Vegetable proteins: benefits, where to get them and how to take them

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Vegetable proteins benefits where to get them and how to take them

Opting for plant proteins has many benefits for people’s health and for the planet. But to properly substitute animal products, it is necessary to know the best alternatives.

Vegetable proteins benefits where to get them and how to take them

The proteins plant can provide the essential amino acids in the right proportion to the body. And they also lack the cholesterol or pollutants that are usually concentrated in animal tissues. It is true that plants provide less protein than animal products and that these are less complete. But this ignores the ways to improve the quality of plant proteins that have been proven effective on all five continents, or the reality of those who prefer to follow a pure plant or vegan diet. Know its benefits, where to get them and how to take them.

BENEFITS OF VEGETABLE PROTEINS

Still today two thirds of humanity are essentially nourished with vegetable proteins, with which they prepare dishes that respond to a wise protein combination. If these dishes were analyzed instead of isolated foods, the quality of these proteins would increase significantly. Plant foods, in addition to energy and proteins, provide vitamins, trace elements and essential fatty acids, so that they are protective against cancer, inflammatory diseases and circulatory diseases. Vegetable proteins:

  • They are less acidifying as they are accompanied by more mineral salts.
  • They contain less fat and these are unsaturated (healthier).
  • They do not contain cholesterol.
  • They contain less purines and are better eliminated.
  • They provide fiber.
  • They are easy to digest.
  • They put less strain on the liver and kidneys.
  • They are ideal for low calorie diets.
  • They are cheaper for the personal and planetary economy: they allow to feed more people with the same land area.

HOW MUCH PROTEIN DOES THE BODY NEED?

The WHO recommends eating a minimum of 0.8 grams per kilo of body weight, a figure that is usually rounded to 1 gram. In the growth period these proportions almost double and also increase in pregnancy and lactation.

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The human body is made up of 20% protein. The structures of all cells, tissues and organs are created from them. This is also why proteins are so important in the growth stages of children and adolescents and for the renewal of tissues in adults. In addition, they fulfill important metabolic functions. Enzymes are basic proteins for many biochemical reactions and for the formation of antibodies.

However, proteins contain nitrogen, unlike carbohydrates, so if their metabolic residues (urea) are consumed in excess they are toxic to the body, such as uric acid, responsible for various joint disorders.

Despite the efficient elimination systems available to the body, excess protein supposes a certain degree of intoxication that favors the destruction of tissues and premature aging. For this reason, it is advisable to avoid eating more protein than necessary. Leftover amino acids could accumulate in the membranes of the blood capillaries and be the cause of cardiovascular ailments.

WHAT IS THE BIOLOGICAL VALUE OF PROTEINS

Protein digestion takes place mainly in the stomach, where, thanks to pepsin, they break down into their basic elements, amino acids. There are 22 different ones. Of these, there are 8 that our body cannot make by itself and must be provided by the diet. They are called essential amino acids and they are:

  • Tryptophan
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Cysteine
  • Methionine

These amino acids must be absorbed in certain proportions so that the body can make its own proteins – similar to the letters with which a specific phrase would be written. If any one of them is missing, the nutritional value of the proteins is reduced, while the excess of one or several in particular is not used.

The biological value of the proteins of a food establishes the degree of similarity of the proportions of its essential amino acids with the pattern of maximum use. The food whose amino acids are most similar to those required by the human body is chicken eggs: 94% net protein utilization. It is followed by foods of animal origin: milk and derivatives (82%), meat and fish (80%), since those of vegetable origin usually show deficiencies in one of the eight amino acids.

However, food is not consumed in isolation, but as part of dishes and menus where the deficit of a food in a certain amino acid can be counteracted by its excess in another. Thus, two plant foods can be combined and increase their final protein use.

VEGETABLE PROTEIN FOODS

To optimize the combinations, it is necessary to detect which groups of plant foods contain a higher percentage of proteins, as well as which are their excess and deficit amino acids:

VEGETABLES

Its protein content is on average 20% dry, although in soybeans and lupins it exceeds 36%. But it must be taken into account that, when cooked, these percentages are reduced by half, since they absorb water, and even more when germinating.

The quality or biological value of these proteins if taken in isolation fluctuates a lot: lentil: 30%; dried beans: 38%; chickpea: 43%; broad bean: 52%; mung bean: 57%; soy: 61%; tofu: 65%.

Legumes are deficient in tryptophan (except in the case of soybeans) and in the sulfur amino acids cysteine ​​and methionine; instead they are rich in lysine and have sufficient levels of isoleucine, just the opposite of cereals, nuts and certain seeds. That is why combining about three parts of cereals (rice, wheat, corn flour …) with one of legumes in the same meal increases the degree of use of their proteins between 30 and 50%.

NUTS AND SEEDS

The protein content of these foods is 20%, similar to that of legumes, and their biological quality is higher on average: it ranges between 45 and 60% (peanut: 43%; pistachio and Brazil nut: 50%; sesame: 53%; cashew and sunflower seeds: 58%; pumpkin seeds: 60%). This data is very interesting since they are foods that are eaten raw or lightly toasted, so their protein percentage is not diluted in water, although they are usually taken in lower doses than legumes due to their abundance in calories.

