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on Aug 28, 2018 in General Wellness, Nutrition

Someone says, “Protein” and everyone is looking for the meat, cheese, chicken, dairy or fish. But animal sources of protein are not the only sources. In fact, adults and children can easily get adequate protein from plant-based foods. Nuts, beans and grains are loaded with protein and even small amounts are found in vegetables.

Animal proteins are often called “high-quality” because they contain the right amount of all the essential amino acids needed to synthesize protein in our bodies. Amino acids are the building blocks that proteins are made of. There are 26 different amino acids that are put together in different combinations in our body to make things like muscle, ligaments, connective tissue, cartilage, bones, nerve tissue, etc.

A few plant sources have all the essential amino acids in them: Foods like soy, quinoa, buckwheat, chia and hemp seed, mycoprotein (marketed as “quorn”) and spirulina. People who eat these do not need to eat animal sources to get their protein.

But eating a vegan diet full of foods that may not have all 9 essential amino acids, i.e. beans, nuts, seeds, rice, wheat, etc., still provides enough protein. The essential amino acids that one food is low in, is complimented by another that is high. You find these natural compliments in foods in traditional cultural combinations. The amino acids in beans are complimented by those in wheat, corn, and rice. So a bean burrito or corn bread and chili are perfect combinations.

Why does it matter? Well… while meats provide quality protein, there is often a lot of fat in them as well making them a high calorie choice and they provide little to no added nutrient value. Plant-based proteins are more filling on less calories. The starch and fiber in plant-based foods are satiating, help aid gut health, and lower cholesterol levels. Plus you are getting several of the essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the plants that you wouldn’t get from eating animal proteins.

Additionally, any animal protein source is higher up the food chain and by nature has a higher amount of toxins, pollutants, and pesticide residues. Eating a plant-based diet helps you avoid exposure to these toxins.