It’s common knowledge that you can find protein in meat, eggs and dairy. But there is also a common misconception that vegan or plant-based proteins are incomplete, in comparison to proteins derived from animal sources.
Busting the myth
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and contribute to important bodily processes. Of the 20 types of amino acids, there are 9 essential amino acids - histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine - that cannot be synthesised by our human body. Thus, we must obtain them from our diet.
Early erroneous statements suggested that plant protein has an incomplete essential amino acid profile, and became popularised in the general population.
The truth about plant and animal proteins
There is robust evidence to show that plant protein, like animal protein, contains all 9 essential amino acids 1.
Nuts and grains contain lower amounts of lysine; beans and vegetables contain lower amounts of methionine.
It is very easy to obtain sufficient essential amino acids just by consuming your recommended calorie intake.
What are the richest sources of plant protein?
Also known as "wheat muscle", seitan is obtained through wheat gluten and is rich in protein. Seitan contains 75 grams of protein per 100 grams. Please note seitan is not suitable for those who have celiac disease.
Legumes provide the essential amino acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals. The protein content varies between legumes, with pinto beans containing 26 grams of protein per 100 grams. Try chickpeas, soy, beans, peas, broad beans, lupins and lentils.
Cereals are a food group including oats, spelt, barley, Kamut and wheat and soy flour. These differ in protein volume, with oatmeal containing 2.4 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Tofu is sometimes described as the "vegetarian cheese". It is made from soybeans and provides a particularly rich source of protein at 8 grams of protein per 100 grams.
These include walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Peanuts and pistachios are particularly high in protein, containing 26 and 20 grams per 100 grams, respectively.
What’s the benefit of eating plant proteins?
Plant protein does not contain cholesterol or saturated fat. This means a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension.
When consumed, less nitrogenous waste is produced and therefore it is less toxic. At the same time, plant protein is gentler on intestinal function.
Plant-based protein sources are rich in fibre, giving you a greater sense of satiety for longer.
The consumption of proteins is important for people at all stages of life and various physical requirements – from children to athletes, from pregnant women to menopausal women.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, colon pathologies or abdominal swelling, please check with your specialist. If you are looking to change or update your diet, get in touch with your nutritionist for a personalised assessment.
Let us know which protein sources you eat most regularly!
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1 Young, V. R., & Pellett, P. L. (1994). Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(5), 1203S-1212S.
2 Y McDougall, J. (2002). Plant foods have a complete amino acid composition. Circulation, 105(25), e197.