By Isadora Baum
Hey, we love a good burger or salmon dinner as much as anyone–but swapping in vegetarian proteins a few times a week can rack up the benefits to the planet and your body, plus, it ensures you’ll never get stuck in a sushi rut. Here are seven reasons for eating plant proteins, plus 19 of the best sources.
SURPRISING BENEFITS OF EATING PLANT PROTEINS
They Improve Metabolism and Longevity
According to research at Harvard University, people who eat plant protein have improved metabolism, decreased risk of obesity, and greater longevity. Each 3 percent increase in calories from plant protein was associated with a 10 percent lower risk of death.
They Can Mitigate Damaging Effects From Unhealthy Habits
That same study showed that the diet’s positive effects still persisted despite habits like smoking or having one too many glasses of vino. Of course, we’re not endorsing a drinking binge, but eating more plant protein can help if you do let loose from time to time.
They Have No Harmful Chemicals
Added nitrates and nitrites in processed meats are part of what makes them unhealthy (though nitrates occur naturally in some fruit, vegetables and grains, but they are not harmful). By choosing organic plant proteins, you avoid these chemicals, researchers explained. Also, a diet heavy in processed meat can cause inflammation, increasing the risk of disease.
They Are Nutrient and Fiber Rich
Pulses and legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, dried beans, and soybeans, are rich in fiber, Maggie Moon, RDN, author of The MIND Diet, tells Clean Plates. A daily fiber goal is 25-30g per day, she says, and eating plenty of fiber from plant-based proteins will “reduce constipation and keep the digestive tract regular, due to its gut-promoting qualities.” Dietary fiber is not naturally found in animal protein, so this gives plant protein a huge leg up.
Plus, pulses and legumes are “also high in iron, zinc, B vitamins like folate, minerals such as magnesium, potassium and phosphorous, and they are naturally cholesterol- and gluten-free,” Moon explains. Plant proteins are a lower-calorie, nutritious option, and they can improve your digestive health by “fueling the good bacteria in your microbiome,” she adds.
They Fill You Up
All of that fiber easily fills you up and helps keep blood sugar levels stable, so you’ll be less tempted to snack aimlessly or eat too large a quantity of more calorically dense foods.
They Are Affordable
With animal proteins at least twice the cost of plant ones, you can’t beat the price, especially if you buy seasonal veggies.
It’s Good For The Planet
Menus of Change, a joint initiative between the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health, notes that plant-based proteins typically produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their animal counterparts. A study by the Nature Journal of Science says that greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein for beef and lamb are about 250 times those of legumes, and 20 servings of vegetables have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than one serving of beef.
HOW TO EAT THEM
Now that you know why to add more plant proteins to your diet, here are some pro strategies for getting the most from them.
“Consuming sprouted legumes and grains may help increase the absorption of some of the nutrients, and therefore help avoid nutrient deficiency,” explains registered dietitian Megan Roosevelt, founder of Healthy Grocery Girl.
Use Powders Wisely
Plant-based protein powders are a convenient option, but be sure to carefully read ingredient lists to avoid artificial sweeteners or additives. Also, most do not have complete proteins; one that does is WelleCo’s Nourishing Protein, which has all 9 essential amino acids.
Plant protein is less readily absorbed by the body than animal protein and doesn’t offer all 9 essential amino acids. But, “when paired correctly, plant-based protein can provide a complete protein for your body,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, to Clean Plates. For instance, pairing beans with whole grains will get the job done.
You can also maximize absorption by pairing plant proteins with dairy or a squeeze of lemon, says Moon. Eating plant-based proteins with dairy, like yogurt, milk or cheese, increases absorption of nutrients, like iron, and adds a dose of vitamin B12, magnesium, and calcium. Without the dairy, vitamin B12 can’t be found in plant proteins alone. As for lemon, the antioxidant vitamin C transforms plant iron (iron-3) into a form the body prefers (iron-2), which boosts absorption.
THE BEST PLANT-BASED PROTEINS
A great way to balance all of this out—eat grass-fed or organic sources of animal protein in moderate amounts, and bring more of these plant-based proteins to the table:
- Black beans, 39g per cup
- Chickpeas, 39g per cup
- Chia seeds, 32g per cup
- Flax seeds, 31g per cup
- Sunflower seeds, 29g per cup
- Buckwheat, 23g per cup
- Tofu/tempeh, 20g per cup
- Almonds, 20g per cup
- Lentils, 18g per cup
- Edamame, 17g per cup
- Pumpkin seeds, 12g per cup
- Lima beans, 11g per cup
- Quinoa, 8g per cup
- Green Peas, 8g per cup
- Spinach, 5g per cup
- Brown rice, 5g per cup
- Artichoke, 4g per cup
- Kale, 3g per cup
- Brussels sprouts, 3g per cup
Ready to get plant-powered? For one convenient solution get Welleco’s Nourishing Protein. Once you do, join in WelleCo’s #SuperElixirSwap Challenge; just substitute your usual sugar fix with a protein-rich smoothie for a month, then share your story of better health on Instagram with the tags @superelixir and #SuperElixirSwap.