Should you consume more vegetable protein?
Plant-based proteins have been growing in popularity, and this trend is expected to increase in the next decade, as many people have begun to choose them for health, environmental and/or ethical reasons.
As plant-based proteins become available in more places, it's important to keep in mind that there are different types and they can vary in nutritional quality. If you decide to add plant-based proteins to your diet instead of animal proteins, you need to understand the differences and keep in mind some key points to maintain (and enjoy) a nutritious and balanced diet.
Next, Dr. Antonio Rojo, Medical Director at Abbott, shares some facts about plant-based proteins:
What are the most common (and best) sources of plant protein?
Believe it or not, many plant-based foods offer good sources of protein. Soy products like tofu are not the only source of plant protein, but this macronutrient is also available in beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and even some vegetables.
But, it's important to note that plants have lower amounts of protein than animal sources and tend to have fewer calories, so you may need to eat more to meet your recommended daily requirements. For this reason, people who only consume plant protein are increasingly turning to specialized products to ensure they get the amount of protein they need to feel their best.
“Recently it has become much easier for consumers to increase plant protein intake through the availability of multiple plant-based protein concentrates in the food industry”, noted Dr. Rojo. “Plant protein concentrates, which often contain 80% or more protein by weight, make it possible to consume 10 to 20 grams or more of plant-based protein per serving of a ready-to-drink shake.”
The benefits of vegetable protein
The health benefits offered by vegetable proteins they are one of the reasons plant-based diets are becoming more popular. Research has pointed to several health benefits:
- They can improve cardiovascular health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of more than 100 studies concluded that people who substitute animal protein for plant protein tend to have lower indicators of cardiovascular disease.
- Reduced risk of obesity: A study of more than 1800 adolescents published in Nutrition Journal found a link between total animal protein intake and obesity in adolescents. In contrast, those who consumed higher levels of plant protein had lower body fat percentages and Body Mass Index (BMI) compared to adolescents who consumed more animal protein.
- Lower mortality rate: A report published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that plant protein intake was inversely associated with all-cause mortality after following more than 400 people aged 000 to 50 years for more than 71 years. In addition, it was suggested that vegetable protein helped reduce cardiovascular disease mortality in both men and women. The researchers concluded that replacing just 15% of animal protein with plant protein was associated with a 3% reduction in overall mortality in both men and women.
What are essential amino acids?
When considering plant-based proteins, it is important to mention amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. The indispensable amino acids are often called "essential amino acids", which means that the body cannot produce them and must be consumed through food, among these amino acids are tryptophan, methionine and alanine among others.
One of the most common concerns surrounding plant proteins is that they have insufficient levels of one or more essential amino acids. But eating grains and legumes in a complementary way helps meet the requirements for both types of essential amino acids. Dr. Rojo explains that it is not necessary to consume complementary protein sources at the same meal if the interval between meals is less than three hours.
The following are examples of combinations of plant-based proteins that work together to create a complementary protein:
- Rice and lentils
- peas and rice
- Beans and rice
- Cream peanut and whole grains
- Oatmeal and dried fruit
Are there any food safety issues with eating plant-based protein?
While plant-based proteins are generally safe and a healthy part of the diet, some concerns have been raised regarding potential adverse health effects. For example, soybeans often come under scrutiny because they contain isoflavones, which can act as phytoestrogens.
Another concern is that soy is recognized as one of the eight most common food allergens by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even so, various health professionals point out that soy protein allergy is relatively rare compared to other common food allergens such as milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.
If you start a plant-based diet, take it easy. If you need additional support, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about making the transition.
 PUBMED. Dietary intakes of animal and vegetable proteins and their associations with obesity and cardiometabolic indicators in European adolescents: the cross-sectional study. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25609179/
 JAMA. Association between vegetable and animal protein intake and general and cause-specific mortality. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2768358