With 2016 behind us, many are looking ahead to 2017. We want to know what’s coming. What’s the next big “it” workout or wellness promoting food we’ll all be clamoring for in the coming year? According to the Washington Post, one macronutrient will continue to shine: protein. But, this time, with a twist. Plant protein is expected to take center stage in the coming year.
Whether you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly way to meet your protein needs, could use some variety in your diet, or want to get in on the health benefits of plant-based protein sources, this article will give you the info you need.
For some reason, plant protein sources have a reputation as being inferior to animal sources. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. All protein are made up of amino acids. And whether the protein is from a plant or an animal source, our digestive system breaks the protein down into amino acids. It’s those amino acids your body makes use of for many of its functions Without them, muscle repair, hormone synthesis, and cellular function would completely falter.
Perhaps the reason plant sources of amino acids haven’t always received the same level of attention and prestige as animal sources is the pesky and hard to shake idea that plant proteins have to be combined at all meals. It’s time to shed some light on the antiquated (and incorrect) complementary protein theory.
So based on the “incompleteness” of the amino acid profile of most plant-based food, scientists and nutrition experts decided these plant-based foods would need to be combined. Grains with legumes. Legumes with seeds or nuts. At every single meal. If people didn’t eat them in these combos, they were warned, they would eventually end up with a deficiency in one or many of the amino acids.
Thank goodness they were wrong. How complicated would that be?
First, while most plant sources of protein are low (but not completely devoid) in one or more essential amino acids, some are not. Here are some of the complete plant proteins that do exist:
These three choices provide all the essential amino acids in decent amounts. So definitely no combining needed with these three.
Second, and maybe even more importantly, you don’t need to combine grains with legumes, seeds with legumes, or eat animal sources of protein at every meal to meet your daily needs. As long as you eat a variety of healthful foods throughout the day, that meet your caloric needs and protein needs, you’ll meet your amino acid needs. It’s only when you completely avoid high protein choices from multiple food groups that you’re in danger of developing a deficiency.
Carbon emissions have been a concern of environmentalists for quite some time now. Their detrimental effect on the environment is something, rightfully so, many of us are growing more aware of and concerned about.
People are curious about what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint. If you’re one of them, switching out animal-based protein for plant-based for at least a couple of meals per week is one way you can lower your impact.
The carbon produced from farming and processing of all sorts of plant-based foods is lower than that of just about every form of animal-based food.
The positive effect of plant-based foods goes beyond how little environmental damage is incurred during their production compared to animal-based foods. They also actively benefit the health of the soil.
Legumes, through their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, release nitrogen. Most of the nitrogen the legume plants use for their own needs, but some of it is released into the soil. This free nitrogen is then available for other crops. Which increases the yield of those crops and makes them more nutrient dense.
Since nutrients don’t exist in isolation in natural, unprocessed, whole foods, you can’t eat a plant-based protein rich food and expect to only get protein from it. You also get loads of other health promoting nutrients. For instance, quinoa also boasts ample amounts of fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese . Each of which benefits your well-being in a multitude of ways. And quinoa is certainly not the only high-protein plant food packing a wide range of nutrients.
Diets rich in plant-based protein seem to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). A diet that gets a larger proportion of its protein from plant sources than animal sources, is related to a lower risk of CVD. Now, we have to remember this doesn’t mean it’s the protein from plant sources of protein the are having the positive effect all on their own. It’s likely that the other nutrients in those foods are also protective against heart disease.
Plant sources of protein may also have a positive effect on your reproductive health. Chavarro, et al, found the more plant-based protein a woman had in her diet, the less likely she was to experience anovulatory infertility. Plant-based protein sources, in part, because they tend to be great sources of iron and folate, are great choices if you’re looking to optimize your fertility.
Additionally, low-carbohydrate diets that are high in protein and fat from plant sources are associated with a reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes. And replacing animal protein with plant protein seems to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
This article is by no means meant to deter you from eating animal protein. All foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern. And many animal-based protein sources are full of their own unique set of nutrients for optimal health and wellness. Mixing plant-based protein options into your usual diet, whether in place of or alongside animal-based protein, supplies your body with a variety of nutrients. And when it comes to healthy eating, variety is key.
Consider adding more plant-based protein options into your diet in the coming new year for health benefits, to save money, and to do your part to keep our planet healthy.
Amanda is a gym instructor and a diet and nutrition fanatic that has reviewed 100s of supplements for the benefit of consumers. She struggled with obesity 7 years ago and after losing more than 30lbs, dedicates most of her time in helping others achieve similar results and transform their lives. You can contact her via the "About Us" page.