Plentiful plant protein

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina, Grace Yeh and Sharon Voong

 

Portrait of Vesanto Melina•  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.

Plant protein options
Examples of plant protein are provided below with grams per serving.
Food Protein (g)
Firm tofu, ½ cup 20
Black beans, pinto beans, split peas, cooked, ½ cup 8
Chickpeas, black-eyed peas, great northern beans, kidney
beans, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, cooked, ½ cup
7
Peanut butter, 2 tbsp 8
Pumpkin seeds, ¼ cup 10
Almonds, hulled sesame seeds, black walnuts, ¼ cup 7-8
Note: To increase protein digestibility, soak or sprout legumes, seeds and grains

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Five tips to increase your plant protein consumption:
(1) Garnish salads with beans, nuts, seeds or tofu. (2)Toss steamed vegetables with creamy sauces made from tofu or nuts. (3)Add chopped nuts or seeds to whole grains or oats. (4) Spread nut butters on toast. (5) Discover some great tofu marinades and add cubed tofu to stir fries, stews and soups
For local restaurants serving plant protein-rich plant foods, see www.happycow.net

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com, www.becomingvegan.ca) For more on vegan proteins, see Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition (or the Express Edition) both with Brenda Davis. Grace Yeh and Sharon Voong are third-year UBC dietetics students.

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