Protein is a very common, but often misunderstood part of our diets. We consume protein in many of the foods that we eat every day, but while making the best protein choices for keeping our body and mind healthy, we often forget that quality is just as important as quantity. All protein foods, in fact, may not be as healthy for us.
Complete and incomplete protein
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. Twenty of these amino acids commonly make up both plant and animal proteins. Amino acids in food protein can be classified as:
- Essential or indispensable – cannot be produced by the body, and have to come from the diet we eat.
- Non-essential or dispensable – can be produced by the body.
In general, protein is of two types based on the combination of amino acids it contains- complete and incomplete.
- Complete proteins have all of the essential amino acids and some non-essential amino acids. Animal-based foods, for example, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources.
- Incomplete proteins are usually short of one or more of the essential amino acids. Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds are sources of incomplete proteins.
- Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.
Choosing the right protein
When preparing food for your children, it is important that they get the protein which contains all of the essential amino acids. Vegetarians have limited sources of complete proteins. Sources such as sprouted legumes, beans, daals, nuts, milk and milk products and soya bean products, contain all the essential amino acids. But, most other plant-protein sources are incomplete proteins, and that’s why for vegetarian kids, milk is a very important source of protein.
Some options for high-quality protein:
- The humble egg is an excellent and inexpensive source of protein. A large egg can provide up to 6 g of protein.
- Milk and dairy foods contain both good quality protein and calcium. A 200 ml glass of cow’s milk provides 6.4 g of protein and 240 mg of calcium. The Dietary Guidelines for Indians 2010 recommend a consumption of 500 ml of milk every day by children and adolescents in the age group of 4-14 years.
- Yoghurt or dahi contains a combination of casein and whey protein and 100g of dahi made with cow’s milk can provide 3g of excellent quality protein.
- Fish and seafood are good sources of protein and many fish sold in India are also low in fat. Fish are a major part of a healthy diet. They provide about 20% good quality protein along with heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D.
- Other good quality protein sources are chicken (about 25g/100g) and lean goat meat (about 21g/100g).
- Soya protein foods contain about 40g/100 g protein along with vitamins, minerals and insoluble fibre.
- Legumes, beans and daals are an integral part of the Indian diet and a good source of vegetarian protein. They contain about 22 g protein per 100 g.
- Nuts such as groundnuts, cashewnuts and almonds provide about 23 g protein per 100 g.