NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina, Grace Yeh and Sharon Voong
• Why does protein matter? As a component of muscle, bone and all body tissues, proteins are essential for structure and movement. They protect, coordinate body functions, help replace and maintain cells, and as enzymes facilitate biological reactions. People following plant-based diets need to be careful they get enough protein from the right sources to satisfy their body’s needs.
Whether you are an omnivore, vegan, vegetarian or are considering a more plant-based diet, you might ask, “Where can I get adequate protein, if not from meat?” Many North American diets rely on animal products such as eggs, meat, seafood and cheese for protein. Yet all plants – vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts and grains – contain good amounts of protein. Fruit is an exception, with less protein. Plant based diets can offer quality proteins while also providing a plethora of other beneficial nutrients.
Protein requirements: The recommended dietary allowances vary with age: 0.8g protein per kg body weight per day is generally recommended for a healthy adult. Nutrition experts sometimes advise those on plant-based diets to consume slightly more – 0.9g/kg/d – because fibre in plant products decreases the digestibility of proteins. Overall, fibre has beneficial effects on blood sugar and cholesterol levels and intestinal health. Therefore, high-fibre foods should not be avoided due to their small impact on protein digestibility. It is not difficult to meet and exceed protein intakes on plant-based diets. Typically, a mixed diet that includes legumes, seeds, grains and vegetables within a 24-hour period easily provides adequate amounts of all essential amino acids.