Protein and the plant-based wholegrain diet approach
Protein is a hot topic when it comes to nutrition. We have it instilled in us from a young age that protein is important for proper growth and development. This is absolutely true. Getting enough protein in our diet is essential for several reasons, from helping us build muscle and maintain healthy hair and nails to ensuring important enzymes are functioning properly.
It is also important because it provides necessary amino acids that the body cannot synthesise on its own. A diet insufficient in protein will result in muscle wastage, general weakness, and a compromised immune system.
It’s the conversations around the sources and perceived “quality” of protein in our diets that has been the focus of debate worldwide, rather than the importance of it to our wellbeing.
For decades, we have been led to believe that meat and dairy are the premium and often only “sufficient” sources of protein - and have been encouraged to eat these animal based foods as part of recognised nutritional plans and education programs.
There are many diets and weight loss plans out there that advocate consuming high amounts of animal-based protein - despite the fact that research has shown that meat and dairy compromises our health in a number of different ways.
With a huge focus on avoiding “deficiencies”, society tends to excessively consume animal products, which in turn replace the amount of plant-based wholegrains that could be eaten instead, that would offer up a host of additional nutritional benefit alongside protein.
In reality, protein deficiencies are almost exclusively seen in those with an overall calorie deficiency, who also tend to experience a host of other deficiencies- including vitamin and mineral.
All whole, plant-based foods contain protein, alongside a range of other nutrients including fibre, a broad range of vitamins as well as healthy fats.
With a diverse and varied diet including fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes, approximately 10% of your total calorie intake would be from protein. For those concerned that 10% isn’t adequate, it’s important to remember that there’s evidence that consuming too much protein is harmful and places stress on organs, potentially the arteries (high cholesterol) and the heart —especially when it comes from animal sources. More on this here.
Some excellent sources of protein… all plant-based!
Spirulina is a water-based plant and while some consider it seaweed, it's a form of blue-green algae. This nutritious plant contains a whopping 57 grams of protein per 100 grams -- several times more than chicken, beef or any other meats. As a guide, ½ a tablespoon contains 2 grams of protein. It also contains 22 amino acids, is a rich source of beta-carotene, calcium and iron and is a good source of gamma- linolenic acid (GLA). If the thought of munching on algae doesn't do much for you, then don't worry. You can take spirulina in tablet, flake or powder form for easy consumption.
You've probably heard of this one, or seen it at the local health store, but you may have thought of it as more of a side dish, when in fact it's high in protein and most definitely worthy of being considered a meal! With a very high nutrient content and twice the protein content of rice or barley, quinoa offers an excellent way to bump up your daily protein intake and improve your health at the same time. Just ½ a cup contains 14 grams of protein!
Popeye wasn't wrong after all: proportionally at least, spinach has a high amount of protein. In fact, from a calorific perspective, fresh baby spinach contains 12 grams of protein per 100 calories, compared to 10 grams for ground beef. Of course, since spinach is low in calories, you would have to eat a lot of it, but there's always the convenient option of blending it into a smoothie. Coupled with its rich nutrient profile, this makes it a perfect addition to your diet.
Broccoli contains 4.3g of protein in just 1 average sized stalk, as well as a range of antioxidants, amino acids and heart-healthy fibre.
Legumes - including soybeans, lentils, black beans and chickpeas
Soybeans, like most nuts, seeds and other legumes, are an excellent source of protein. At an impressive 36 grams per 100, they're even higher in protein than the rest of the foods in their family, not to mention meats and dairy. While they have a high fat content too, much of this is from healthy fats (including omega-3 fatty acids) which can potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Add to this the fact that they're high in calcium, iron, and zinc, and you've got the makings of a snack your muscles will thank you for. Legumes are great for digestive health and blood sugar balance.
Chia seeds contain 4 grams of protein and 11 grams of fibre in just 2 tablespoons and are considered a complete protein, boasting all the essential amino acids. They are a good source of calcium, magnesium and B vitamins- brilliant for nail, skin and bone health.
A ¼ cup of almonds has 8g of protein and is also an excellent source of vitamin E and fibre as well as the all important omega-3 fatty acids. Sunflower seed kernels contain around 7.3g of protein per ¼ cup, again packed with nutrition and omega-3 fatty acids.
If you're wondering which cereal to opt for in the morning, you can't go wrong with a bowl of porridge. With 17 grams of protein per 100g, oats are far superior to the competition (even more so if you add some almond or soy milk)
Now you've discovered these under-the-radar plant-based protein sources, why not start integrating them into your diet? They're full of nutrients to aid a healthy lifestyle and stave off illness and disease. Adding some variety to your diet is sure to result in you looking and feeling better than ever, so give these foods a try today!