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Natural Cure

This is Why Plant-Based Proteins Are a Healthy Choice | World Pulses Day Special

Have you been skeptical about switching to a plant-based diet for the fear of losing out on proteins? A plant-based diet contains enough nutrients (including proteins) to fulfill all your dietary needs, including that of proteins. This World Pulses Day (10th Feb), discover why plant sources of protein are a healthier and wiser choice for you. Read on to know more.

When you think of protein, what do you picture? A plate of animal products or a bunch of legumes and leafy greens? A common misconception is that plant-based proteins are not enough for your dietary requirements. You might even overeat proteins for the fear of developing a deficiency of protein. Do you know how much protein is too much, and what overeating proteins can do to your health?

This article is going to bust popular myths around proteins, unveil the truths about plant-based proteins, and elaborate on how to meet your daily protein needs while eating a plant-based diet.

What is Protein?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients, the other two are Carbohydrates and Fats. You must have heard that proteins are the ‘building blocks of life’. Yes, they are present in all living beings, including plants. All of us (each cell) and the plant-kingdom are made up of protein - right from your DNA to your triceps!

Proteins are made up of small units called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in total. As per modern medicine, 11 amino acids can be produced by our bodies and 9 have to be obtained from our food. Hence, those 9 are called Essential Amino acids. However, Nature Cure establishes that our body contains a pool of amino acids, a reserve from which amino acids are used as per need. (This is explained in detail below)

“In popular theory, our protein requirements revolve around 9 Essential Amino Acids”

What Do Protein Do For Our Body?

Proteins mainly work for our body’s growth and repair. They also have certain biochemical functions:

  • Healthy Growth & Development: Your body utilizes proteins during early life for growth and development.

  • Repair & Rejuvenation: In adult life, we need comparatively smaller amounts of proteins for repair functions.

  • Regulation of Body Processes: Our enzymes, hormones, and digestive juices - all are made up of proteins. Proteins are crucial to regulating various important body functions. 

  • Immune system: Our antibodies are made up of proteins that help fight infections.

  • Nutrient Distribution: All nutrients are transported to various parts of the body through blood, proteins in Haemoglobin are essential for this process.

“Originally, carbohydrates are the source of energy in our body. If we don’t eat enough carbs, the body breaks down protein for getting energy, which hinders their core functions for our body.”

How Much Protein Do You REALLY Need?

Your body needs protein to function well and stay healthy. A regular person who does not perform high levels of physical activity (athlete or other sportspeople), needs 0.8 - 1gm of protein per kg of ideal body weight or 4-5% of protein from total calories/day. 

Even a few extra grams of protein, if eaten, can not be stored by the body. It is metabolized and the byproduct - ammonia (very toxic) gets excreted in the form of urea. Thus eating extra protein puts huge pressure on the liver and kidneys, hammering their health!

Plant-based Protein

You have read it a million times & have been advised by professionals to eat more protein for weight loss or strength training. Can a plant-based diet fulfill your protein requirements? The answer is yes, very much!

A protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids is called a complete protein. Most of the animal sources of protein (meat, eggs, dairy) have all 9 essential amino acids, that’s why they are referred to as complete proteins. Only a few plant products fit this category - such as *quinoa, buckwheat & soy.

*Prefer eating local, fresh and seasonal. If quinoa is not local for you, don’t stress about eating it too much. Stick to local plant-based produce, as that suits your body more.

Most plant-based sources of protein contain a few essential amino acids in varying amounts. Not all plant foods have all 9 essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Hence, plant-based proteins are classified as ‘incomplete protein’.

However, does that make a difference? Or does that make plant-based proteins less healthy? No. ‘Complete protein’ is just an honorific title. It means that you can fulfill your protein requirements from one single food product. ‘Incomplete protein’ or plant proteins provide the same set of essential amino acids in a collective form. So, if you eat a varied diet of plant-based sources of protein you will fulfill your daily protein requirement, in a much healthier way!

Collectively, all plant foods contain all 9 essential amino acids. That’s why it is important to eat all kinds of plant proteins to get the full spectrum of essential amino acids.

“A wholesome plant-based meal of vegetables, grains & grams can meet the recommended protein requirement of an adult”.

**Most importantly, Your body has its own amino acid pool to supply amino acids that could be missing from dietary sources. Required amino acids can either be drawn from those already in circulation or may be released by the liver or other cells into the circulatory system. The amino acid pool thus acts as the supplier of the essential amino acids missing from ‘incomplete proteins’.

**This fact is proven by observing many Nature Cure patients after lengthy fasts who exhibited not a protein deficiency, but a restored protein balance.”

Health Benefits of Plant-Based Proteins

Plant-based proteins are a much healthier option because they are rich in fiber and other essential nutrients. Contrary to animal proteins, plant-based proteins are lower in fat and calories. So, they are a perfect source if your health goals are weight loss and gaining health.

  1. Rich in Fiber: Legumes, pulses, and grains, if eaten unpolished and whole, provide a good amount of fiber in your diet that helps in shedding weight and control blood sugar.
  2. Lower Fat & Calories: Animal proteins invariably come as a package of fat and protein, even skimmed milk and skinless chicken contains a higher amount of saturated fats in them as compared to their plant counterparts.

