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Why Plant-Based Protein is on Trend

by Lindsay Allen January 25, 2023 0 Comments

plant based proteins

A lot of buzz is circulating about plant-based protein diets these days. But consuming a plant-based eating pattern does not mean you have to be vegetarian or vegan and can never consume meat or dairy. Rather, you are choosing more of your foods from plant sources like fruits and vegetables. Including things like nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, beans, and legumes. 

Eating plant-based means that your meals are more centered around plant foods and are less reliant on animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and seafood. It doesn’t mean you have removed them completely, just that you shift the emphasis of meals from animal products to plants. Animal products become a smaller focus in regular meals as opposed to the main dish that we often see on American plates.

Plant-Based vs. Whey Protein: Pros & Cons

Whey protein is one of the main proteins found in cow’s milk. Plant proteins on the other hand come from a variety of different plant sources. It is possible to consume adequate amounts of all essential amino acids from plant-based protein sources. But it is a habit that does require more diligence and mindfulness compared to simply consuming animal protein. Educating yourself about the various sources of both complete and incomplete proteins in the plant kingdom will help you make the healthiest choices.

Plant protein has a higher nutrient density and is more environmentally friendly than whey. For this fact alone, plant protein is believed to have an edge over whey. However, those aiming for muscle gain may find whey protein to be more beneficial. Protein quality is one of the biggest differences between the two sources but is not the only factor. Each protein has its unique nutrients so do your research. When making any change to your diet you must think about what fits best with your lifestyle.

Whey Protein (think cow)

Possible Pros

  • Animal-based, so it will naturally have all the amino acids that promote things like recovery.
  • Some studies note more muscle protein production for those who consume it over plant-based.
  • Rich in calcium, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Possible Cons

  • Whey contains lactose which is a type of sugar that many have a hard time digesting (think lactose-intolerant). 
  • The negative impact of the dairy industry on our environment may cause a negative view of choosing whey protein.

Plant-Protein (think roots)

Possible Pros

  • They contain a high level of fiber and antioxidants that are lacking in animal sources.
  • Plant-based way of eating helps reduce the risk of developing heart disease, certain types of cancer, and other health conditions. Also helps improve mood and energy and reduce inflammation. 
  • It helps reduce carbon footprint and protects the environment.
  • Adds money to your wallet. Most whole plant foods are some of the least expensive foods around. 

Possible Cons

  • Not readily absorbed by the human body in comparison to whey proteins.
  • Plant-based diets carry some risk of inadequate protein, vitamin, and mineral intake.
  • Consumption may require more diligence and planning when cooking meals at home or eating out.

How Much Protein Does Our Body Need?

Like most recommendations, they can vary from person to person depending on conditions and goals. Protein is essential to good health. The Greek origin of the word means ‘first’ reflecting its important status in nutrition. It is required to make hair, blood, tissue, antibodies, enzymes, and more. Athletes are best known to consume extra protein to bulk up. But for the average adult, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements.

What Does a Plant-Based Plate Look Like?

For a well-balanced meal, aim for half a plate of veggies, ¼ plate of carbs, and ¼ plate of protein. All those sections can be filled by plants, even the ¼ plate of protein. Focus on consuming less meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs depending on your preferences.

  • Proteins

    Beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame, seitan, nuts, seeds, nut butter, soy milk, greens

  • Veggies

    Your choice of favorites like broccoli, leafy greens, spinach, peppers, etc.

  • Fats

    Avocado, Nuts, chia seeds, coconut, extra virgin olive oil

  • Carbs

    Quinoa, steel-cut oats, beans, lentils, whole grain rice, fruits, veggies

Simple Recipe Swaps for More Plant-Based Proteins

  • Tacos: replace meat for beans or veggies in burritos, tacos or soups, and stews
  • Smoothies: use unsweetened almond milk, low-fat vanilla almond or soymilk yogurt, and agave nectar for a healthier version
  • Pizza: top with veggies in place of meat
  • Salads: add beans such as garbanzo, kidney, or black beans in place of chicken; or mix in tahini or hummus
  • Tuna Salad: make a mock tuna salad with smashed chickpeas, light mayo, and relish
  • Breakfast Sandwich: top a whole-wheat English muffin with fresh tomato and avocado slices in place of eggs and bacon
  • Meat Sauce: add cannellini beans and peas to whole-wheat pasta in place of meat
  • Grilled vegetable kabobs with tofu in place of meat
  • Fill a whole-wheat tortilla with black beans, peppers, onion, and salsa for a healthier breakfast wrap

Extra Tips for Adding Plant power to Your Diet

  1. Change the way you think about meat. Think of smaller portions - make it a side dish instead of the main course.
  2. Eat lots and lots of veggies. Fill at least half your plate with a rainbow of colors (especially the green ones like spinach and kale).
  3. Choose good fats. Fats in olive oil, olives, nuts, nut butter, seeds, and avocados are all great choices.
  4. Aim to cook a meatless meal at least 1 – 2 times a week. Focus the meal on beans, whole grains, and veggies.
  5. Include whole grains for breakfast. Kick it off with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Then top it off with some nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit.
  6. Build a meal around a salad. Start with salad greens like romaine or spinach. Then add your favorite veggies along with fresh herbs, beans, peas, seeds, avocado, or tofu.
  7. Eat fruit for dessert. Satisfy your sweet tooth after a meal with a peach, crisp apple, or bowl of berries.

Building a More Plant-Based Diet

Again, the recommendations vary. For some people, there may be benefits to higher daily protein intake for muscle mass and strength.  It is important to focus on the quality and timing of consumption as that may also influence the effectiveness. Public health messages recently have shifted their emphasis on the importance of choosing healthier protein-rich foods rather than concentrating on specific daily amounts. But as with any change to your diet, it is recommended to consult your physician or dietitian for more guidance.

Sources:

American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/plant-based-protein-infographic

USDA: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/protein-foods 

Lindsay Allen
Lindsay Allen

For over 20 years, Lindsay has worked as a passionate and dedicated professional seeking to advocate health & well-being in the community and beyond. She has worked with various hospitals & health departments to plan, implement & evaluate educational programs on healthy lifestyle topics including nutrition, physical activity, and cancer prevention. She completed her degree & internship in Dietetics from Virginia Tech and holds certifications in CDC Diabetes Prevention Program along with effective writing and cultural competency to assist clients in the best personal goal setting & habits. In her spare time, Lindsay loves working out, watching sports, and spending time with her husband, 3 children & dogs.



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