Protein in a plant-based diet
People are coming round to the benefits of more plant-based ways of eating (this is Brighton and Hove after all). Increasing the proportion of plants in your diet (and subsequently reducing intake of animal and processed foods) is likely to yield benefit to your overall health and increase your micronutrient intake.
But what about protein?
Where do you get your protein? A question every vegan or vegetarian is asked ad nauseum.
If you take one thing away from this blogpost, please let it be this:
The current obsession with protein is entirely based on marketing and commercialism.
Protein deficiency in the western world is rarely ever seen and usually only in conjunction with a diet deficient in total calories.
Those following a plant-based diet can absolutely consume sufficient protein quite easily. If they follow these principles…
1) Eat Adequate Calories
Simple enough. If you are deficient in calories you will, most likely, be deficient in protein. Those who consume animal protein can avoid this by reducing calories and still eating sufficient quantities of lean meat – leading them to a calorie deficit in absence of a protein deficient.
For this reason, and perhaps contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, I would not advise switching to an entirely plant-based (aka vegan) diet as a weight loss option.
I realise some popular literature might suggest the opposite. But if you look closely at the research the suggestion that vegan/vegetarian diets are beneficial for weight loss tend to compare considered non-meat diets with what we call the standard western diet (aka pretty unhealthy, unmonitored and lacklustre). Research that compares like for like – eg. a considered vegan diet with a considered meat-containing diet – show that those following a diet containing animal products tend to experience fewer deficiencies in essential nutrients when losing weight: iron, B12 and, yes, protein.
This particularly important for those involved in high-level strength training exercise – I’m looking at you Portside PT community!
2) Combine your proteins
Quick science lesson (really quick I promise). Protein is made of amino acids of which there are 20 types.
Of these 20:
9 are essential
11 are inessential
This does not mean that some are ‘better’ than others. But the essential amino acids (EAAs) are considered as such because our body doesn’t have the ability to synthesise them from other compounds – so they must be consumed in the diet.
The issue is that only animal products contain all the essential amino acids in appropriate proportions - so we call them complete. Non-meat sources of protein are considered incomplete as they will contain some of the EAAs but not all. So those who don’t eat animal products must be mindful to combine their proteins so they get the full spectrum.
Most beans (black beans, baked beans) are lacking in the EAA methionine but rich in the EAA lysine. Rice is rich in lysine but lacking in methionine. Put them together and you are all good – complete amino acid profile. (Also, rice and beans are delicious)
Here is a handy equation:
Legumes + Nuts/Seeds OR Wholegrains = complete protein
Combining any type of legume (beans, lentils, peas) with either nuts/seeds (pumpkin seeds, cashews) OR wholegrains (quinoa, rice, oats) will (in most cases) give you the complete amino acid profile.
Simple right? (and relatively quick).
A small amount of care and you will not experience protein deficiency as a vegan or vegetarian. Just follow those two principles and as always, if you need any help with your nutrition just send us a message!