Did you know that a single generic value of protein on nutrition label is not enough to ensure enough protein in our diet?
As we know dietary protein consists of its smaller parts – the amino acids. 9 out of 20 amino acids are essential amino acids that our body can’t make. The only way to receive them is through our diet.
If you don’t pay attention to your protein quality and the presence of essential amino acids in it, you can suffer from a lot of health problems. Especially your brain can suffer from amino acid deficiency as amino acids are needed to build neurons, connective tissue and neurotransmitters. The last ones keep your brain functioning. They help manage automatic body processes (such as breathing and heart rate), your mood and emotions, but also are necessary for your memory and learning capabilities.
The concentration and digestibility of these essential amino acids are different depending on our protein source. Luckily, we have a new standard, the digestible indispensable amino acid score, DIAAS, to be sure that our body receives enough essential amino acids to work properly. DIAAS was developed by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The amino acid score specifically focuses on the digestibility of essential amino acids and gives more accurate information on protein quality of various foods. It is the ratio of the digestible amino acid content in the food (mg/g of protein) to the same amino acid in a reference pattern taken from age-specific amino acid requirements. The lowest value across amino acids is multiplied by 100 to convert the ratio to a percentage. This percentage represents the DIAAS of the food.
Based on the DIAAS, dairy products (whole milk powder, milk protein concentrate,whole milk) are the winner, followed by animal-based protein sources (hard boiled egg, beef, chicken breast). Soy, whey and pea protein as well as chickpeas have also a good DIAAS score. The amount of digestible indispensable amino acids in cooked grains (such as rice, rye, barley and wheat) is lower compared to the animal-based sources and legumes.
As you can see, there are a lot of possibilies to get enough good quality protein in your diet. Try to variate and use as much different plants and legumes as possible and you’ll ensure a good protein quality basis for your brain and your body to function properly!