What is Plant Protein?
By now, we’re all getting used to the idea of protein coming from sources other than meat. It’s found in legumes, vegetables and whole grains and we don’t have to be vegan to prefer it.
Without reeling off big words in physiology, plant protein is just that: protein from plants. Your body doesn’t mind whether you nourish it with protein from steak or nuts, so you’re not losing anything by choosing plant protein. In fact, by reducing your meat intake, you are lowering your risk of heart disease and you will get the satisfactory feeling of knowing you ate your veggies. You’re choosing a sustainable and healthy option!
“I think that the U.S. is one of several developed countries that have just made it seem like protein is so pivotal to our health when in other countries their base diet is plant protein, beans and grains. I think it’s just evolved to be a cultural thing”
~ Dr. Michael Greger, internationally-recognized lecturer and physician
You do not need to combine a plant-based protein with a meat protein for it to become a “complete protein.” This is a myth. Plant protein is made up of essential amino acids, which our bodies can’t produce so they must come from our diet. All essential amino acids come from plants.
Top 5 Sources of Plant Protein
If there’s one thing you take from this post, is should be which foods are rich in plant protein. Dr. Leslie, registered dietitian and instructor at University of Hawaii, explains ideal sources of plant proteins:
“Any type of whole grain, beans (including tofu and edamame and soy milk), and nuts (including peanut butter). In terms of vegetables – primarily from the dark green leafy vegetables, so broccoli, spinach, kale, all of those have protein and a lot of people don’t realize that.”
Here’s our Top 10 List:
Lentils are affordable and easy to cook. From soups to curries and salads, lentils are a versatile ingredient that make for a great meat substitute.
Beans, especially soy beans, are a great source of protein. Beans are great for salads, tacos, chillies, or simply baked and seasoned on their own. If you buy dried black beans, remember to soak them for a few hours minimum, and then simmer them over heat before eating them.
(3) Hemp Hearts
Hemp hearts have a sweet and nutty flavour. Sprinkle them on salads and cereal, add them to smoothies and baked goods and blend into stews and soups to thicken.
(4) Chia Seeds
Similar to hemp hearts, chia seeds have a mild natty flavour. Sprinkle them on cereal, sauces, vegetables, yogurt or rice dishes. Add them to a glass of water and they will expand and create a gel-like texture.
Quinoa is similar to couscous and is as versatile as rice. It can be served as a side dish with butter or oil, salt and pepper or other seasonings. It goes very well in veggie burgers, tossed in salads or mixed into stews. If you’re looking for a warm, hearty, flavourful breakfast on a cold day, you can’t go past a quinoa breakfast bowl. Trying mixing quinoa with dried or fresh fruit, cinnamon, almond or coconut milk and honey.
Protein-rich seeds include hemp, flax, chia, sesame and sunflower. Sprinkle seeds on salads and mix them into desserts and snacks.
Protein-rich nuts include almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and brazil nuts. Nuts can be blended into smoothies, mixed into salads, yogurt and can be enjoyed on their own as a snack.
If you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant you’ve probably enjoyed edamame as a snack. Edamame are fresh green soybeans. To cook edamame that’s still in the pod, boil the pods in water with some salt, or steam them. They can be eaten hot or cold and can be added to risottos, stir frys or salads.
Chickpeas are incredibly versatile. You can eat them hot or cold, canned or dried. They can be roasted and added to salads, used as a substitute for croutons in soup, or simply seasoned with salt and eaten on their own. They are best known for being turned into hummus.
Derived from soya, tofu is a staple ingredient in Chinese and Thai cooking. Tofu is an excellent source of not only protein but amino acids, iron and calcium. It’s best enjoyed stir fried or in noodle bowls.
How much is enough?
You don’t have to spend too much time worrying about your protein consumption, provided you eat an array of grains and vegetables.
According to Harvard Medical School, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That is the bare minimum you need to eat to prevent getting sick. This is calculated by: Weight (in pounds) x 0.36 = recommended daily protein intake (grams).
A sedentary young woman that weighs 155 pounds should be consuming 56 grams of protein per day.
If you’re curious about the risks associated with animal proteins such as meat and dairy, this article by the the University of Hawaii will be of interest to you.