What do you mean, protein?


How many times have I been asked, ‘Where do you get your protein from?’ (ans. many, many times). I have my answer off-pat; pulses, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds and.. of course, soy products. Tofu is a good source of high-quality, easily digestible protein and contains all 8 of the essential amino acids which can’t be made by our bodies.

What is protein?

Protein is a vital element for health and muscle growth and development and body tissue repair. It makes the enzymes that are needed for our bodies chemical reactions ie brain function, nerve endings. We need protein to manufacture serotonin which is vital for good mood, appetite and sleep and lack of protein can lead to depression, poor memory and lack of concentration.

What does it do?

Protein builds new tissue and is vital for the growth and repair of cells. We can use it for energy or store it as fat. Plants combine sugars from sunlight, carbon dioxide and oxygen with nitrogen from the air and soil to make protein with amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks for making protein. There are 20 in total, 12 we can make in our bodies from carbohydrates, fat and nitrogen, the remaining 8 have to come from our food. A protein which can be described as ‘complete’ combines most of the 8 amino acids.

So we need it. But how much do we need..?

We don’t need as much protein in our daily diet as people used to think. In the late 19th Century, people believed that we needed 145g protein/day, during the war this recommended figure fell to 100g/day whereas it is now 55g protein/day (National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board)

.. and where can we get it?

It used to be thought that an animal-based diet was the only way to provide sufficient protein for a healthy life. This is a myth. All our protein needs can be found in the plant world. Tofu has the same NPU as chicken of 65% (NPU = Net Protein Utilisation, a measurement of how the body is able to convert amino acids into protein and therefore utilise protein from food). If you need any proof as to how a plant-based diet can provide enough protein to sustain muscle growth and repair look to the world’s most muscular mammal, the gorilla. These guys just eat plants, oh, and insects but that only makes up 0.1% of their diet. Other muscly vegan mammals include 75 year old body builder, Jim Morris (google him, its impressive), champion ultraman Rich Roll, Mike Tyson, Carl Lewis, the slightly less muscly Bill Clinton and the indomitable Prince.

SO ..

Protein is important and tofu is a realistic and promising source of low-cost, high quality protein and a viable alternative to meat as the main source of protein in your diet. Soybeans contain approx. 40% protein and 18% oil and have the same full range of amino acids as meat but without the harmful effects of animal protein. So give it try?