Our bodies need an adequate protein intake every day to keep our internal engine running well. We all know meats are high in protein, but if we are trying to limit our red meat intake (a good thing), what are other good proteins sources, particularly, plant-based?
Proteins are made of substances called amino acids, and when we eat proteins in food, the proteins are digested and broken down to liberate the individual amino acids. Then our body uses these amino acids as the raw material—the building blocks— to build the exact proteins our body needs to construct new cells, new organs, new enzymes and so forth.
Our body itself can create most types of the amino acids it needs for its construction work, but there are 9 amino acids that the body cannot itself make, and to survive, we need to consume them in our diet. These are called the essential amino acids, and a food that contains all of the essential amino acids, in an adequate proportion, is called a complete protein food.
Red meat is the food with a very high concentration of complete proteins, but has many health disadvantages. Red meat comes with lots of saturated fat and cholesterol, which raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, and brings other problems such as an increased risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
Other complete protein foods include poultry, milk, yogurt, and eggs but probably the healthiest complete protein food is fish. Plant-based foods contain lesser amounts of protein than foods derived from animals, and unfortunately, with the possible exception of soy and quinoa grains, plants are not considered complete protein sources, as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids.
You can get all the amino acids and protein you need (about 0.8 grams per kilogram per day for adults) just from vegetable sources, but you need to combine various vegetables to get all the essential amino acids. One vegetable might lack one or two amino acids, but you can eat other vegetables that contain those missing amino acids, so you are getting a complete package of amino acids when you eat a variety of plant-based sources during the day.
So to help you choose some plant-based protein sources, here is a list of some (mostly easily obtainable) plant-based protein sources, in order of average protein content:
1) Spirulina (a freshwater blue-green algae)
Has about 57 grams of protein in 100 mg serving. Because absorbs toxins from water sources, buy only from trusted sources, and if taking mediations, check about possible drug interactions.
2) Soybeans, soy milk, tempeh, tofu
A cup of cooked soybeans has 29 gm of protein; cup of soymilk about 6 gm., tempeh and tofu 30-40 gm. protein per cup.
3) Lentils and peas
About 18 gm. protein per cup cooked for lentils, and 8 gms per cup for peas.
4) Beans (black, white, pinto, etc.)
About 13 gm. protein per cup cooked beans.
About 10 gm protein per 50 gm serving, and peanuts are a good choice.
Chia especially valuable, with 10 gm protein in 2 tablespoons, but sunflower and sesame seeds also good
7) Whole grains, quinoa, brown rice
Quinoa has about 8 gm per cup, brown rice about 5 gm protein per cup cooked.
8) At the top of the vegetable category: Parsley, spinach, artichoke, avocado, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, watercress, and asparagus.
Varies per vegetable. Near the top of this list, one cup of broccoli has about 8 gm. protein.
See if you can, over time, diminish your meat-based protein sources and eat more of the plant-based sources. You will probably be healthier, and in the process, lower your percentage of body fat.
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