Proteins come in many different forms, some are what you may call higher quality then others. There are some that you might call perfect proteins, otherwise known as complete. Being complete means that they contain all of the 9 essential amino acids (the ones we can not manufacture internally), in the right percentages (not exactly the same- some you need higher levels). Once you hit that perfect ratio of all the essential amino acids your body can use that protein in whatever area it needs, be it for healing, muscle repair and growth, neurological functioning, to meet energy needs, etc. If one of the amino acids is lacking then your body will only be able to use up to the level of that limiting amino acid. The rest can not be assimilated. It would seem that incomplete protein cannot be stored for long.
In the past there was much talk of how if you didn’t get all amino acids from one ingredient you would have to combine ingredients to get the optimum profile, crucially in the same meal! This would obviously require a fair bit of math, research on protein profiles and structure to meal plans. Now research points to being able to take more of relaxed stance, and that if you are eating a wide range of different plant foods, including grains and pulses, then you will easily fulfil your daily quota of complete protein. Your body can pool and retain amino acids over the course of a 24 hour period. Thus, your body can draw on all the amino acids it needs from the “pool” for its protein building. So, its not saying you don’t need to think about it, you still have to make sure you are eating a wide range of foods each day.
I see with hindsight that I have suffered from protein deficiency in varying amounts over many years. I was cutting out different foods and having great results in many ways but I wasn’t making much of an effort to add in enough new food to meet my calorie needs (I hadn’t worked out I needed to eat a whole lot more plants to replace the fats I got from dairy and meat) and my protein needs (which I now see I was pretty much non-informed about). I suffered from eczema from childhood where I used to itch myself raw. When I was a baby my mum taped gloves onto my hands to stop the worse of it. Later in life I was on my own with that, and it was just so horrendous to wake up raw and bloody from my frantic sleep itching. I was pretty good at using the back of my hand to rub my arms and legs during the day, and a few days might go by without any fresh damage but what I found was that my healing was so slow! It would be days and days before scratches would nit together properly and then there was the likely hood that all the care would be undone with a nocturnal scrath-a-thon.
Even when I cured my eczema with diet change I suffered from paper thin skin, especially on my hands which had really taken the brunt of both my itching and the skin-thinning steroidal cream I had been proscribed with throughout my life. Any knock would burst my skin apart and any niks and cuts would hang around for weeks whilst healing happened. As an artist this was always frustrating as my hands are really my main tool and I would have to be really careful to stop infection. Obviously I was so grateful that the eczema had gone and so really it was something i just dealt with.
The other main issue I had was my energy level and my ability to do anything strenuous for any amount of time. My main thought when I would experience this would be- ‘oh i need to work out more, build myself some muscles!’ There were times when I would try and do this with arm exercises and generally putting myself forward for more manual labour when it arose. It didn’t really help though, and I don’t remember being able to build any real noticeable new muscle mass apart from a time I was building a house down in Baja with a big crew of beautiful people. Hard labour but also abundant food, 3 times a day with a huge assortment of cooking styles, pulses, grains, tofu etc etc. When the food is there- I eat! I felt great, energised and defined in my body. When you’re being fed by others cooking, and eating in big groups like this, it is so much easier to meet your calorie and protein needs. It was all vegetarian but actually the only animal product we had was honey, eggs and cheese. It was very much mostly plant based and we had some big lads on the crew who managed fine.
Then I go back in to the lone wilderness and I am back to fending for myself and what do I want to eat? Fruit, raw veg, nuts and seeds including nut butters, good bread occasionally. I learn that there are enzyme inhibitors in nuts so you have to soak them otherwise you don’t absorb the nutrients which includes some of the protein. But, nuts are not complete proteins. Often that’s the only source I would have, whilst camping or travelling and my energy level suffered. That’s me in a hot climate, which I have pretty much been in for the past 4 years. The months in the UK I ate more grains and would feel like lying in bed a lot of the time which I would blame on the lack of sun or the miserable weather or all the stodgy food and I get fed up and attempt to go raw in the depths of winter and would just feel freezing to the bones! The balance was hard to find and I usually resorted to animal fats without realising it was probably the complete protein my body was craving.
