Meat, Fish, Eggs and Other Alternatives
by Maxine Stinton, BBC Health
This food group includes poultry, pulses, beans, nuts, seeds, soya products and vegetable protein foods, such as quorn and seitan. They're all grouped together, because they're rich in protein.
Protein - Highs and Lows
Protein plays an essential role in building and repairing your body. But whether it helps a fingernail to grow or heals a sore muscle, for example, depends very much on what the protein is made up of.
This is because protein consists of smaller units called amino acids, which chain together in many different combinations to achieve different things. Some amino acid chains are created by your body, but some - essential amino acids - must come from your diet. Though all animal and plant cells contain some protein, the amount and the quality of the protein varies a lot.
High biological value foods contain enough indispensable amino acids for an adult diet and are considered to be good quality protein. Meat, fish and eggs sit in this category.
Low biological value foods don't contain enough indispensable amino acids. Plant foods, such as pulses, nuts and seeds, are in this group.
So, if you're vegetarian or vegan, you need to do some clever protein-combining at meal times to ensure that the amino acid of one protein (e.g. soya milk) can compensate for the deficiencies of another (e.g. muesli with nuts and seeds).
Protein Combining for Vegetarians and Vegans
Because plant foods only contain some but not all of the protein elements needed by your body, they need to be mixed together to ensure your good health.
Foods such as eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, vegetable protein foods and soya products all contain protein. Plus, there are small amounts in grains and dairy products. It's quite easy to combine 2 or 3 of these to make sure you're getting enough protein. Here are some ideas for tasty combinations:
If you're vegan and don't eat dairy products or eggs, there's no reason to feel limited. Here are some ideas:
How Much Is Enough?
Health professionals recommend that protein makes up 10-15% of your diet. They suggest that adult males eat 55.5g of protein every day and adult females eat 45g every day.
In real terms, eating a moderate amount of protein - in one or two meals every day - should give you all the protein you need.
The need to eat it daily is worth emphasising because your body can't store protein - you can't stock up on it by bingeing on protein once a week. Simply eating a variety of foods every day is all you need to do.
Nutrition Disclaimer: The recommendations given are based on RNIs (Reference Nutrient Intakes) issued by the UK Department of Health. These RNIs are considered to provide an adequate nutrient intake for the majority of the population. The RNIs we use are applicable to healthy adults. Where the RNI is unavailable, we use the government's 'safe intake' recommendation. For more information about dietary recommendations and nutritional requirements, visit the British Nutrition Foundation's website at www.nutrition.org.uk.