Plant based protein is something many folks taking on a healthy lifestyle struggle with. We’re told that we need protein for building muscles, burning fat, and general well-being. But we aren’t told exactly how easy it is to get enough.
Here is your friendly neighbourhood guide to plant based protein, and how to make it work with your lifestyle.
Protein is made up of amino acids and helps form enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and new tissues. Our skin, muscles, tendons, cartilage, hair and nails are all products of protein. It replaces old cells with new ones and transports nutrients in and out of the cells.
Of the twenty-two amino acids that comprise protein, the body can manufacture all but nine. These nine are known as “essential” amino acids, and therefore must come from our daily nutritional intake. There’s a heap of overlap in the sources of these essentials, which is great for us because it means you don’t need to sweat the small stuff- just make sure you eat an assortment of fruits and veggies every day, and you’ll be right as rain.
Luckily the average person doesn’t need that much protein in their daily intake, just 0.8grams per kilogram of body weight. Keep in mind though that is a minimum. If you are actively losing weight, building muscle mass, or if you lead an active lifestyle your intake may need to be higher.
The good news is that our modern food supply is now full of sources of excellent quality plant-based protein sources. Hemp, chia and high-quality vegan protein powders weren’t on supermarket shelves even five years ago. Now nearly every supermarket across the globe has something that will meet both our dietary needs and be delicious.
Plant protein benefits
Proteins are comprised of amino acids. Of the twenty amino acids, the human body can only synthesise 11. The nine that are left are essential amino acids because they must come from your daily intake of nutrients. A complete protein such as quinoa, buckwheat, hemp and soy, are those that contain all nine essential amino acids.
Additionally, plant protein may be beneficial for weight loss. Plant-based proteins tend to be lower in calories and fat than animal proteins but higher in fibre and essential nutrients. When you swap plant for animal proteins, you are reducing your caloric intake and boosting your daily nutrient profile. You’ll probably need to consume a wide variety of plant proteins to get your essential amino acids intake, but by doing so, you’ll also get all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need.
Plant-based proteins are sometimes to cheaper to buy, especially if you can purchase them in bulk. Traditionally animal-based proteins are the most expensive items on your list so choosing to eat more plant-based foods is beneficial to your bank account, as well as your body!
Since plants contain large amounts of both soluble and insoluble fibre, when we eat mainly plants, we get the benefit of a properly working digestive system. Fibre also helps with heart health, which is essential for longevity and general wellness.
Yet another reason plant protein is the way to go, is how it works with your metabolism. Along with building muscle, protein also helps to kick your metabolism into high gear. This is because protein takes longer to digest than carbs or fat, but plant proteins, also being full of fibre take even longer to digest. The more your body works metabolising, the more your body is burning calories- which means more significant weight loss!
Legumes– such as lupin, lentils, green peas, soy, red, black and yellow beans, fava beans and chickpeas. ½ cup of legumes contains 15-26grams of protein depending on the type of legume. Legumes are also an excellent fibre source, which means they are great for digestive health and blood sugar balance.
Spirulina- a ½ tablespoon of spirulina contains 2 grams of protein and 22 amino acids, as well as being rich in beta-carotene, calcium and iron, spirulina is an excellent source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which is an omega-6 fatty acid.
Chia seeds- 2 tablespoons of chia seeds have 4 grams of protein and 11 grams of fibre. Chia seeds are a complete protein and a good source of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins, which means they are great for nail, skin and bone health.
Plant-based milk– Soy milk has the most protein, at 4-8 grams per 8 ounces. Almond, hemp and rice milk all contain about 1 gram per cup.
Broccoli– 100grams of broccoli contains 2.8g of protein, and lots of antioxidants, amino acids and heart-healthy fibre.
Quinoa-1/2 cups of quinoa contain a whopping 14 grams of protein and a complete protein at that! Quinoa is also a great source of potassium, magnesium, iron and vitamin B6.
Hemp seeds– ¼ cup of hemp seeds contains 15 grams of complete protein. It’s also a good source of GLA and is great for skin, hair and bone health.
Leafy greens-2 cups of raw spinach contain 2.1 grams of protein, lots of antioxidants, amino acids and fibre.
Tofu– Tofu contains 8grams of protein for every 100 grams.
Almonds– ¼ cup of almonds (1 serving) contains 8 grams of protein. Additionally, almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids.
Cacao– 1 tablespoon of unsweetened raw cacao contains 1 gram of protein and is an excellent source of manganese, magnesium, iron and copper.
Sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds– sunflower seeds contain 7.3grams per ¼ cup, and sesame and poppy seeds each contain 5.4 grams per ¼ cup. These seeds are also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Plant-based protein for beginners
Breakfast– Try avocado toast instead of eggs or have a bowl of porridge made with non-dairy milk, soy milk is the most protein-rich of the non-dairy milk, but almond milk (my fave!) is no slouch either. Many plant-based kinds of milk are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, so check your labels to make sure you get the most nutritious.
Snacks– Nut butter on rice cakes or crackers. Raw veggies dipped in chickpea hummus are also a great choice. If you’re out and about, kale chips or some trail mix (watch your serving sizes).
Lunch and dinner- A plant-based diet, doesn’t necessarily mean that you must forgo all meat (unless you want to, of course!), you can just replace ½ your meat with plant-based protein, for example, if you’re making chilli con carne, you can use lentils or chickpeas and mushrooms.