It is a general misconception that protein is used only by bodybuilders and serious athletes. If you desire to have a fit body then adding more protein to your diet will help you lose weight without muscle loss. At the same time, it also helps build muscle mass and strength. If you are vegan or vegetarian, don’t worry, plant-based protein is a good choice and it has plenty of health benefits to offer you. It can be taken by anyone who wants to lead a healthier life, irrespective of their age or sex.
Try to include as many sources of plant based proteins in your diet and if your requirements are higher, then you can add in a vegan protein supplement. From pea to soy and hemp, there are different types of plant protein supplements available in the market. Such supplements not only help in weight loss, they also offer you many essential nutrients that you may not be getting adequately from your diet.
If you are still worried that animal-based proteins or whey protein supplements may be superior, then take a look these 11 stunning health benefits of plant based protein and their advantages over other types of protein sources.
1. The Fiber Advantage In Plant-Based Proteins
Plant-based protein is rich in fiber that provides health benefits to the body. Fiber, sometimes called roughage does not get broken down but passes through the digestive system absorbing water and promoting bowel movement. These fibers are available in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber disbands in water. It gets fermented by bacteria in the digestive system. As it disbands and gets absorbed it becomes jelly-like. Fibers that are insoluble remains in the same form but can get fermented by bacteria in the colon. Soluble and insoluble fiber are present in plant foods in unequal quantities.
Insoluble fiber moves bulk through the digestive tract and controls the acidity levels in the intestine. It prevents constipation and helps in the elimination of waste products. By maintaining a balanced ph level in the intestines insoluble fiber prevents microbes from producing substances that lead to colorectal cancer. Dark green leafy vegetables are rich in insoluble fiber apart from fruit skins, whole-wheat products, wheat bran, corn bran, nuts, and seeds.
Good sources of soluble fiber include kidney beans, pinto beans, Brussels, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, apples, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, prunes, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread.
A 2015 trial was published in ‘The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ on the effects of dietary fiber on colorectal cancer. The term describes the disease that has invaded the colon or rectal parts of the intestine. The experiment was to determine if a link can be established between the possibilities of occurrence and recurrence of this cancer and dietary fiber.
The study was conducted with the participation of 57, 774, 16,980 and 1,667 participants. This investigation was conducted 3 times during the five year period of the trial. The intake of fiber was analyzed in categories along with the assessment of colorectal cancer during this experiment. The main sources were from cereals and fruits.
The trial indicated that those who were taking the highest amount of fiber positively influenced the precursor called the colorectal adenoma and cancer affecting the descending part of the intestine called distal colon cancer.
An earlier study conducted in 2013 with 264 participants investigated the link between the consumption of soluble fiber and insulin resistance. Energy and fiber ingestions were measured for 7 days. Body fat and physical activity were ascertained. It was observed that women who took high amounts of fiber had a noteworthy reduction in insulin resistance compared to others.
Summary Fiber is required for digestive health. It decreases insulin resistance and may also reduce the risk of certain cancers.
2. Body Weight Benefit
Consumption of fiber makes the person feel full without calories getting added as fiber calories are not absorbed. This can help in weight management. Food that is high in fiber content also contributes nutrients. Vegetables and whole grains are rich sources of vitamins.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a daily intake of 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men. The amounts reduced after the age of 50 with 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men.
Soluble fiber and insoluble fiber and not found in equal proportions. It is not critical to have equal amounts. The impetus is on taking fiber and not on its type. Each day a minimum of five servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole-food grains is adequate.
Summary Apart from supplying essential nutrients to the body, plant-based foods also aid in weight management.
3. Allergy-Free Ally
Whey is a great source of protein for building muscles, however, it can cause a severe allergic reaction. Let’s have a broader grasp of the symptoms of these allergies.
Certain enzymes split milk into two different proteins, that are casein and whey. Further processing removes fats, carbohydrates, and water content. The first processing provides a concentrate that also contains lactose. The second processing removes almost all lactose. Through the second round of processing, we obtain whey isolates. The third and final round generates whey hydrolysates that are sometimes used in supplements, unlike concentrates and isolates.
