Until recently everybody was talking about the importance of fats, carbs, and vitamins. Proteins seemed of no concern. Maybe the growing high-protein diets or vegetarian and vegan community has changed that, but proteins are actually super important for our overall health.
Our body breaks down proteins into little compounds called amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks of our cells, tissues, muscles, blood, hormones, and enzymes. A lack of protein in your diet can be very harmful and may be standing in your way to achieve optimal health or slow down recovery after diseases or injuries.
Although we seem to be big bags of water filled with protein, we don’t need that much proteins to meet our daily need (0.8-1 gram per kilogram body weight). Proteins are very large molecules and provide plenty of amino acids to build and repair our body cells and tissues.
I eat a plant-based diet and often get the question where I get my proteins to keep my body healthy. And the answer is quite simple, through protein rich plants. Many people still think that the only sources of protein is to be found in animal products, but actually there is more than enough protein in fresh fruits and vegetables.
And the good news, plant proteins are easier to break down and assimilate. But that’s not the only reason why you should get your proteins out of plants.
All Protein Isn’t Alike
Proteins are complex structures of chained amino-acids. Of the 22 different amino acids our body needs, 9 are called essential amino acids because we cannot make them from other compounds. Those must be obtained through the food we eat. Some proteins you eat contain all 9 essential amino acids to build new proteins. We call those complete proteins.
Most animal proteins are complete and therefore considered better, but we will come back to that in just a sec. Incomplete proteins lack one or more essential amino acids, these usually come from fruit, vegetables, grains, and nuts.
Animal Protein Vs Plant-Based Protein
Although animal and plant proteins will have the same effect on our body and health, the package in which they are presented is going to make a huge difference.
Not only are plant proteins a bit smaller and easier to break down and assimilate, they come in a healthier package. They are accompanied by healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and many other health promoting phytonutrients.
To give you an example, a 6-ounce broiled steak is a great source of complete protein (40 grams), but also has 38 grams of fat (14 grams saturated). Salmon will give you 34 grams of complete protein with 18 grams of fat (4 grams saturated). So fish is definitely the better package. But let’s take a look at 1 cup lentils. Those have 18 grams of protein but stay under 1 gram of fat.
Many people believe that animal protein is better because they contain all 9 essential amino acids, but as you can see plant-proteins come in a healthier package. The only thing you’ll need to do is eat several different plant-protein foods a day to make sure you’ll get all the essentials. But that’s not an issue as most vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts contain protein.
Animal Protein Pollutes Your System
Our meat isn’t as clean anymore as it used to be. If not organic, animal products are loaded with antibiotics, hormones, GMO traces, and other questionable chemicals. Unfortunately our fresh veggies and fruits aren’t much better when it comes to chemicals, and if possible we should buy them organic and locally.
But again plants will win the battle over animal protein when it comes to maintaining our health. Animal products are extremely acidifying and those acids deplete alkaline material from bones and teeth. Many diseases, such as cancer, thrive in acidic environments and our body is always trying to protect itself and creates more fat storages to tuck those acids safely away.
Fruit and vegetables on the other hand are packed with alkalizing minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, to detoxify and heal your body.
Cooking Destroys Proteins and Enzymes
Another reason why plant proteins are better, is that most veggies and fruits can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. Up to 50% of the protein value is lost through cooking. I’m not saying you can’t cook your veggies, but most plant-based foods actually don’t require a heating process.
Cooking or heating not only destroys proteins but enzymes as well. Enzymes play key roles in all bodily functions such as digestion, tissue regeneration, nutrient absorption, cell renewal, etc. All living things contain enzymes but are destroyed by heating food above 115°F (or 46°C).
When these enzymes are destroyed our body has to use its own reserve to digest and create energy. So overtime you get depleted of these enzymes that not only provide energy and digest food, they are also involved in disease-fighting mechanisms.
Meet The Plant Protein Rock Stars
- Leafy greens: 1-5g per cup (arugula scores highest with 5,16 gram)
- Avocados: 4g per avocado
- Quinoa: 24g per cup (complete protein)
- Buckwheat: 6g per cup (complete protein)
- Amaranth: 9g per cup (complete protein)
- Brown rice: 4.5g per cup
- Chick peas: 14.5 g per cup
- Tahini: 12g per ¼ cup
- Almonds: 8 grams per ¼ cup
- Almond butter: 16 grams per ¼ cup
- Hemp Seeds: 9g per 3 tablespoons (complete protein)
- Chia seeds: 5g per 3 tablespoons (complete protein)
- Lentils: 18g per cup
- Black beans: 15 gram per cup
- Pumpkin seeds: 19.5g per ½ cup
Although I’m a huge fan of raw veggies and fruits, I’m not trying to say you all should become a vegetarian or vegan. But if you go for animal protein opt for organic lean meat and fish, limit portion size, and try to eat as much fruits and vegetables, raw if possible.
Ready to sneak some more plant protein into your diet? Green smoothies are your answer. They are packed with leafy greens and fruit. You could even add protein boosters like avocado, chia seeds, or almond butter to meet your plant-based protein need.