The Forgotten Protein: Plant Protein

The first word that comes to mind when the word protein is mentioned is ‘meat’.  Meat can include beef, pork, fish, poultry, and eggs.  All animal meats are excellent sources of protein, some even have other sources of added nutrients such as iron.  However, a commonly forgotten protein source is plant protein.  Plants can also supply an excellent source of protein to the body, in a variety of ways.  Previous posts have discussed other forgotten protein sources, such as dairy products (cottage cheese) and eggs.  Protein can also be supplemented through plants, which is where most vegetarians obtain their protein.  Some examples of plant protein that are based around the bean and legume family:

  • Hummus/chickpeas
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Peanut Butter
  • Lentils
  • Black Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Black Eyed Peas

Grain based protein is high in fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates.  These types of grains are excellent alternatives to pasta or white bread with a drastically reduced carb count:

  • Quinoa
  • Bulgar
  • Steel-cut oats
  • Tempeh
  • 100% whole wheat products, such as bread loafs, pasta, and pita bread

Different varieties of rice are also high in fiber and good sources of protein.  However, most ‘brown’ rices in the United States don’t really qualify as a better alternative.  In fact, some brands simply dye white rice brown and call it ‘brown rice’.  Check the ingredients lists to see what is the actual source of the rice.

Vegetables also have considerable amounts of protein in them:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Peas

The Pros and Cons:

Animal proteins are complete proteins, which contain all of the essential amino acids needed in the diet.  The disadvantage to plant proteins is that many of them are incomplete proteins, meaning they are missing some of the essential amino acids that are necessary to maintain muscles, organs, and the immune system of the body.  A large advantage in plant proteins is that the number of calories in an entire plant based meal may be lower than those in a meat based meal, as there are less calories from fat.  Then again, a vegetarian based meal can easily be doused with calories by adding oil or sauteing vegetables.  A meal can also be balanced with all the amino acids needed in the body by having a variety of plant proteins.   If you haven’t already, try to switch up your weekly meal with a plant protein based meal, and reap in the benefits!

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Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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