Some users show sensitivity even to whey hydrolysates. This is known as intolerance to a particular carbohydrate in whey called lactose. Across the world, an estimated 75% of people are intolerant to lactose. Due to the absence of an enzyme called lactase, the body is unable to break down lactose. The symptoms can range from bloating, gas, cramping to abdominal pain and diarrhea. An immune response would cause inflammation. Common allergies are nasal congestion and mucus accumulation.
People with highly sensitive digestive systems may suffer from irritated skin or watery eyes from just touching whey containing protein powder. Plant proteins do not cause large scale allergies. There are only a few plant proteins, such as soy, that have shown indications as possible allergens.
Summary Plant-based protein is a safe option for those who are lactose intolerant.
4. Enhances Metabolism
Another reason, plant-based protein powder is the way to go, is how it works with your metabolism. If you desire to lose weight, consuming more protein will aid you in reaching your health goals. The extra stored fat gets burned off as the body works on metabolizing the fiber intake. The body gains by burning fat while acquiring the important nutrient.
A 16-week clinical trial conducted with the participation of 75 obese subjects who were given a vegan diet proved the effect of plant protein on certain health benefits. The increase of plant-based proteins in the diet with less animal protein resulted in the reduction of body weight, fat mass and insulin resistance.
Summary Plant-based proteins have shown to increase the rate of metabolism thereby reducing fat mass, body weight and resistance to insulin.
5. Absence Of Alkalizing Anomalies
The potential of Hydrogen (pH) is an important indicator to find out the acidity or alkalinity in our body. Hydrochloric acid helps in the digestion of food and is produced in the stomach. It does not harm the stomach, however, if its production exceeds a certain amount it can cause stomach pain due to acidity.
Alkalinity is the capacity of water to resist changes in pH that would make the water more acidic. A pH value of 7 between 1 and 14 is normal. A value below 7 shows an increase in acidity with 1 indicating a very high acidity level. Likewise, 14 is a high alkalinity level. The human body has a natural pH of 7.4.
Meat and carbs are more acidic and cause the body’s pH to increase rapidly. To counter it minerals from our bones are taken and used. Plant-based foods help in relieving acidity. The green parts of plants (chlorophyll) provides alkalinity and also delivers vitamins and minerals.
The typical North American diet consists of meat and bread (acid-forming foods) which will increase acidity. A plant-based diet will help to reduce acidity, inflammation, stress and protect bone health.
Summary Plant-based proteins help in balancing the pH value in our body.
6. Vitamins and Minerals Aplenty
Plant-based protein powders deliver vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are not abundantly provided in animal-based protein. Phytochemicals and fibers are present only in plants.
Plants are an abundant source of carotenoids, glucosinolates, flavonoids that perform antioxidation and neutralization of free radicals. Plant nutrients reduce the onset of many diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. It also has shown to prevent tumor growth in certain cancer types.
Summary The abundant nutrient content in plants helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.
7. No Growth Hormones Or Antibiotics
Farm bred animals are often injected or given antibiotics and hormones. Plant-based proteins contain none of those substances. Antibiotics are administered to livestock animals to prevent infections that are present in the surrounding environment.
According to a study that was included in ‘The Permanente Journal’ in 2016, the antibiotics given to animals caused deadly antibiotic-resistance infections on a large scale causing mortality rates to soar in the year 2013.
A report published in the CDC (Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention), noted that around 2.8 million antibiotic resistance ailments occur every year. Organic plants are not sprayed with pesticides or grown using harmful fertilizers.
Summary Animal-based foods cause antibiotic resistant infections due to the breeding methods used in farm-bred animals. A healthy alternative is organic food sources in which no harmful chemicals are used.
8. Low Saturated Fats
High amounts of saturated fats increase cholesterol in the blood and cause clogging of arteries. Meat, dairy, and eggs have large amounts of saturated fats.
