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Why You Need Protein

When my daughter was little, she enjoyed stacking building blocks as towers and watching them fall. We would giggle together as they came tumbling down on the floor and then we would start all over again.

There is another type of building blocks that is important for the health of our bodies. We may not think of these materials or foods as building blocks but they help develop, maintain and repair our bodies throughout life. Any idea what they might be? Give up?

They are proteins. Proteins are made of building material that are called amino acids. Amino acids are divided into two groups. One group can be made by our bodies and are called non-essential amino acids. The other group cannot be made by our bodies and we call them essential.

Meats are known as a good source of proteins but plant sources can provide all of the essential amino acids too. What are good sources? Soybeans, grains and lentils/beans, peanut butter and bread, corn and beans.

The amino acids found in these plant foods can help build and maintain muscle, help repair cuts and bruises, and make all sorts of hormones and enzymes in the body.

As a society, we used to practice getting all of the essential amino acids in one meal, but now we know that we can eat these plant foods throughout the day and get the amino acids to stay healthy.

What are some of the favorite dishes? There are a wide variety of beans that can vary by taste, color and texture – navy beans, kidney beans, orca beans are just a few. And don’t forget lentils – French, green, and red make delicious soups.

Beans and lentils can be combined with various types of rice – black, forbidden, pink Madagascar and others. Other grains can be used – toasted buckwheat, bulgur, and teff can make delicious meals.

And don’t forget the seasonings. Cumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic and onions can be used for starters. Explore and try some new spice blends such as curries, Italian blends and others. Food comes alive when we add these flavors.

These foods are a wonderful addition to the diet and they provide quite a bit of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They are also useful in helping to keep chronic diseases at bay.

So the next time the subject of, “What’s for dinner?” rolls around, consider adding plant based proteins to your diet.

Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian in Southern California.

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