In the world of health and wellness, plant-based proteins have been all the rage for years now. But with the population growing and a climate crisis heavy on everyone’s mind, there has been more buzz around the health and environmental benefits of swapping animal proteins out for plant-based alternatives. In Canada, more than 40% of the population is actively trying to add more plant-based foods into their diets. It’s no wonder that plant-based proteins are making their way into the mainstream, showing up everywhere from restaurants to fast food chains.
So, we thought it was fitting to dive deeper into the topic of plant-based proteins. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about plant-based protein - the benefits, the complications, how they can help us meet our bodies’ protein needs and our favourite ways to get them.
Some of the benefits of plant protein include:
Let’s go back to the basics. Along with carbohydrates and fats, proteins are a macronutrient. On average they make up about 20% of our diet. They’re an essential nutrient, meaning that in order to function properly, we must feed our body protein. Protein helps to grow and maintain our tissues (like muscles, for instance), transport nutrients, regulate hormones and keep a strong immune system. They’re kind of a big deal?!
Proteins are made up of smaller parts, known as amino acids. There are over 20 types of amino acids, most of which can be made in the body – with the exception of 9 amino acids. These must come from our diet, so they’re labelled as “essential”. When a protein source contains all 9 essential amino acids, it’s known as a “complete protein”. Because in many ways, they do complete us!
Most sources of complete protein come from animals – like fish, poultry, beef, pork, and eggs- and so many argue that animal protein is *better* than plant-based protein. Well, like anything in life, it’s just not quitethat simple. There are a few plants that offer complete protein– such as quinoa, soy and hemp seeds. Also, bear in mind that many plant-based proteins are near complete and offer most essential amino acids. So, unless you’re only getting protein from only one food all day (which I’d hope is unlikely), this debate is over. But nonetheless, a great way to cover your essentials is to make sure you eat a variety of plant sources throughout the day to meet those amino acid requirements. Phew, crisis averted!
Now that we know a bit more about proteins, let’s jump into our favourite sources of plant-based protein.
While there’s no “one size fits all” approach to plant-based protein, whole plant-based foods (such as vegetables, grains and legumes) are a great place to start. Just about any whole-food you’ll eat in a plant-based diet, with the exception of fruit, will provide you with about 12 to 15% protein. To top that up, you can add more plant-based protein into your diet from some of our favourite sources:
Soy– enter tofu (17g), tempeh (20g), and edamame (18g).
Soy-containing foods are all high in protein and are super versatile. They also have a very balanced amino acid profile, making them a great source of plant-based protein.
Pulses – lentils (24g), chickpeas (20.5g), black beans (21g) and split peas (16g).
Pulses (or legumes) are a great, low-fat and very affordable source of plant protein. They’re also the super star in many delicious vegan meals – like chana masala, chili, falafel, burrito bowls and the list goes on.
Whole grains – hello steel cut oats (10.5g), quinoa (4g), and brown rice (2.5g).
Yep, that’s right. Whole grains can also be a significant source of protein, they really can do it all! The cherry on top? Quinoa is a complete protein source. Grains are a great way to make sure you’re getting a variety of plant-based proteins.
Seeds– pumpkin (30g), sunflower (19g), chia (17g) and hemp seeds (32g) have entered the chat.
Seeds make for a satisfying snack. But they can also pack a punch of protein in small quantities – making them an easy add into meals where that are lacking in the protein department.
One of our favourite ways to increase our protein with seeds is with Holy Crap Cereal. These cereals have a base of super-seeds like buckwheat, hulled hemp and chia seeds. A single serving can add 5g of protein in only two tablespoons. If you’re looking for recipe inspiration – we can help with that too! Check out our vegan and vegetarian recipes.
** All protein values mentioned above were calculated as grams per 100g.
Adding more whole plant foods (and reducing animal foods) can benefit us in ways that affect our health on an individual and global level. But there’s no question that it can feel overwhelming when you first enter into the plant-based protein scene. Getting enough protein for the day can be a daunting task for many. But with dedication, some fun experimentation, a bit of patience (and perhaps some advice from a dietician), we’re confident you can find some plant-based protein options that are best for you!
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