Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Pitfalls in Vegetarian Nutrition(1) - Proteins

Buckwheat a humble source of
quality proteins
Due to little exposure, 
many people have a lot of misunderstanding about Vegetarian Nutrition. 

Some may have been influenced 
by the incomprehensive health education system, 
some may have been misled by the media, 
while others may have been illusified by 
their own personal experience, 
when they perceive vegetarian diet being incomplete or mal-nutritive.

In fact, if one were to spend some time flipping 
through some science text book or scientific publication, 
it’s easy to find out that plant based diet is nutritious. 

However, because vegetarianism is not deemed 
as a concerned issue in our modern society, 
even though, some people may raise the topic on a dining table, 
eventually not many will seriously research into vegetarianism. 

This is why the misunderstanding 
of vegetarian nutrition is always persistent, 
if not worsen by “hear-say” across dining tables.

Among all pitfalls and myths about vegetarianism, 
the most common one is about proteins:

Proteins, from biological perspective, 
is ubiquitous (i.e. everywhere). 

As long as the food we take is a living thing, 
including animals, plants, algae, fungi and bacteria,  
it contains proteins. 

Simply, all living things 
are made up of cells and cells must be made of proteins! 

Hence, when we hear that vegetarians 
are not getting any protein as they don’t consume meat, 
we know it’s absolutely incorrect.

Regarding proteins, 
vegetarians, however, have to take note 
of how to take the right quantity of the right quality proteins:

In plant based diet, 
although, all plants contain proteins, 
but the distribution of proteins across different plant parts is not even. 

With some exceptions, in general, 
  leaf (e.g. Choy-sum, Bak-Choy), 
  flower (e.g. Lily flower, Ba-wang-hua), 
  fruit (e.g. tomato, eggplant) and 
  stem (e.g.celery, Lily bulb) contain less proteins 
  root (e.g. sweet potato, tapioca) and 
  seeds (e.g. soybean, millet). 

Therefore, if there is a need to increase proteins intake, 
one will need to take more of the root and seeds.

The quality of a protein refers to 
the completeness of all 18 types of amino acids 
that make up the protein. 

If a food item contains proteins with 18 types of amino acids, 
then it’s deemed a source of good quality protein. 
If a protein contains less than 18 types of amino acids, 
then it’s deemed as sub-quality protein. 

In general, scientists perceive that meat proteins 
(containing all 18 types of amino acids) 
is always better than plant proteins
(with some exceptions like beans and some seeds).
This is because
plant proteins are usually lack of one or two types of amino acids. 
That is why we often hear the remarks that, 
in order to improve proteins intake, 
one must consume meat, and that 
the poor quality of plant proteins will cause malnutrition. 

But, those are very biased notions. 

Every plant food is lack of different amino acids. 
In a plant based regime, 
one is encouraged to diversify 
the intake of different vegetables and grains, 
so that each plant food will complement each other. 

There is never an issue of amino acid deficiency. 

To learn about the basics of a balanced vegetarian diet, please visit

On another matter, 
a lot of vegetarians are over-worried about proteins deficiency 
to the extent of compulsively consume 
large amount of soybeans, tofu, beans and soy milk. 
This is not recommended for a vegetarian. 

Although beans are very high in proteins, 
they are also very “acidic”. 
“Acidic” food refers to food 
which causes metabolic burden in our body. 

If our overall intake of acidic food increases, 
leading to our metabolic burden worsening, 
our internal organs will age faster or become susceptible to diseases.

For developing children and sick people who needs a lot of proteins, 
it’s suggested that they take alkaline grains with good quality proteins 
(ie with all  18 types of amino acids). 

The examples are millet, quinoa, amaranth seeds and buckwheat. 
These staple grains can be taken on daily basis and 
will not cause substantial metabolic burden to the body.

With these proper knowledge and critical analyses 
about plant based diet, 
we now understand that proteins 
has never been an issue and 
should not deter our confidence in a plant based regime.

Next, we will discuss about the pitfalls and myths about carbohydrates in a vegetarian diet.

Well regards,
Kee Yew 

{Learning Holistic Wellness for Wisdom and Compassion}


  1. To complete amino acid, it is to combine legumes with grains.

    Regarding carbohydrates, it would be better to use simple carbohydrates so that the body won't be tired easily otherwise the body uses so much energy to convert complex carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates.

    That's what I read.

  2. combination and diversification is the trick, it does not necessary have to be just legume and grain.

    complex carbo is not necessarily a bad thing, as it will be discussed on the subsequent post :)


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