So you see its been quite the journey to where I am now and where that is looks like; a pretty simple vegan diet, usually 2 meals a day supported with the addition of a complete protein powder and a few superfood blends. I start with overnight soaked oats or a smoothie with all my goodies added in, I snack on fruit throughout the day, some nuts and seeds and will have 1 meal at some point late afternoon-early evening. Thats changed depending on where I am in the world, and whether I have access to a kitchen, a hob and or blender (my favourite kitchen appliance!). I do love making vegan treats when other people are around but when I’m on my own its really simple. Food is best when shared in my opinion and so when i’m alone I just get the nutrients in there and carry on with my day!!
The very first week i started with the protein powder I could feel the difference. My energy and endurance increased significantly and over time my muscles gained definition just by doing my regular active life. The biggest surprise was that my skin was suddenly more elastic and strong. I cut myself a lot less and when it happens healing is just a thing that happens quickly and naturally, no longer being something I have to agonise over. To be honest these results were not anticipated. I had got so used to how things were and even come to the conclusion that my natural state was more sedentary and slow moving. Really in fact, my body loves being active and it feels so much better having the energy to let it be!
Its truly been a life changing journey since I first started making changes 5 years ago. There’s been ups and downs of course, and I’ve had plenty of ah-ha moments,’oh I’ve got it now, this is how I should be eating!’. So of course only time will tell if my diet choices are here to stay or if in fact diet is something that will continuously evolve with us. If we simply listen and make modifications when we feel called to do so, without getting fixated on how things have been working, I believe we can really support our highest state of being on this ultimate journey of self discovery. It can be easy!
I hope my story can inspire you in some way, perhaps to make some of your own changes, to take note about certain conditions within your body you are simply ‘putting up’ with where I have no doubt there is a simple change out there for you that will make all the difference. All it takes is some research, we have such an amazing amount of knowledge to tap into nowadays, and some experimentation. Above all I urge, as always, to foster a relationship with your body and start listening to it; what makes it happy and where does it put up a stink. It really wants to work with you, so try and start working with it by giving it what it needs!
If like me, you feel like it might be a protein issue then my best advice is start adding in a larger range of protein rich foods. Quinoa is complete, tofu is too but there are reasons why you might want to avoid too much soya. Traditional food combinations are corn and beans (Mexico), chickpeas and pita (Israel), rice and peas (Africa), rice and soy (Japan). For the raw vegans, There is good levels of protein (all be it incomplete) in broccoli, hemp, chia, edamame, just make sure that if your not consciously combining or going for a complete protein you need to eat a good range of these foods to make sure your getting the full array of amino acids. If your someone like me who perhaps doesn’t want to have to think about it too much and just add in something too a smoothie, a protein powder might be a great option, just make sure its complete!
And lastly, a somewhat unknown fact. Beef is not a complete protein. It has low levels of tryptophan, otherwise known as the happy hormone. So there might be something in the cliched image of the aggressive masculine steak lover. 🙂 So I will demonstrate with firstly this table which shows the optimal profile of the essential amino acids, which makes complete protein, as advised by the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board
|Essential Amino Acid||mg/g of Protein|
Beef has a tryptophan level of o.23g (230mg)/100g so we take 230/100 and we get Trytophan level of 2.3mg per gram of protein. So pretty much only a 1/3rd of the 7mg shown above.
Check out the Miessence protein powder here– its vegan, GMO free, organic and complete. After my results I decided to go full time as a rep for the company to share it’s benefits! I’m also able to do a comparison for you if you already use a powder and want to know if it’s complete or not. 🙂
Many Blessings on your journey,
A great article by Doctor Vesanto Melina, RD-
If you want to get technical-
My first article on protein looking at the symptoms of deficiency-