Your Questions Answered
Is plant based protein as good as animal protein? If you eat a plant based diet, will you get enough protein? What are the best sources of plant based protein?
Animal vs. Plant Based Protein
Protein (made up of amino acids) can be obtained from either plants directly or from the animals who originally got their protein from the plants they ate. Please understand, PLANTS (and micro-organisms like bacteria and yeast) are the ones that make the protein that ends up in the animals.
Animals are, therefore, the middleman. Animal protein is only plant protein that’s been recycled.
So why not cut out the middleman? Regardless of whether we eat a plant or an animal, the proteins are broken down into their component amino acids and reassembled according to our unique needs.
Plant foods contain all of the 8 essential amino acids that we must get from the foods we eat without the negatives that animal protein brings with it (lots of calories, fat and it’s very acidic).
How Much Protein Is Enough?
Protein is important, there’s no disputing that. But we often tend to think that if something is good, a lot of it must be better. And so it goes with protein. But can we get too much of a good thing? Absolutely.
The truth is that the body will get rid of excess protein, but it does so at a cost. The kidneys and liver must work overtime to filter out excess protein and their function deteriorates as a result. Add that to the acidic nature of animal protein (which the body must try to neutralize or protect itself against) and the excessive amount of fat and calories, and it all doesn’t add up to greater health. Plant based proteins are not only much more than adequate, they also are wrapped up in packages that are much kinder to your health.
Did you know that human breast milk, a food designed to be the exclusive food for babies who are growing faster than any other time in their lives, derives only about 6% of its calories from protein? How is it then, that the majority of people believe that they must, in adulthood, eat a diet where a large percentage of the calories come from protein? Or that in order to build muscle, we must consume massive quantities of protein?
Human protein requirements are actually quite low, as reflected by the World Health Organization’s recommendation that only 5% of calories come from protein.
Whole plant foods contain anywhere from about 10% to upwards of 50% of their calories from protein. So those who eat a whole foods plant based diet, with an adequate amount of calories, will inevitably get enough protein without even trying.
Bottom line is this – as long as we are consuming enough calories from a variety of plant foods, we will get more than enough protein to satisfy the body’s needs.
Best Plant Based Protein Sources
The best sources of protein in a plant based diet are legumes, whole grains, mushrooms and green vegetables. While nuts and seeds do contain a good amount of protein, they also contain a lot of fat so they should not be eaten in large amounts. Nuts and seeds should be viewed as a healthy fat source more than a protein source.
So unlike animal sources of protein, plant sources can be eaten without worrying about eating too much because the protein doesn’t come along with tons of fat (particularly saturated) and cholesterol. There’s no downside to consuming legumes, vegetables and whole grains. Along with your protein you receive lots of healthy fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Plant based protein wins on all counts! The next time someone asks you “but where do you get your protein???? you can confidently respond that you get your protein from all the foods you eat and that it’s more than enough to meet your body’s needs!