to nutritionfacts.org, studies have shown that a more plant-based diet may help prevent, treat, or reverse some of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Research revealed that those on plant-based diets have reported greater diet satisfaction, improved digestion, increased energy, and better sleep, as well as significant improvements in their physical functioning, general health, vitality, and mental health.
Plant-based eating can also improve emotional state, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, sense of well-being, and daily functioning.
On the worry that consuming only plant protein could lead to nutrient deficiencies, Ang says as long as the diet is carefully and appropriately planned, plant protein is nutritionally adequate.
She says when a person includes a variety of whole plant foodssuch as wholegrains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts in his diet, he can still get enough of all the essential amino acids.
Although plant protein is naturally lower in some of the essential amino acids, including all sources and eating them in the recommended daily amount will provide the complete protein your body needs.
“The important thing is to include plenty of whole protein-rich plant foods in all meals. For example, you can add chopped almonds or walnuts into your salad, add peanut butter spread to sliced fruits such as apples or pears, and sprinkle some chia seeds in your oatmeal.
“Even if you are not on a vegetarian or vegan diet, increasing plant food in your diet will certainly bring more health benefits.”
According to the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful and nutritionally adequate. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and for athletes.
THE VEGAN ULTRA HERO
Scott Jurek is one of the greatest long distance runners of all time.
According to his website (scottjurek.com), Jurek has claimed victory in nearly all of ultrarunning’s trail and road events including the historic 153-mile (246km) Spartathlon, the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135-mile (217km) Ultramarathon, and — his signature race — the Western States 100-mile (160km) Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times.
Jurek had also created a speed record for thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2015, averaging nearly 50 miles (80km) a day over 46 days. He also created the United States all-surface record in the 24-Hour Run with 165.7 miles (266.67km): 6.5 marathons in one day.
What is extraordinary about his accomplishments that have taken the running world by storm is that Jurek achieved it on a vegan diet. He turned vegan in 1999 because of the health benefits and not to achieve the perfect marathon results.
On numerous interviews, he had mentioned that he started reading more about different diets when he was in college. Working in a hospital while studying for a degree in physical therapy, he had seen the impact of unhealthy diet on people.
“I was eating a lot of junk food at the time, so I needed to do something radical. It became clear to me that I needed to change my diet to avoid the health problems I was seeing. Choosing a vegan diet is a long-term decision rather than one made for short-term performance gains,” he had said.
While running marathons was not the reason Jurek turned vegan, the diet played a major role throughout his career. He credited the food he ate with faster recovery time, lack of injuries and better endurance on the trail.
His diet comprised healthy fats, wholegrains, legumes, soya protein such as tempeh, tofu, and miso; nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Jurek wrote about his experience in his book Eat and Run released in 2012. He opened up about his life and career — from his midwestern childhood of hunting, fishing, cooking for his meat-and-potato family to the slow transition to ultrarunning and veganism, which he says “shows the power of an iron will and the importance of thinking of our food as our fuel.
“As long as I ate a varied whole-foods diet with adequate caloric intake, I would get enough complete protein,” he wrote.
The book — a New York Times best-seller — also included Jurek’s own plant-based recipes.