So, this is the current “issue” these days. How can we get protein if we don’t get it from an animal source? There are two basic sources of protein, animal, and vegetable. Is it true that only by eating animal products you can achieve a healthy protein intake? How about the amino acid profile? There are many questions. In order to understand the whole subject, we must dig into the very core, and understand where does vegetable protein come from, and how do the animals we eat get to grow so we can eat them and have a healthy protein intake. And of course, the biggest question of all, can you achieve a healthy protein intake by ONLY eating plants?
What is vegetable protein and where does it comes from
Vegetable protein is kind of what its name says, protein from a vegetable source. It means that it has not been eaten by an animal, processed and delivered to the animal’s muscles, harvested by killing the animal, cooked by an exposure to fire or heat and then presented to you, to be consumed. In order for protein to “exist” it needs to be produced by plants.
Plants are living organisms and, for them to grow and reproduce, they need to harvest energy, convert it to a bioavailable form of energy for them and only then use it for their functional requirements. This means they convert inorganic compounds to organic compounds, which they can use. How do they achieve this? By the well-known photosynthesis. This is the way a plant converts inorganic chemicals to organic compounds, such as glucose, fat, and protein (see? we are getting there).
To produce glucose, plants only need oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and an energy source, the sun. In order to produce protein, plants need a couple more compounds: Nitrogen and Sulfur. They get these “nutrients” from both the air and the soil. Once a plant produces enough organic compounds, it grows. Once a plant grows, an animal comes and eats it. Once an animal eats enough plants, WE come and eat the animal. This is the complete cycle of protein. The problem is that this protein (animal) is a recycled product, and carries a lot of other substances. But we will see that later. Now, let’s talk about the best sources of vegetable protein.
Best sources of vegetable protein
There are many sources of vegetable protein, but in regard to the food groups, grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, and green leafy vegetables are the groups which contain the best sources. Try to add them into your daily diet.
Lentils provide a whopping 18 grams of protein per cup, followed closely by chickpeas (garbanzo beans) which provide around 12 grams per cup. In the same regard, black beans and tofu have more than 10gr of protein per cup. Quinoa, other legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains also provide high amounts of vegetable protein, but the amount varies a lot between specific products. Tempeh, hummus, peanut butter, and other industrialized products also provide a good amount and are delicious; just be careful with the amount of fat these products provide, since it’s rather high as well.
Is vegetable protein deficient or not complete
Usually, most people think we need to get all of the essential amino acids in every meal we have, every day. This is now known to be incorrect, since we do not need to supply all of them in every meal, just have a steady supply of amino acids every day, switching between essential ones. If we achieve a correct caloric intake and use many sources of complex carbohydrates, it is quite hard to present a protein deficiency.
All proteins are composed of amino acids. (…) These recycled proteins are a rich source of essential amino acids. Studies by Nasset show that regardless of the amino acid mix of the meal, the intestinal tract maintains a remarkably similar ratio of essential amino acids. This mixing of endogenous and dietary protein is a key concept. Alan Goldhamer, D.C.
Even though vegetable protein sources usually do not present all of the essential amino acids, there is no need to have them in every single meal, since the concept of recycling amino acids takes care of providing the adequate amounts, of course, if you are addressing to your caloric needs with a correct macronutrient distribution.
How much protein do you really need
There has been a lot of debate at this point since the RDA of protein has changed a lot over the last few years. It went from 118 to 125 grams a day for a “man to be healthy”. Nowadays, with the advanced technology which lets us measure the amount of ingested versus the amount of excreted protein every day and with every meal, we know that it is virtually impossible to have a protein deficient diet if an adequate caloric intake is met, EVEN if products such as meat, dairy, eggs, nuts or other high protein ones are absent from this diet. Please, be aware of the fact that this is with a diet which meets an adequate daily caloric requirement.
So, what is the problem with animal protein?
To start with, we, as humans are not designed to eat meat. We do not have teeth made for ripping flesh, our digestive tracts are far too long in order to eliminate toxic by-products of meat, we do not produce as much or as powerful stomach acids to fully digest meat, our livers cannot handle the large amounts of dietary cholesterol given by meat products and we are not capable of metabolizing uric acid. Just to start.
When we heat up meat, many other problems arise (of course, we cannot eat raw meat for obvious reasons). When you heat up meat, carcinogenic compounds are created, from both the protein and the fat found in meat, causing the formation of even more free radicals (the ones that make us age and exacerbate cancer cells). Besides this, there is a large amount of hormones, antibiotics, nitrates, and bacteria found in meat, both applied to the cattle when it’s alive or to the meat, once it’s sacrificed and packed to increase its flavor.
A short, fast and precise explanation of the problem with animal protein.
One day example of a diet providing the appropriate amount of protein ONLY from plants
03 slices of rye bread w/01 tbsp. of hummus each, sliced tomato & kale/spinach + 01 smoothie of low-fat almond milk, blackberries, spinach & 1/2 scoop of Hemp Protein 70.
Middle Morning Snack:
01 chunky peanut butter & jelly sandwich + 01 apple
01 cup of cooked lentils w/chopped spinach, tomato & 01 tsp. of olive oil + 3/4 cup of brown rice, cooked w/parsley & chickpeas + Mix of chopped cucumber, tomato & sauteed green beans w/soy sauce
Middle Afternoon Snack:
01 cup of almonds + 01 cup of whole-wheat cereal + 01 glass of low-fat almond milk
Veggie Wraps: 03 whole-wheat tortillas, stuffed w/03 tbsp. of lentils each + 1/2 cup of shredded corn, spinach, diced cucumber & 1/2 avocado, smashed w/lemon, white onion & tomato