PART TWO - Plant-based Protein
A five-part series on nutrition and health,
by Jenna Selley
Plant-based protein sources are meaningful sources of food which can help you attain your daily protein requirements. Plant-based proteins include, but are not limited to, legumes, peas, tofu, soya, certain grains, split peas, lentils, chickpeas, black peas, kidney beans, soya products, peanuts, tofu, quinoa and edamame.
More recently, an increased number of people have chosen to be solely or more prominently plant-based in their dietary approach.
There are many reasons why people have turned to some or other form of vegetarianism or veganism; whether it be religious obligations, personal beliefs, environmental conservation, parental influences or even allergies. Let’s get straight into it.
There are different types of vegetarianism; each excluding or including either milk and dairy products, meat and chicken, fish and/or eggs. Whereas, in the case of veganism, all the previously mentioned food types are excluded from the diet.
One significant consideration that needs to be taken into account when choosing a dietary orientation is adequate and sufficient protein intake.
What is protein and why is it so important?
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 common amino acids; 9 of which are essential, meaning that they cannot be produced in your body and thus must be consumed through dietary intake. Non-essential amino acids are made in the body using the 9 essential amino acids. These include:
A ‘Complete Protein’ is a term used to indicate a food type or food combination which includes adequate proportions of the 9 essential amino acids, e.g.: an egg.
Here are vegetarian-friendly ways of combining your plant-based food sources in order to get a ‘Complete Protein’:
How much protein do I need?
Every individual has different nutritional requirements and needs. However, if you do not have any medical conditions (co-morbidities) it is safe to assume you fall within the requirements for a “normal person”, meaning: 10-25% of your total energy intake must be protein, in other words 0.8 – 1g/kg of your body weight. So, let’s take a look at how much protein we can find in our various food sources.
The table below illustrates how much protein (g) is found in each food group. Remember, protein content can still range between different food types within the same food group.
With the above information you will be able to calculate how much protein you require per day and how to structure your diet plan in order to meet those requirements.
Next we must look at bioavailability. Bioavailability is the body’s ability to absorb and use a substance. Generally ≥90% of our dietary protein is absorbed from our diet. Foods with a high biological value (HBV), indicating that they are absorbed and used effectively in the body, are typically made up of ±40% of the nine essential amino acids. Unfortunately, plant-based protein sources are typically lower in bioavailability than meat. Let’s compare the bioavailability of a few examples.
Protein plays a role in digestion, they keep us fuller for longer, they are involved in molecule signalling, fluid balance, enzyme function, immunity and muscle tissue repair.
Protein is an essential macronutrient which should never be overlooked. Choosing to be vegetarian or vegan is a health viable option insofar as you take your protein and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) needs into consideration. But micronutrients is a topic for another day… Happy tofu chomping!