Protein Power

The structure of the human body including muscles, tissues and organs are made from protein. Proteins also make up enzymes and hormones for the body’s biochemical reactions, transport molecules such as haemoglobin that, with the help of iron, delivers oxygen to the cells, and immunoproteins which are the basis of our immune system.
Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins. There are twenty different amino acids linking together in various combinations to form proteins. The human body can synthesise or build thirteen of these amino acids from scratch, however the remaining nine are referred to as ‘essential’ amino acids; they must be obtained from dietary sources as the body cannot manufacture them.
Most of us are aware animal meats and fish are excellent protein sources. As well as meats, other foods derived from animals such as dairy products and eggs are also protein rich. These foods are referred to as ‘high biological value proteins’ as they contain the whole twenty amino acids the human body requires to make its proteins. As meat, meat products and fish are readily available for most Australian families, children consuming a typical western diet are rarely at risk of protein deficiency. However for religious, ethical, health reasons such as allergies, or simply due to personal preference (fussy children!), not all of us consume these high protein foods.
Plant based foods do not have the same high biological value protein as meat s, meat products and fish. Vegetable proteins are locked inside plant cell walls making them harder for the body to digest. Furthermore, individual plants do not contain all the amino acids essential for human needs. However, as different plant foods contain different types of amino acids, plant foods can be combined to provide all of the essential amino acids. For example, cereals lack the amino acid lysine but legumes have large amounts of lysine.  Therefore cereals and legumes can be combined, complementing each other to provide all the amino acids needed by the body. Grains and legumes (rice & beans, pea soup & toast, lentil curry & rice) and legumes and seeds (beans & sesame seeds, hummus dip) are some examples of excellent plant food combinations providing all essential amino acids.
Because they undergo significant and rapid growth and have increased protein needs, children, pregnant women and lactating mothers eating vegetarian or vegan diets are particularly vulnerable to protein malnutrition. An Accredited Practicing Dietitian can help with careful dietary planning to ensure complementary protein combinations. Click here to find an APD near you or contact Andrea at or
Andrea Cruickshank APD AN

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