  3. Richest Sources of Micronutrients: Plant-based whole foods contain phytochemicals - natural bioactive nutrients that provide immense health benefits, including a lowered risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Also, the outer covering of most fruits, vegetables, and legumes is full of essential micronutrients which you do not get from animal products in the same amounts.

Sources of Plant-based Proteins: 

The plant kingdom has a wide variety of foods that are rich in proteins. While legumes and pulses are the ‘go-to source’ of protein for many cultures, not many people know that fruits, vegetables, and nuts also contain a fair amount of proteins.

  1. Green Vegetables: At least 14% of the total calories of every plant are protein. Spinach, artichokes, peas, asparagus, broccoli, or local Indian greens such as methi and amaranthus contain a good amount of proteins. 

  2. Fruits: Fruits are pre-digested foods. It means that they contain proteins in the form of amino acids, which are much easily digested by our body without spending a lot of energy on digestion and assimilation. Guava, apricots, and blackberries are some of the high protein fruits. 

  3. Lentils, Grams, Legumes & Pulses: A traditional Indian diet is rich in plant-based proteins sourced from lentils, beans, chickpeas, pulses, grams, etc. As explained above, plant proteins might not contain all 9 essential amino acids in one source. That’s why Indian plant-based diets usually have a combination of 2 - 3 plant products, which complement each other’s protein profile. Hence, providing you the complete spectrum of proteins.  For example, Daal-Chawal (Rice & Lentils) - popular comfort food for most Indians. If you eat this dish, you get some amino acids from lentils and the rest from whole grain rice! Add some fresh vegetables and greens to it, and you will have a wholesome meal full of fiber, protein, and micronutrients.

  4. Plant-milks: As animal milks often come with saturated fats and high calories, switching to plant-based milks and their products is a healthier choice. You can even make cheese, butter, curd, and ice cream purely from plant-milks. Soy and hemp milks have higher protein content amongst plant-milks. However, regular protein requirements can be met by consuming almond, cashew, or coconut milk as well - if an individual is eating a wholesome, varied plant-based diet. 
  5. Sprouts: The proteins found in sprouts are predigested (in the form of amino acids) and are thus easily utilized by the body with no extra energy. Sprouting also increases the amounts and bioavailability of protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them the nutrition powerhouses.

  6. Nuts & Seeds: Nuts are natural energy boosters and bodybuilders as they are rich in both protein and calcium. Seeds are the top natural foods in terms of nutrient density. In addition to high-quality protein, they are power-packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

How to Move to Plant-based Protein?

As you now understand the health benefits of plant-based proteins, it would be easier for you to switch to them. If you still find it challenging, here is how to do it in a simple way:

  1. Pulses & Lentils: Some cultures traditionally include lentils and pulses in their daily diet. If you aren’t from one of those, try including lentils and pulses in at least one meal a day. Check out our recipes section for some inspiration. 

  2. Plant-Milks: Gradually replace dairy with plant-based alternatives such as almond milk. Go one step at a time, once you develop their taste, try other products such as plant butter and cheese in your diet. 

  3. Leafy greens: Try eating at least one green leafy vegetable every day. You can put them in rotis or dals (Indian meals), or steam them lightly to compliment your meals.

  4. Fruits: Start your day with fruits. Eat fruits in breakfast, preferably one kind of fruit at a time. Don’t mix them with grains, vegetables, or other food groups. 

  5. Vegetables: Include raw salads in lunch and dinner, along with cooked meals. Try incorporating 2-3 seasonal vegetables daily in your meals (lunch & dinner).

  6. Nuts & Seeds: Eat them as snacks in between meals. Soaking nuts in water before eating makes them live foods (activates their enzymes) and enhances their bioavailability. Sprinkle them over your salads or wraps, it will give that extra crunch, flavor, and texture as well. 

“Proteins should be eaten in their natural form (i.e whole foods, with skin) to get the best out of them. Dietary supplements can never match the health benefits of natural proteins.”

Hazards of Protein Powders & Supplements 

I want to build muscle, can I take protein supplements?

Protein powders and supplements are often marketed as the ‘ideal’ dietary supplement if you are looking at building muscle. However, recent studies have shown that they are laced with harmful toxins, heavy metals, chemicals, additives, sugar, and contain such high amounts of protein which could be doing more harm than good to your health. Protein powders are a processed form of protein extracted from animal or plant sources. To enhance their taste and shelf-life they are added with sugar, flavors, preservatives, and other additives. They are not a replacement for natural proteins because they lack vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. 

Moreover, eating too much protein (more than your body’s requirement), puts huge pressure on your liver and kidneys, as these organs are actively involved in protein metabolism. 

As per NHS, UK “There's evidence that, in the long term, consuming too much protein can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis and can also worsen existing kidney problems.

Conclusion:

In a nutshell, we can conclude that plant-based foods can provide you with the complete protein profile if you eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet. An average person with an active lifestyle can easily meet daily protein requirements through plant-based sources. They come packaged with loads of other nutrients and fiber, while animal protein sources are often loaded with unhealthy fats and calories. The best way to consume plant sources of protein is in a natural, whole form. 


 



Disclaimer: The health journeys, blogs, videos and all other content on Wellcure is for educational purposes only and is not to be considered a ‘medical advice’ ‘prescription’ or a ‘cure’ for diseases. Any specific changes by users, in medication, food & lifestyle, must be done under the guidance of licensed health practitioners. The views expressed by the users are their personal views and Wellcure claims no responsibility for them.

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