These products are characterized by their high content of tryptophan and sulfur amino acids –except for peanuts, which is still a legume–, but they are deficient in lysine and isoleucine, so their ideal combination is with legumes. For example, taking sesame and chickpeas together (in equal parts) improves the quality of their respective proteins by 27%. They also benefit from association with dairy products. The seeds and nuts are not just a great appetizer or part of breakfast or snack, but a source of protein that can be used to enrich any salad, filling or sauce. And they are always appetizing.

CEREALS

Especially if they are whole grains and their derivatives, such as pasta, have a protein content that ranges from 7.5% of rice to 14% of rolled oats. Although they do not seem like many, they are very interesting from a dietary point of view because their consumption is substantial, since they constitute the basis of the diet. Some cereals have a very high biological quality, such as brown rice (70%) and oats (65%). In wheat, barley and bulgur it amounts to 60%. In rye it is 58% and in millet, 55%.

Its deficient amino acids are lysine and isoleucine, except in wheat germ. To alleviate this deficit, they can be supplemented with legumes, brewer’s yeast and wheat germ, as well as dairy products. Bread that combines wheat and soy flour is highly recommended in this regard. Quinoa and buckwheat, which are not strictly cereals, have a high protein quality. With wheat gluten, seitan (25% protein) is made, which is prepared in a similar way to meat and can be substituted in many recipes.

OTHER FOODS

Brewer’s yeast, like wheat germ, is very rich in protein and the amino acid lysine, which is why it enriches salads and completes the amino acids in cereal or pasta dishes. Pollen has a plant origin although it is obtained thanks to the work of bees. It contains between 25-35% quite complete proteins.

HOW TO TAKE VEGETABLE PROTEINS: SAMPLE MENU

Providing the body with proteins is not a task that is performed once a day, but a set of actions that are added throughout the day. An example of a day based on plant proteins could be:

  • Breakfast. Soy, oatmeal or rice drink, or soy yogurt. If you feel like it, you can add a tablespoon of pollen, brewer’s yeast or wheat germ, or add these supplements to a fruit juice. It is accompanied by a toast of wholemeal bread, rice cakes or a muesli of mixed cereal flakes with nuts and seeds. If a vegetable pate made with tofu is spread on the toast, a wide variety of plant foods rich in complementary proteins will be available. Sesame butter or hummus (chickpea pate) are another option to spread on toast.
  • Lunch at noon. You can have a first salad plate that includes sprouted seeds (mung beans, soybeans, alfalfa, lentils, soybeans …), enriched with brewer’s yeast or wheat germ. In the second course, carbohydrates (energy) and combined proteins will predominate. For example, it is traditional to add all kinds of fresh legumes to the paella, such as peas, broad beans or beans of various sizes. You can also add minced hazelnuts, almonds and bread to stews and dried bean dishes. Lentils with rice are a classic, while millet pairs perfectly with chickpeas, and corn pairs perfectly with beans. And the pasta? The market offers pasta enriched with soy flour or spirulina algae, which improves its proteins. You can also add pine nuts (as in pesto), and fillings made with tofu or textured soy protein, which cooks just like ground meat and is great in lasagna, cannelloni, and ravioli. If it is also garnished with mushrooms or spinach, the result will be delicious.
  • Dinner. At night it can be used to eat more purely protein dishes, such as seitan fillets, tofu or tempe, or hamburgers or vegetable sausages (it is convenient to read their protein content on the labels, since sometimes it barely reaches 10%: little more than bread). Another option is the “incarnitas”, delicious meatballs made with textured soy protein, garlic and parsley. A vegetable broth ahead and a side salad and dinner will be settled. And all this without counting the proteins that may be contained in fruits, vegetables and tubers, whose amounts are small, but they also add up.

Proteins of animal origin are not essential for the health of people or the growth of children. The experience of thousands of vegetarians proves it. But it is also true that this type of nutrition, being less protein-concentrated due to the lack of foods of animal origin, requires more knowledge when cooking or eating.

WHY CHOOSE PLANT PROTEINS

Frances Moore Lappé showed in her famous book The Organic Diet (Ed. RBA) the optimal way to combine proteins from plant foods, which would earn her the 1987 Alternative Nobel Prize. This activist against world hunger is a co-founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, where the emphasis is precisely on the validity of protein combinations in plant foods. Currently we know that these combinations do not have to be produced in every dish or meal, but that it is enough that complementary foods are on the daily menu, but Lappé’s advice is still useful.

The production of vegetable proteins is much more profitable than the maintenance of an intensive livestock, which consumes on average ten times more food than it then provides to humans. Thus, the soybeans that feed cattle raised for their meat could directly feed ten times more people.

The combinations take into account which food groups are deficient in some amino acids and which are in excess of those same amino acids. The most singular thing is to verify that all over the planet there are examples of traditional dishes where the ideal combination of amino acids is fulfilled empirically.

The vegetarian option takes into account the confinement suffered by the animals crowded in many farms, the pollution generated by their waste and the waste of food that their raising can imply. Therefore, a rebalancing of agricultural production would have a direct effect on reducing hunger in the world, and also on climate change and environmental pollution. An increase in vegetable protein is one of the requirements in the design of a sustainable diet.

Any small change in attitude in our habits can have a positive impact on the planet. It is not so much about radically changing your diet as about opening your mind to the flavors that we have at our fingertips and trying other culinary possibilities. We can introduce these new foods week by week, or month by month, at our own pace, to enrich our possibilities of eating in a healthy and ecological way.

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