I sometimes receive an eye-roll when I discuss the importance of protein – people tend to think it’s for body-builders, personal trainers and weight-loss. Let me set the record straight – we ALL need plenty of protein. Without it, our bodies simply cannot function properly.

Protein is made up of amino acids, which are like the building blocks of the body. They build muscles and are essential for growth and repair.1 They form enzymes which facilitate biochemical reactions – digestion, muscle contraction, energy production and blood clotting are all dependent on enzymes.2, 3 They help to form antibodies to fight infection.4 They transport nutrients around the body. They are essential to detoxification pathways.5 Every single cell in the body has a protein component.

Without sufficient protein, we increase our risk of catching coughs and colds, reduce our ability to detoxify, we can suffer mood symptoms including depression, struggle with sleep, have digestive issues and even struggle with fertility. Yes, protein is that important.

There are about 20 amino acids, 11 of which can be made endogenously (in the body) and 9 of which must be obtained through diet. These are the ‘essential amino acids’: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.6

Meat, fish, eggs and dairy contain all of these, but most plant-based proteins do not. Therefore, if you’re following a vegetarian or especially a vegan diet, variety really is key! By eating a wide variety of plant-based food throughout the day, you’re more likely to obtain all 9 essential amino acids.

Some of the most commonly used plant proteins are quinoa (the only plant-based complete protein – it contains all amino acids), tofu, tempeh, pulses (lentils, beans and peas), nuts and seeds, oats, rice and green vegetables.

Here’s an example of how you could get a variety of plant protein across one day of eating:

  • Breakfast: overnight oats with chia seeds, fresh berries and nut butter
  • Lunch: quinoa salad with tofu, dark leafy green and coloured vegetables
  • Snack: carrot sticks with hummus or edamame beans
  • Dinner: mixed bean chilli with guacamole and green vegetables

Oats, chia seeds, nut butter, quinoa, tofu, dark leafy green vegetables, hummus, edamame, beans and more green vegetables – a protein powerhouse!


  1. Wu, G. (2009). Amino acids: metabolism, functions, and nutrition. Amino Acids, 37(1), pp.1-17.
  2. Wu, G. (2010). Functional Amino Acids in Growth, Reproduction, and Health. Advances in Nutrition, 1(1), pp.31-37.
  3. Wang, W., Qiao, S. and Li, D. (2008). Amino acids and gut function. Amino Acids, 37(1), pp.105-110.
  4. Li, P., Yin, Y., Li, D., Woo Kim, S. and Wu, G. (2007). Amino acids and immune function. British Journal of Nutrition, 98(2), pp.237-252.
  5. Hodges, R. and Minich, D. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2015, pp.1-23.
  6. Hou, Y., Yin, Y. and Wu, G. (2015). Dietary essentiality of “nutritionally non-essential amino acids” for animals and humans. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 240(8), pp.997-1007.