Five Plant-Based Proteins

With the recent well publicized study about benefits of plant based protein, and the harms of animal based proteins, especially red meat, you may be wondering how to get the right protein.

Our body needs protein to repair tissues that are constantly being broken down and recycled. Fortunately, the human body has become very good at conserving resources. In other words, when we break down muscle fibers, those proteins are not necessarily lost. Our body turns them into building blocks of proteins called amino acids. Our body knows what proteins it needs, and has the capacity to make what it requires from the foods we give it in the form of amino acids.

Though, there is much disagreement about the amount of protein that is "optimal' for human health. The minimal amount recommended by the U.S. RDA is approximately 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams for women. There are more inflated recommendations from other organizations as high as 70-80 grams for men and 60-70 grams for women. While bodybuilders aim for over 150 grams a day.

There are many ways to obtain protein, a broccoli floret or your favorite Larkburger. They are digested in your GI tract and broken down in to amino acids, transported for immediate use, or stored for later. The best sources of protein are sources that include antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber. So, it's important that one's diet focus not on the protein content of food, but on nutrient content.

Nutrient-dense-food will supply plenty of amino acids to build proteins and fuel your body.

If animal based proteins are harmful, what are the best sources of plant protein? Dr. Dennis Lipton internist at Vail Valley Medical Center has provided an informative look at plant-based proteins.

1. Green Vegetables

Nutrition: 100 calories of broccoli or kale contains 10 grams of protein.

This is as much or more than many cuts of beef contain in 100 calories, without the saturated fat and hormone risk. Most green vegetables contain similar amounts of protein, without excess calories. Most importantly, green vegetables are the best source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants the human body needs to survive and thrive.

2. Legumes

Nutrition: One cup of black beans (and most other legumes such as chick peas, lentils, red beans, kidney beans, etc) contains 15 grams of protein.

In addition, legumes contain a host of phytonutrients, fiber, and prebiotics that keep your GI tract healthy. They even have a blunting effect on the release of sugar into your bloodstream, if you are concerned about diabetes or diabetes risk.

3. Whole Grains

Nutrition: One cup of whole grains, including oatmeal, brown rice, or even white rice, contains roughly 5 grams of protein.

Many healthy plant-based meals start with a whole grain, and add legumes and green vegs to boost nutrient and protein intake.

4. Nuts and Seeds

Nutrition: On the high end, almonds and pistachios contain 21g protein per 100gram serving. Seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds contain vital nutrients as well as some protein. Peanuts, though they are truly legumes, are also known for containing large amounts of protein. Other nuts and seeds contain lesser amounts. These are some of the most calorie-dense sources of protein in the plant kingdom. Fortunately they come packaged with healthy types of dietary plant-based fat. In fact, a recent study confirmed that adding a handful of nuts to an otherwise healthy Mediterranean Diet resulted in better health outcomes. Also, there is evidence that even though you are eating more calories by including nuts in your diet, there is no risk of weight gain. Just don't go overboard if you're watching calories.

5. Tofu and other meat "substitutes'

With the publicity on the benefits of plant proteins, there has been a proliferation of "fake meat' products in the store shelves. Some of these are highly processed and are no better than other processed foods. Though they may contain impressive amounts of protein, and have less saturated fat that "real' meat, they should certainly not be a staple of anyone's diet. Traditional food, such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame, have been consumed in Asia for centuries, and are associated with excellent health. Try to include some of these on your plate several times a week. Save the "fake meat' processed food for a special treat.

 

About Dr. Dennis Lipton, Internal Medicine vvmc.com/internalmed

Dennis Lipton, MD is a board-certified internist at Vail Valley Medical Center trained in the essentials of primary care and disease prevention, and can help ensure patients receive the proper medical screening tests and immunizations.