Unsaturated fats found in nuts and seeds keeps the heart healthy. Monounsaturated fats also serve health benefits. Avocados, almonds, cashews, peanuts; oils from seeds like peanut, olive, canola sunflower, rice, and soybean have ample amounts of monounsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. A balanced diet that contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats replacing saturated and trans fats is healthy. Polyunsaturated fats are found in sesame seeds, linseeds, soybean, sunflower, and canola oil.
Summary Plant sources of foods contain plentiful polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that greatly benefit health. Saturated fats cause many heart ailments and diseases.
9. Calorie Control
Plant foods furnish an appropriate number of calories compared to animal-based foods. One cup of chopped chicken pieces serves 231 calories which can be replaced with nine carrots that give 225 calories. Two cups of peas supply 236 calories. Two-and-a-half apples come up with 232.5 calories.
Protein for plant sources can substitute for animal-sourced foods in the number of calories it supplies. This is a good alternative for those who are vegetarians, vegans, and those who seek a well-balanced diet.
Summary Plant food sources are equal in calorie count to animal food products and comparatively better in providing wholesome health benefits.
10. Plants provide ‘Complete Proteins’
Hemp seeds supply a ‘complete protein’ with all 9 essential amino acids required in the human diet. It also has omega-3 fatty acids.
Protein intake can be increased by adding this nutrient to salads and smoothies. Quinoa is another example that has the essential fatty acids apart from amino acids.
People living in the coastal regions can vouch for the rich nutrient content of sea vegetables like seaweed, kelp, wakame. Wakame can be added to soups and salads. Kelp noodles are available in the market.
Summary Many varieties like hemp see, kelp, wakame and seaweed are ‘complete’ protein sources.
11. Effects On The Environment
The manufacture of plant-based protein does not burden the natural resources of a region. It needs less land and water than animal-breeding farms. The wastes generated from these facilities are biodegradable and maybe even used to enrich the soil. The wastes produced in animal farming can cause greenhouse emissions that pollute the nearby air and water sources.
With the ever-increasing population, the demand for meat and dairy products is weighing upon the already depleting natural resources. A change of course with people opting for more plant-based diets will preserve future generations of the human race and animals that share this planet. The application of a sustainable nutritional policy will also guard against the vulnerability to infections and diseases.
Summary Plant-sourced foods do not adversely affect the sustainability of precious resources needed for future generations.
Sources Of Plant-Based Proteins
There are a large number of plant-based proteins that are easily available. Some of them are the following:-
Legumes, sometimes called pulses are rich in different types of nutrients. It helps in keeping a balanced diet. The abundant fiber in pulses is good for bowel health.
The soluble fiber in pulses lowers cholesterol in the blood. The carbohydrates of legumes have a low GI (glycaemic index) which makes one feel full for a longer period of time. Pulses help in preventing and managing diabetes.
Protein in legumes can replace meat. Some examples of legumes are black beans, chickpeas, edamame, kidney beans and soy (tempeh and tofu).
2. Whole Grains
While it’s technically a seed, you still prepare and eat it like you would a grain. Just one cup of cooked quinoa serves you 9 grams of protein. Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats, rice, whole-wheat are other whole grains with a large proportion of nutrient content.
3. Nuts And Seeds
Almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds. By combining at least 2 of these food groups you will make certain that you are always getting your full host of 20 amino acids in every meal.
4. Plant Protein Blends
Different powdered plant proteins are sometimes combined and sold as blends. One of the advantages of combining plant proteins is that it can provide all the necessary amino acids required by the body. Pea protein which is low in lysine can be blended with rice protein. Methionine is rich in rice and so can make up for its low amounts in pea protein.
Quinoa is one of the ‘complete’ plant proteins available. It is mostly blended with other plant protein powders. Sprouting and fermentation are useful as many compounds, vitamins and minerals get included in the protein food supplement.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are Vegetarian Diets Deficient In Nutrients?
No, they are not deficient in nutrients. Vegetarian diets have an abundance of minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, and protein too.
