By Nicole Parmenter, Dietetic Intern for FitNutrition, LLC and Providence College Athletics with Katie Jeffrey, MS, RD, CSSD
For years, it was assumed that the only way to build muscle was to consume meat. The debate over dietary protein intake still looms today; however, the focus has shifted from the type of protein to the quality of protein. “It’s protein quality that builds muscle and there are other options than meat,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Roberta Anding, Registered Dietitian.” Unlike animal protein sources, plant-based protein can offer fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Multiple studies have shown that a diet high in plant-based foods is associated with a decreased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and obesity. Additionally, a plant-based diet is cheaper, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and better for the environment!
A plant-based diet emphasizes eating from a variety of whole, unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds. Most omnivores think that every meal should include a source of animal protein, when in fact most meals can be made vegetarian. With a bit of planning, you can reach your protein needs by enjoying a variety of plant foods. The main difference between animal protein and plant protein is their amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. While animal protein contains all the essential amino acids required to build protein, not all plant foods do. There are 20 amino acids; 9 are essential and 11 are non-essential. Essential amino acids are amino acids that we must consume from food since our bodies cannot make them. Non-essential amino acids are amino acids that our bodies naturally produce.
For a protein to be considered “complete,” it needs to contain all 9 essential amino acids. However, the following seven plant sources contain all the essential amino acids: quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, soybeans, sea vegetables, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Or, you can combine plant sources to create a meal that contains all the essential amino acids such as, nuts with grains or beans and rice. By incorporating a variety of plant foods in your diet, you should be able to achieve optimal intake of all essential amino acids.
Try incorporating more plant-based proteins into your daily regimen for added variety. Opt for a Meatless Monday! Think of meat as a condiment to be used sparingly. The moral of the story is that you don’t have to adopt a 100% plant-based lifestyle in order to benefit from consuming more plant-based foods, even if it’s one meal at a time. Whatever it is, make your taste buds happy!
Top 8 plant-based proteins:
3. Chia seeds
4. Sea vegetables
Combinations of Plant-Based Proteins to Create Complete Protein Meals:
1. Grains and legumes
2. Legumes and seeds
3. Grains and seeds
Brazier, Brendan. “Top 3 Myths About Plant-Based Protein (And Why They’re Wrong).” Mind Body Green. Mind Body Green, 8 July 2013. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.
Marcason, Wendy. “Build Muscle-No Steak Required.” EatRight. Academy of Nutrition and
Dietetics, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.