Plant-based protein

”In a world where health-consciousness and sustainability are gaining momentum, there’s a powerful dietary shift that has captured the attention of millions – the rise of plant-based protein. Join us on an enlightening journey as we delve into the remarkable benefits and vast possibilities of plant-based protein!!”

The last few years big interest has been drawn to plant based diet and as a result many people has turned into this kind of lifestyle (vegetarian, vegan or semi – vegetarian). The biggest concern of plant based people and not is: “where do I get my protein from” ?

In this article we analyze the importance of the protein and amino acids, plant sources of protein and the daily needs of our body in it.

So, what is protein ?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats are the other two).

It plays the key role in many of our vital functions of our organism, some are: the construction and reconstruction of tissues, the production of enzymes and hormones but also the support of our immune system.

It is also, basic component of muscles, organs, skin, hair and nails.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are organic compounds that are the structural elements of proteins.

They have a crucial role in many of biological processes, included in them the synthesis of enzymes, hormones and structural proteins.

Furthermore, they function as source of energy and take part in the regulation of different cellular processes.

The amino acids are 20 and they separate in two categories, in essential and non-essential.

  • Non-essential amino acids are those that our body can produce
  • Essential amino acids are those that have to be consumed through our food, because our body cant produce them. 9 essential amino acids that our body cant produce and we must consume through food are: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, threonine, valine, histidine*(necessary only during neonatal period).

Plant based protein sources:

The biggest amount of protein is in legumes, which can replace worthily the animal proteins. Plant based protein can also been found in many other foods like grains, nuts and seeds etc.

Table with plant based proteins per 100 g of food:

Beans (cooked)Protein (per 100 g) Nuts, seeds and spreadsProtein (per 100 g)
Tempeh19.9 Hemp seeds31.6
Soy18.2 Pumpkin seeds29.8
Edamame12.4 Peanutbutter22.2
Tofu12 Almonds21.2
Beans  Pistachio20.2
Pinto beans9 Flaxseed18.3
Lentils9 Cashews18.2
Chickpeas & black beans8.9 Tahini17
Navy beans8.2 Chia seeds16.5
Kidney beans8 Walnuts15.2
Lima beans7.8 Hazelnut15
Black eyed peas7.7 Pecan9.2
Mung beans7 Macadamia7.9
Green peas5.2   
Soya milk3.3   
GrainsProtein (per 100 g) Etc.Protein (per 100 g)
Seitan25 Spirulina57.5
Zea (bread)13.4 Nutritional yeast53.1
Whole grain bread12.5   
White bread8.9   
Brown rice3.1   
Sweet potato2   

Daily needs of protein:

The daily needs of protein depend from many factors, such as: age, gender and physical exercise.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics of Canada and the American college of Sports and Medicine mention that those who train regularly for maintenance of their fitness don’t need more than 0,8 g/kg BW (for example a person that weights 60 kg should consume daily 0.8*60=48 g of protein )

The recommended daily protein intake for the plant based endurance athletes is 1,3-1,5 g/kg BW and for power athletes 1,3 to 1,9 g /kg BW.

All who want to increase their muscle mass, protein intake goes up to 1,4-2 g/kg BW, while for Bodybuilders there is relevant bibliography that mentions that 1,8-2,7 g/kg BW can increase the FFM (free fat mass) but also 2,3-3,2 g/kg BW in times of competition.

Complete & Incomplete protein

With the term of complete protein we mean that a product contains all 9 essential amino acids which are necessary in human organism.

With the term of incomplete protein we mean that a product don’t contain of its own all 9 essential amino acids. It is necessary to combine foods with different protein sources to “create” in our organism all the necessary amino acids. In this category belongs: the legumes, nuts, grains and seeds.

Animal and animal products are complete protein sources because they include all 9 necessary amino acids in one portion.

When we consume animal proteins the human body is breaking up those proteins, collects the amino acids and reconstructs as needed to create new proteins. On the other hand in plant based food, amino acids are ready to use. I n reality, amino acids is formed in plants and exists in meat and in dairy solely because this animals have consume this plants (as mentioned before).

Plant based proteins are less efficient in those amino acids and that was the motive of many to place plant based diets as dangerous for the human health as it can lead to lack of protein in our body.

Are there plant foods that contain all 9 amino acids ?

Of course there are we say! Those are: soy, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, mung beans, amaranth, buckwheat, Ezekiel bread( is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes, including barley, soybeans, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt), spirulina, nutritional yeast, chia and hemp seeds.

In a plant based diet is necessary the combination of foods for the coverage of protein?

A plant based diet relieved from animal products can offers us all 9 essential amino acids but not only from one food source. Exceptions are the soy and some others foods.

Most of the legumes  and seeds provides lots of lysine, but not so much methionine.

Grains from the other hand, have higher levels of methionine and lower levels of lysine.

For example when we consume beans and a whole grain product in a period of 24 hours, our body absorbs both and uses it to construct o more complete protein, because one completes the other.

A very well balanced plant based diet that consists a big variety of food, gives a complementary range of amino acids. Including food with different types of plant protein (in a 24 hour window), you can intake in a day all of the essential amino acids (different combinations for example lentils with rice or quinoa with beans). It’s not necessary to be in the same meal. Legumes, tofu and tempeh is exceptional sources of protein.

Complete protein combos   

  • Oats with pumpkin seeds and nut butter
  • Wholegrain bread with nut butters (e.g. peanut butter sandwich)
  • Wholegrain bread with hummus
  • Spinach salad with sunflower seeds
  • Pasta & peas
  • Lentils with wholegrain bread
  • Lentils & rice
  • Beans & rice

Benefits of plant based protein VS animal protein?

  • Heart health: a plant based diet focusing in legumes, nuts and wholegrain grains, is rich in fiber and low on saturated fats. Potassium and magnesium that is contained in those products have linked with reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Lower risk of chronic diseases: researches have shown that a diet rich in plant based proteins coming from plant sources is linked with lower risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.
  • Digestion and gut health: plant based proteins are rich in fiber. That can help in smooth digestion and a healthier gut microbiome at as an extent, prevention of constipation.
  • Environment: animal proteins use more resources (water and land), produce bigger gas emissions from the animals in contrast with the plant based protein, resulting in a more viable choice for our planet.

To sum up:

  1. The protein derived from plant-based foods (legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and vegetables) provides all the essential amino acids required for building and maintaining muscle mass and supporting overall health.
  2. It is lower in saturated fats and higher in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals compared to animal-based proteins. The recommended daily protein intake ranges from 0.8-1 g/kg of body weight, while for athletes, it ranges from 1-2 g/kg of body weight.
  3. Best sources of plant-based protein are: legumes (lentils, peas, etc.), tofu, tempeh, soy and soy products and certain cereals / pseudo-cereals (quinoa, buckwheat etc.) while also added to the list nuts and seeds.
  4. Variety and combination are essential for our complete protein coverage. The benefits of plant-based products are important for our health (protection from cardiovascular and chronic diseases, good digestion and bowel function) and our environment.

If you are a vegetarian or want to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet, plant protein sources will help you benefit from the nutrients they provide and guide you towards discovering a way of eating that doesn’t deprive you of taste and nourishment.

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