The first question most vegetarians are asked is, "How do you manage to get enough protein?" To the uninitiated, the quest for sufficient protein can seem confusing and complex. But a little knowledge will go a long way towards being able to create a healthy vegetarian diet. And it can be done without having to scrutinize lengthy charts and lists, or doing complicated mathematical equations to ensure adequate protein intake.
Proteins contain amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids, eight of them must come directly from the diet. These eight are called essential amino acids. Any protein that contains all of these essential amino acids is called complete protein.
If any of these essential amino acids are lacking, the protein will be called incomplete protein. Most plants will have incomplete protein, but as long as vegetarians are eating a wide variety of these incomplete proteins, their protein needs can be met.
Ovo-lacto vegetarians will also consume eggs and dairy products. Vegans don't eat these animal proteins.
It should be remembered that animal sources are not the only sources of protein. Most vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds will contain some protein.
Getting enough of these foods will provide necessary protein to the vegetarian. While not all of these foods contain complete protein, a good assortment of plant foods can provide the needed amino acids.
It's not necessary, as was once believed, for all eight essential amino acids to be eaten at one sitting. Research indicates that the liver can store essential amino acids longer than was previously thought.
Meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are often considered to be the highest quality protein. It's true that they do contain large amounts of all the essential amino acids.
Other sources that are considered to be high quality protein are soybeans, a grain called quinoa and spinach. Grains tend to be lower in the essential amino acid lysine.
Legumes tend to be lower in the essential amino acid methionine. So grains and legumes are examples of plant foods that contain incomplete proteins.