Protein - The Builder

Protein is vital within the body for building and maintenance. It is needed for the formation of enzymes (including digestive), hormones, antibodies, plasma proteins such as haemoglobin and for the production, maintenance and repair of all body cells and tissues. In addition dietary protein is the only usable source of nitrogen available to the body and is a source of energy if insufficient carbohydrate or fat is stored. Within the digestive system proteins are broken down into their simplest chemical form – amino acids - which are then the building blocks for the manufacture of new proteins.

Amino acids are divided into 2 groups; essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids must be provided through the diet whereas non-essential amino acids can be made by the body.

Today people are very aware of the role of protein and deficiency is very uncommon (in richer countries at least). The average adult needs somewhere between 25 and 50g daily, however many people consume way in excess of what their body actually requires. This is due to an overconsumption of animal proteins such as meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, butter, cream and the myriad of concoctions available based on those ingredients! In his book 'Spiritual Nutrition', Gabriel Cousins suggests that contrary to popular belief protein can be stored in the body and even after fasting from all food for many days protein levels remain stable. He attributes this to a reservoir of amino acids within the liver which can be converted into new proteins and sent to where they are needed.

Additional protein is required nonetheless during childhood and adolescence, pregnancy and lactation, following serious illness, haemorrhages, burns and surgery to cope with the obvious building processes that are vital at times such as these. Yet protein eaten in excess of daily needs can be positively harmful placing an extra work load on the kidneys, clogging the cells and tissues and overtime predisposing the body to chronic illnesses.

Before listing the plants with high protein content it is worth mentioning that human mothers milk contains only 1.4% protein, evidently sufficient to supply a baby with all the amino acids needed for its total development in its crucial first year of life. The animals we eat in order to obtain our protein, eat grasses and other plants to obtain their protein. Many animals are exclusively vegetarian or fruitarian yet have enough protein to thrive and grow... truly food for thought when considering the size, strength and longevity of an elephant!

SOURCES OF PROTEIN

LEGUMES are more commonly known as BEANS, PULSES and PEAS and were once regarded as 'poor mans meat' for their ability to provide deep nourishment to the masses. Many traditional diets relied upon legumes as a staple and they were considered especially important to children. Legumes collect nitrogen from the air and soil and fix it within themselves producing the most concentrated source of protein within the plant world (many are actually higher in protein than meat ). They also have the ability to regulate blood sugar levels and contain enzymes which inhibit the activation of cancer causing compounds. There are many varieties of legume all with their unique taste and qualities including garden peas, chickpeas, mange tout, blackeye peas, lentils, soya beans, runner beans, broad beans, haricot, pinto, kidney, mung, aduki, lima and alfalfa.

Unlike most other foods, legumes have the added benefit of being virtually unchanged genetically, remaining close to the original state of their ancestors (before recent conventional agriculture took hold and deliberate manipulation of foods for commercial gain began).

SEEDS are an excellent source of protein (again, some varieties rivalling meat) and can be gathered in abundance as most plants produce so many. Native Americans valued seeds for their protein, the ease of gathering and their ability to be stored (when in their cases or pods) for long periods such as over winter. Seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back thousands of years which when soaked in water have sprouted! Seeds in general are such nutritious little parcels that they need only be used as a condiment on meals, as a snack or of course sprouted. There are many varieties of seeds that can be eaten many of which are medicinal also e.g. sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, hemp, flax or linseed, aniseed, cardamon, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, cumin, psyllium and mustard.

NUTS are high in protein also and when unshelled can keep for long periods. Like the seeds they are a highly concentrated source of energy and nutrition. Nuts such as the almond can be blended with water to make a 'milk' or ground into a paste to form ‘butters’ which can be used as spreads. Nutritious nuts include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazils, cashews, peanuts, macadamias (very high fat content), pecans and chestnuts.

CEREALS/GRAINS are usually talked about in terms of their carbohydrate content yet many are also a good source of protein. Grains such as millet, quinoa and buckwheat are contain the highest amount of protein. All the grains will be discussed in the section on carbohydrates.

ALGAES AND CHORELLA of all varieties contain very large proportions of protein as well as a vast array of vitamins and minerals. They are considered by many to be the ultimate food due to their unique nutritional qualities and their cleansing and building effects in the body.

SEA VEGETABLES i.e. seaweeds contain many vital minerals, vitamins and protein and are also very cleansing and building foods. They are very versatile and can be used in soups, nutritional shakes, dry as a condiment or even in homemade breads. Seaweeds to include in the diet ; hijiki, kombu, wakame, arame, dulse, kelp, agar, irish moss, nori etc.

Finally, the above categories are highlighted as being particularly high in protein. Protein is also found (though in smaller quantities) in virtually all fruit and vegetables especially dark leafy greens. By eating a diet that is high in varieties of grains, vegetables and fruits the need to actively search out protein will be eliminated. As an example the following foods each contain approximately 20g of protein:

1/3 cup of lentils 2 cups of frozen peas
1 cup of sunflower seeds 2/3 cup of chick peas
1 cup of almonds 1 packet of tofu
2 1/2 cups of rice 1 tin of baked beans
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