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As a vegetarian can you replace meat with legumes?

Most foods contain at least some protein. Good sources of protein for vegetarians include nuts and seeds, pulses, soya products (tofu, soya milk and textured soya protein such as soya mince), cereals (wheat, oats, and rice), eggs and some dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurt).

Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are about 20 different amino acids, eight of which must be present in the diet. These are the essential amino acids. Unlike animal proteins, plant proteins may not contain all the essential amino acids in the necessary proportions.

Different foods contain different proteins, each with their own unique amino acid composition. The proportions of essential amino acids in foods may differ from the proportions needed by the body to make proteins. The proportion of each of the essential amino acids in foods containing protein determines the quality of that protein. Dietary proteins with all the essential amino acids in the proportions required by the body are said to be a high quality protein. If the protein is low in one or more of the essential amino acids the protein is of a lower quality. The amino acid that is in shortest supply is called the limiting amino acid.

Protein quality is usually defined according to the amino acid pattern of egg protein, which is regarded as the ideal. Proteins from meat, milk and cheese tend to be of a higher protein quality than plant proteins. This is why plant proteins are sometimes referred to as low quality proteins. Many plant proteins are low in one of the essential amino acids. For instance, grains tend to be short of lysine whilst pulses are short of methionine. This does not mean that vegetarians or vegans go short on essential amino acids. Combining plant proteins, such as a grain with a pulse, leads to a high quality protein which is just as good, than protein from animal foods. Soya is a high quality protein on its own which can be regarded as equal to meat protein.

The limiting amino acid tends to be different in different proteins. This means when two different foods are combined, the amino acids in one protein can compensate for the one lacking in the other. This is known as protein complementing. Vegetarians and vegans eating a well-balanced diet based on grains, pulses, seeds, nuts and vegetables will be consuming a mixture of proteins that complement one another naturally without requiring any planning.

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