PROTEIN…WHERE ARE YOU?!

Once upon a time in Mumbai.. (oops! Too much of Bollywood influence! Once, when I was in Bangalore, there was a cookery contest that was telecasted in a popular Kannada TV channel. In that show, contestants from all parts of Karnataka were selected and were given a chance to showcase their culinary expertise. During the preparation, the contestants spoke about the dish, ingredients used and interestingly, the nutrient content of the ingredients too. After a dish was prepared, the contestants presented it to the judges. (A Chef from a famous Five star Hotel in Bangalore and a Nutritionist…… that is me!!)

It was indeed a pleasure to watch them cook with zeal and more pleasurable to get a chance to taste the dishes they had prepared! There were around 15 to 16 episodes and during the shooting of one episode, where a sweet dish was being prepared, I heard the contestant say ‘I am adding cardamom now; it has protein in it and is good for health”!  This made me THINK!

Whenever I read an article on food or watch a cookery show, most of the times I read/ hear people say proteins can be obtained by consuming foods like meat and chicken. This again makes me THINK!!

What is it that I am ‘THINKING’ actually? Is protein obtained only from Non-vegetarian food stuffs? Are vegetarians so desperate to include cardamom and other spices as protein source?? Are vegetarians getting any protein at all because they have never eaten chicken and meat?! Let me deal with it one by one…

Cardamom is a spice and is used as a flavoring agent in foods and beverages. The protein present is approximately 10 grams per 100 grams of cardamom. Meaning, if you want to get 10g of protein from it, you will have to eat 100 grams of cardamom! The amount of cardamom that goes into a sweet dish, Pulav/Biryani or any beverage is very little. Its role is not as a main ingredient but, as a flavoring agent. Hence, Cardamom cannot be included in a meal as a potential protein source!

The ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) recommends 1g/kg body weight of protein per day for Indian Adult Woman and Man. This recommendation is for Indian population. For an individual, ten percent of the total calories required should come from protein.

Food sources of protein are Pulses (whole and split- Bengal gram, black gram, channa, green gram etc), nuts and oil seeds (ground nuts, cashew etc), milk, eggs, fish, poultry and meat. All these are considered good sources of protein in the diet.

Cereals (Rice, Ragi, Wheat, Jowar), pulses, milk and milk products contribute most of the protein in Indian dietary. When cereals and pulses are included in the same meal (eg: Idli chutney/sambar, Rice Sambar, chapati dhal), the essential amino acid content of the two together is more in keeping with the body’s needs than that of each of these taken singly.

Any additional foods such as curds or buttermilk, vegetables or fish/ meat which may be included in a meal may help improve the quality of the protein by virtue of the essential amino acids they supply. Hence including two or more sources of protein in the menu for each meal helps to improve the quality of protein and its utilization.

The concentration of protein in most vegetables and fruits is small. These may not be counted to supply more than ten percent of the day’s intake. Though the quantity supplied may be small, these proteins do enhance the quality of protein in the diet.

Many community based Indian studies on frequency of food use by people have shown that the inclusion of non vegetarian foods is just once or twice a week. A person who is considered a non vegetarian by his/her food habits may or may not include non-veg foods every day.  The importance of any food as a source of protein depends on how often and how much of it is consumed.

For the utilization of protein in the body, calories are required. Low protein status   can occur due to less protein foods in the diet or less calories to utilize protein! (This is another example of ‘dieting’ going wrong!) When calories are restricted, protein even though present in the diet cannot be utilized well by the body. Low protein status is found in majority of the Indian women.

If all the above mentioned points are taken care, then the protein requirement can be met easily. In addition to other food items already mentioned, skim milk, Soya bean, soya chunks, tofu, paneer, whey water (liquid that remains after the milk curdles when paneer is prepared is rich in protein. This can be strained and used in chapati dough for making chapatis/phulkas or also in khadi and soups!) flax seeds, chia seeds (used in beverages and falooda- an Indian dessert) can be included in diet as protein source.

So, vegetarians also have a wide range of foods to choose their proteins from. Yes! Found protein at last! And by the way… in the TV show, the preparation was over and the dish was presented to us. It was a tasty sweet dish with the aroma of cardamom. The contestant was judged accordingly. She was happy to know that she was selected for semi-finals and also the fact that the 2 pinch of cardamom powder she used was to enhance the flavor and not to increase the protein content of the dish. 🙂

Dr.Sowmya Rao

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About raosowmya

Hello enthusiastic readers I am Dr.Sowmya, a Consultant Nutritionist with more than ten years of experience in the field of Food Science and Nutrition. It gives me great pleasure to discuss some of the things related to food , nutrition and health that i notice in my day to day teaching and research life with all you enthusiastic readers. Many scientific journals/books/research articles and reports are sources of information that aid me to write an article in this Blog. Credit goes to all researchers worldwide and also to you readers for reading and spreading the information you gather from this blog. Many images have been used in the blog which are personally photographed or downloaded from search engines. welcome to my blog...enjoy reading... :)
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