Protein and veganism: 5 clean sources of vegan protein from whole foods.
Protein can be a confusing topic, especially for those embracing the vegan lifestyle. We all know the importance of protein, together with fats and carbohydrates is one of the three primary macronutrients that our body can use as a source of energy. Proteins provide structure to our tissues and cells, and they play an important role supporting our immune system and maintaining the right balance in our bodies.
Animal protein vs Plant protein
Because the "sole" property of animal products is protein, most people are used to thinking that without meat in their diet its impossible to consume enough protein. If you remove protein from animal foods what is left is just a splash of water, saturated fat and a small amount of micronutrients. On the other hand plant based foods aren't only rich in protein, but they contain a superior nutrient combination - as they're rich in vitamins, minerals and powerful antioxidants, which promote longevity and great health. Animal food contains unhealthy fats and other adverse compounds that increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, obesity and other serious health problems.
I have noticed that there is still a lot of misinformation and skepticism about the vegan diet and its nutritional value in mainstream belief systems in society and on social media platforms. When I discuss my lifestyle with people I commonly get asked: “where do you get your protein from?”, as if they weren't present in plant based foods!
Plant based protein by science is considered "incomplete" because it’s usually missing 1 or 2 of the essential amino-acids but this doesn't mean that plant protein is of lower quality and isn’t ideal to function and thrive optimally on. With a balanced whole food plant based diet it’s impossible to not meet adequate protein requirements, as a protein deficiency is possible only with starvation.
Because of the term "incomplete", there was a belief that you need to combine plant based foods in the same meal in order to get all the amino-acids in one sitting, however this is not a must. As long as you eat enough and you focus your diet on whole plant based foods, you'll never have to worry about protein. If you are concerned about the quantity of protein to consume beware that in this case more is not actually better. As we don’t expel the surplus of protein through the urine, high amounts of protein (especially from animal sources) acidifies the body and leads to an increased risk of developing cancers and many other diseases.
If you associate eating more protein and increased muscle gain, there is bad news around the corner for you because excess protein is stored as fat and not as muscle. It is important to focus more on the nutrients package rather than one nutrient itself. Being worried about protein while following a plant based lifestyle just makes this simple way of eating unnecessarily stressful. Plant based foods are rich in protein, so you should just worry about eating enough natural foods.
If you’re having still concerns about what plant foods are higher in protein, there is 3 food groups that can definitely help you to increase your protein intake because they are rich in this sacred macronutrient:
Whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice, millet etc.
Legumes such as lentils, soybeans, beans, peanuts etc.
Nuts & Seeds such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts etc.
Implementing those food groups into your diet alongside generous amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables will enable you to boost your nutrient consumption and allow you to consume more than enough protein to make your body function properly and gain muscle, obviously you’ll have to participate in physical exercise to get optimal results.
Getting more into the specific foods, I picked 5 natural plant based foods high in protein that you should think about incorporating into your diet.
Even as it’s considered a whole grain, quinoa is actually a seed. Named "the gold of Incas" by the populations of Latin and Central America, this powerful grain was able to provide supreme nourishment to these people for thousands of years.
Quinoa is naturally gluten free and one of the most protein rich foods - containing 8 grams of quality protein protein in just one cup of cooked quinoa and is one of the few plant based food containing all the essential amino acids.
Quinoa is high in fibers, which help to lower cholesterol levels and assist in losing weight. This grain makes you feel full and nourished for longer.
Quinoa contains 2 particularly strong antioxidants - quercetin and kampeferol, which has been showed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-cancer effects.
Soybeans, like quinoa, is a complete plant based protein containing all the essential amino-acids.
We can consume soy under the form of whole beans, milk, tofu or tempeh and in all of its forms it’s rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and contains 10-19 grams of protein every 100 grams.
Despite soy being one of the most protein dense plant based foods with high amounts of nutrients, it has aroused many health concerns because of some scientific evidence showing the presence of potentially harmful estrogen compounds called “isoflavones”. These compounds could promote the growth of some cancer cells, impair female fertility, and disrupt the correct thyroid function.
In my opinion consuming soy from organic sources, free from GMO (genetically modified organisms) and chemical pesticides, it should be safe. On the other hand, soy products has been a staple food in Asia for thousands of years without creating any problems.
3. Hemp seeds:
As you may know hemp seeds come from the same species as cannabis, but I am sorry to inform you, they're not going to get you stoned! Hemp seeds are highly nutritious and are renowned for a myriad of health benefits.
About 25% of the total calories of hemp seeds is high quality protein, about 2-3 spoons of them can be compared to a similar amount of protein in beef, with the difference being, hemp seeds contains more nutrients and are much easier to digest.
As a vegetable, broccoli is one of the most nutritious and also one with the highest amount of protein per weight containing 2.8 grams of proteins every 100 grams.
It also contains folate, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins C and K.
Definitely a vegetables to include in your diet.
Avocado is a fruit from the family of berries, especially high in healthy fats, this magical fruit is not just good because make a good dressing such as guacamole but because its one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.
Avocados offer 2 grams of protein per 100 grams and are bursting with nutrients such as vitamin A, B-complex, C, E, H, K and folic acid.
Because of its nutrients aspect and its creaminess, it is also the perfect food to implement into your lifestyle if your goal is to reduce or eliminate animal products from your diet as it will satisfy your cravings of fatty and creamy foods.
Our bodies don’t need high amount of proteins, especially if its coming from animal sources. A diet high in animal based protein is detrimental to our health. So why do we think we must eat huge amounts of meat to be healthy and strong? Advertising.
The meat and dairy industries spend huge amounts of money on television, web and magazine advertising every year to convince the world that we need to eat huge amounts of meat, cheese, milk, eggs, chicken and other animal products to thrive.
A protein deficiency when we consume a balanced whole food plant based diet is impossible, so worry more about where your food come from rather than if you’re getting enough. Ditch the junk vegan food products and any other refined packaged foods and focus your diet around eating a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds that will support your health.
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach
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