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Protein and iron: red meat alternatives

Overview

Yes we need protein and iron, but no, animal meat isn't the only, or the best, source of protein and iron. Furthermore, if you are eating meat, then it's wise to buy it organically grown, as that way you can be sure your meat is chemical and antibiotic free.

So what can the 21st-century person eat to meet the recommended daily allowance of protein and iron? Protein is needed for growth and development. It's also used for energy and to manufacture hormones, antibodies, enzymes and tissues. It helps keep the acidity in our bodies in check by maintaining a proper acid/alkaline balance.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids. These are eggs, milk, cheese, poultry, meat and fish. Incomplete proteins contain only some of the essential amino acids. These are grains, legumes and green leafy vegetables. If you combine, for example, beans with brown rice, nuts, seeds or corn, you have a complete protein. All soy products are complete proteins, as is yoghurt.

The average vegetarian/aquatarian (seafood eater) diet easily fulfils the daily protein recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Animal proteins come with the problems of saturated fats, which have been linked to heart disease and cancer. Plant proteins, however, are linked to dietary fibre. It is important to include foods high in Vitamin C, as this will increase iron absorption up to 30 percent.

Foods to include:

* Molasses
* Mochi (pounded sweet rice)
* Leafy greens
* Legumes such as lentils, kidney and soybeans
* Sesame seeds
* Sea vegies
* Almonds
* Tofu
* dried peaches
* Whole grains
* Pumpkin
* Raisins
* Watercress
* Beetroot
* Coconut milk
* Chestnuts
* Cherries
* Chinese red dates
* Mulberries
* Kelp
* Raspberries
* Walnuts
* Broccoli
* Nuts and seeds

It's important to include adequate protein, plus B and C vitamins for iron absorption. The average vegetarian diet supplies twice the minimum daily requirements of iron. It also supplies the body with three times the daily requirement of vitamin C. Studies of the iron content in food show that vegetables, fruit and nuts are much higher in iron content than beef.

Food per 100g
* Amaranth 16mg
* Dried bean curd (yuba) 11mg
* Soybeans 8.4mg
* Almonds 7.4mg
* Sesame seeds 7.1mg
* Lentils and pulses, ranging from 6.9mg
* Seaweed 6.3mg
* Dried peaches 6mg
* Beef 2-3mg

The Australian recommended daily allowances are:
* Woman 19-54 years: 12-16mg/day
* Men 19+: 7mg/day; aged 54+: 5-7mg/day
* Pregnant women: 22 36mg/day
* Children aged one to 11: 6-8mg/day; aged 12-18: 10-13mg/day

©Janella Purcell 2003