Plant protein is exactly what it sounds like — protein that comes from plants. Proteins are made up of chains of various amino acids and different proteins can contain different types and amounts of amino acids.
Many animal proteins have all the essential amino acids that the human body needs, though they can also contain too much saturated fat. Plant proteins, on the other hand, don’t have nearly as much saturated fat, but some of them have fewer essential amino acids than animal proteins. This can make it harder for the body to process and use them. The way to sidestep this imbalance is to eat a variety of plant proteins. When different plant protein foods are consumed together, they can contain all the different amino acids that the human body needs. Lots of research confirms this, including the study of plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition. Mixtures of plant proteins can serve as a complete and well-balanced source of amino acids that effectively meet human physiological requirements, concluding, mixtures of plant proteins can be fully adequate for meeting human requirements.
Variety is especially important when it comes to protein foods — both plant and animal. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people eat protein foods from a variety of sources. Consumption of a balanced variety of protein foods can contribute to improved nutrient intake and health benefits. Why is this so important? In addition to ensuring that people get enough of each essential amino acid, eating a variety of protein foods means variations from a few protein staples that aren’t as good for your health.
Many animal sources of protein are also loaded with saturated fat. MY Plate insists that in order to lower your risk for heart disease you should cut back on foods containing saturated fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans backs up this assertion, advising people to replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or sources of oils.
You may be asking which foods contain plant protein? Here is a list of just a few familiar ones: Beans/Legumes, Black beans, Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans, Kidney beans, Lentils, Pinto beans, Tofu and other soy products such as Almonds, Cashews, Brazil nuts, peanuts and pecans. A variety of seeds include Pumpkin, Sesame and Sunflower seeds. The following grain foods also contain some plant protein: Buckwheat, Bulgur, Oats, Quinoa, Rice, and whole wheat products such as bread and pasta. Always choose options that are low in salt and solid fats to boost heart health.
For more information on health literacy contact Lethia Lee, EFNEP assistant with the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Office at 910-592-7161.