Vegan diets would require some planning for the consumption of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Fortified foods supply vitamin B12. Vitamin D can be absorbed from mushrooms growing in sunlight and from the sun. Soy-foods have high amounts of calcium.
2. How Do You Make A Vegetarian Diet Appealing?
It can be made flavorful and delightful. A variety of plants with different rich colors, textures, and flavors are available. Preparation of a plant-based diet with healthy fats from extra virgin olive oil and avocados will enhance anyone’s appetite.
A grilled sandwich or thick soup containing different vegetables can be appealing. Tofu for dinner with vegetable lasagna, salad and whole grains with lentil stew can be fulfilling.
3. Does a vegetarian/vegan diet deliver adequate energy?
A vegetarian or vegan diet can be compared to an animal-based diet even in providing sufficient energy during those long days of work or workouts. Muscles that undergo endurance training mainly get their fuel from glycogen (a carbohydrate).
Plants are the primary source of this nutrient. Glucose acquired from plants is used to keep the brain focussed during intense workouts, competitions, and long workdays.
Energy from the fat of animals does not replenish the immediate requirements. It may lead to fatigue and a lack of motivation to continue the intense training session. Carbohydrates are among the most beneficial food sources for optimum energy for exercise and endurance sports.
4. Do Carbohydrates Make You Fat?
Unrefined carbohydrates found in bananas, oats and sweet potatoes are linked with reduced body fat because of its fiber and carb content. It contributes to achieving health goals.
While refined foods such as white flour, sugar undergoes processing where fiber is separated. It can cause weight gain over a period of time. People who opt for a more plant-based diet have lower body fat.
5. Do I Have To Eat A Combination Of Plant-based Foods To Get ‘Complete’ Proteins?
Yes, and it is possible that you are already following this diet without your realization. Peanut butter of whole-wheat bread serves a complete plant protein.
Another combination is that of corn tortillas and beans. The body is capable of obtaining different amino acids to form new proteins from the variety of foods you consume.
6. Isn’t Meat Protein Better Than Plant Protein?
No, it isn’t because it comes with different components. Plants are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. There are certain risks associated with unrestrained intake of animal-based foods.
It may lead to certain chronic diseases like obesity, cancer, and diabetes. Minimal intake of animal products or a complete shift to a vegetarian or vegan diet will prove to be more healthy.
7. I am An Athlete, Don’t I Need More Protein From Meat?
Many nutritionists have recognized the alternative plant-based protein to provide requisite protein for strengthening apart from repair and restoration of muscle tissue.
The nutritional needs of performance or endurance athletes are sufficiently met with plant-based proteins.
8. What Can Happen If I Take Excess Protein?
Excess protein can get stored up as fat over a period of time. If you are suffering from any kidney ailments it is best to consult your doctor before piling on protein in your diet.
If you are planning to include a protein powder supplement, a consultation with your doctor will give you the right direction. If meat is a regular food in every meal then you are consuming excessive amounts of protein that can lead to serious ailments.
9. How Do I Measure My Daily Need For Protein?
A simple equation can help you determine your daily protein intake. Your body weight (in Ibs.) multiplied by 0.36 will give you the number of grams of protein you need daily.
This is not a thumb rule as athletes and nursing mothers may require more amounts of protein.
The Bottom Line
Protein is an important nutrient for the biological processes in the body. The source of protein needs considerable attention as food sources can improve health or cause infections or diseases over a period of time. While it is not recommended that everyone should switch to plant-based food sources, it would be wise to include more plant proteins than animal food products in our daily diet.
Plants based food sources provide all the requisite nourishment for healthy living. Numerous recipes make vegetarian and vegan dishes delicious and appealing.
A health-conscious individual can choose to initiate better eating habits by following a meat-free day and indulge in a variety of plant food sources. Over a period of time, he or she can reduce substitute meat with organic plant food sources and benefit from the difference. You can always add in a plant-based protein supplement to ensure you get all the essential amino acids you need to meet your daily protein requirements.