It is interesting the amount of concern people have regarding protein consumption when it comes to plant-based eating. However, when someone is consuming ribs, fried chicken, burgers, pork chops, turkey legs, sausages, bacon… and so on there is little concern about high blood pressure, high cholesterol, constipation, heart disease, or cancer. And trust I know this because I used to eat that stuff and NO ONE, I mean NO ONE questioned my protein intake, whether I had regular bowel movements, or if my LDL / HDL was balanced. Yet, when it comes to a plant-based lifestyle so many people are concerned about protein. What is protein!?! Do we even know or have we been conditioned to think it is something our body needs because of where it derives?
If we were to take a trip in time and go back hundreds of years, we would see ancestors who were able-bodied, doing more than we do day-to-day and not lacking in protein or any nutrient for that matter. But that is a conversation for another post.
What is protein?
The Live Science website defines protein as: a macronutrient that is essential to building muscle mass. It is commonly found in animal products, though is also present in other sources, such as nuts and legumes. While, I appreciate their definition, I wanted to look further in an effort to provide you (my reader) with a broader look at this ‘nutrient’ that causes so much concern. On Sunwarrior.com I found this: Protein is the most abundant molecule, apart from water, in our bodies. We always think of muscle when we talk about protein or about their components, amino acids, but these essential little building blocks are found in every cell and tissue throughout the body. Protein facilitates the digestion and absorption of nutrients. It acts as a cell’s hands to grab and carry those nutrients into their interiors. And it removes waste and toxins. Protein combines with vitamins and minerals to do even more: move oxygen from the lungs and to cells that desperately need it to survive, act as antioxidants (cleaning up free radicals that do cellular damage and contribute to cancer and aging), and aid the immune system in recognizing and removing threats to our health and wellness. It even goes into hormones our bodies use to balance and regulate hundreds of systems and functions, from blood sugar to emotions.
We have been taught that protein originates primarily from animal products—meat, eggs and dairy—unfortunately, they can also be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. So here are a few alternatives because protein can be found in pretty much all food, not just animals. Think about it – where does your protein (animals) get its protein, hmmm?!?
- Foods in the legume family are good sources of vegetarian protein. One cup of peas contains 7.9 grams—about the same as a cup of milk.
- Most grains contain a small amount of protein, but quinoa—technically a seed—contains more than 8 grams per cup, including all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair, but cannot produce on its own.
- All nuts contain both healthy fats and protein, making them a valuable part of a plant-based diet. Almonds, cashews, and pistachios contain 160 calories and 5 or 6 grams of protein per ounce—choose varieties that are raw or dry roasted.
- There are many different varieties of beans—black, white, pinto, heirloom, etc.—but one thing they all have in common is their high amounts of protein. Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 gram.
- Foods made from soybeans are some of the highest vegetarian sources of protein: Tempeh and tofu, for example, contain about 15 and 20 grams per half cup, respectively.
- Boiled edamame contains 8.4 grams of protein per half cup and can be served hot or cold and sprinkled with himalayan salt.
- Two cups of raw spinach contains 2.1 grams of protein and one cup of chopped broccoli contains 8.1 grams.
- Hemp seeds have about 10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons. Add them to smoothies, pestos, or baked goods.
- Another meat substitute is seitan. Seitan is made from wheat gluten, seasoned with salt and savory flavors and loaded with protein—36 grams per half cup.
So vegans, vegetarians, and plant-based eaters are lacking protein? Only if they fail to plan or educate themselves. Eating from the ‘sides menu’ is NOT the way to go. Read. Read. Read! If you have ever looked up chicken recipes, you can look up veggie recipe options ?
On a personal note, I do not obsess with micro and macro nutrients or proteins and aminos. I live a primarily alkaline, plant-based lifestyle and choose foods that are whole and living. In eating this way I have found that my body has what it needs. I pay attention to my temple and nourish accordingly.