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Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read. http://www.gisymbol.com/category/gi-news/

 

03 May 2017

Do you need to eat meat to get enough protein?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, May 03, 2017

It’s a popular view that you need to eat meat to obtain protein, however this is not the case. Protein exists in many plant based foods and in appreciable quantities.

 

How much do protein do we need?

Well, not as much as you might think. The recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) is 46g a day for women and 64g a day for men aged 19-70 years, with the RDI covering the needs of 95% of the population.  Roughly half the population need less: 37g a day for women and 52g for men is the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR). Elderly people need more protein to preserve muscle.

 

How much protein is in different foods?

Eggs contain perfect quality protein against which all other proteins are measured. Protein quality is a reflection of the number and balance of essential amino acids (protein building blocks) present. People who eat eggs in a meat-free diet are called ovo-vegetarians.

  • One 50g egg contains 6.4g protein

 Dairy foods are great sources of protein. People who eat dairy foods in meat-free diet are called lacto-vegetarians.

  • 1 cup (250ml) of reduced fat milk contains 9.5g protein
  • 200g of low fat yoghurt contains 13.6g protein
  • 40g of cheese (hard variety such as cheddar) contains 9.8g protein

 Some people think of fish as different to meat (people who eat seafood but not meat are called pesco-vegetarians), and fish and seafood are excellent sources of protein.

  • 100g white fish (cooked) contains a hefty 25g of protein
  • 100g Prawns/shrimp (cooked) 24g protein
  • 100g squid/octopus (cooked) 21g protein

 Legumes (pulses) are great low GI foods for vegetarians, and they contain protein. In food selection guides, legumes are placed with the meat group as plant based alternatives. We used to think that because plant proteins were generally short on some essential amino acids compared to animal proteins that you needed to eat ‘complementary plant proteins’ at the same time so the body could make up any shortfalls. However we now know this isn’t necessary because the body maintains an amino acid pool which it can dip into as needed.

  • ½ cup (150g) baked beans in tomato sauce (GI 49) provides around 7g protein
  • ½ cup (130g) canned, drained cannellini beans (GI 31) provides around 8g protein
  • 2/3 cup (125g) cooked red lentils (GI 26) provides around 9g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked split peas (GI 25) provides around 12g protein
  • 1 cup (170g) cooked soy beans (GI 18) provides around 23g protein
  • 100g (3½oz) tofu (raw) provides around 12g protein (GI not relevant)
  • 1 cup (250ml) So Natural light soy milk (GI 44) provides around 5g protein

Breakfast cereals, breads and grains are surprisingly high in protein, and the relatively high protein content of wheat is one of the reasons it has become such a widely grown staple food crop. The following are lower GI examples of grain-based foods:

  • ¾ cup (30g) Kelloggs Special K original (GI 56) provides around 6g protein
  • ¾ cup (45g) Kelloggs All-Bran (GI 44) provides around 7g protein
  • ¼ cup (30g) raw traditional rolled oats (GI 57) provides around 3g protein
  • 1 slice (35g) Tip Top 9-grain Original bread (GI 53) provides around 4g protein
  • 1 slice (40g) Burgen Soy-Lin bread (GI 52) provides around 6g protein
  • 1 cup (170g) cooked brown rice (GI 59–86, so check the tables and choose a low GI one) provides around 5g protein
  • 1 cup (170g) cooked basmati rice (GI 58) provides around 4g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked pasta (GI 35–54) provides around 7g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked fresh rice noodles (GI 40) provides around 3g protein
  • 1 cup (180g) cooked soba/buckwheat noodles (GI 46) provides around 9g protein
  • 1 cup (190g) cooked pearl barley (GI 25) provides around 6g protein
  • 1/2 cup (90g) cooked Nature First Organic quinoa (GI 53) provides around 4g protein

Nuts and seeds are super nutritious foods that also contain protein. In food selection guides, nuts and seeds are placed in with the meat group as plant-based alternatives.

  • A small handful (30g/1oz) of most nuts or seeds will deliver around 5g protein (GI not relevant)

Putting this all together, if you enjoyed the following plant foods over the day in breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, you’d easily make the male RDI for protein.

½ cup Oats                  6g

1 cup milk                   9.5g

 

2 slices Soy-lin bread  8g

20g cheese                   5g

 

1 cup Soba noodles     9g

100g tofu                    12g

 

1 tub yoghurt              13.6g

30g mixed nuts           5g

TOTAL                      68g

 

You don’t need to eat meat to get enough protein because it is easily available in plant foods, however the nutrients meat does provide more efficiently than plant foods is iron, zinc and vitamin B12 and these are the limiting nutrients in a vegetarian diet.

 

There is appreciable amounts of protein in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.