By kari fraser, cnp
What is protein and why do we need it?
Protein is one of three core macro-nutrients we require in our diets to sustain life for energy, growth and normal functioning. In fact, every cell in your body has a component of protein. So, it’s paramount that you eat enough. The other two macronutrients, macro meaning you require them in relatively large amounts from your diet are carbohydrates (whole food sugars) and lipids (healthy whole food fats). We also require micronutrients, micro meaning in smaller amounts to gain various vitamins and minerals to sustain life.
There is a variety of macro and micro nutrients that we require in our diets which are called ‘Essential’ nutrients because our bodies does not manufacture them; they have to be obtained from eating whole foods.
What do amino acids have to do with protein?
The basic structure of protein is made from a chain of amino acids. When we eat foods with protein in it, our bodies breakdown the protein into their amino acids. These amino acids are then sent throughout the body to form new proteins that are required to build and repair tissue, make enzymes and hormones along with various other body chemicals and are the building blocks of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood and so on.
There are 9 essential amino acids that we must obtain from our diet, which are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Some whole foods are considered ‘Complete’ proteins meaning they have all 9 essential amino acids. (See the below list for Plant-based Proteins and the ones that are ‘Complete’.)
How can I get all of the macro and micro nutrients I need?
The great news is most whole foods have a combination of macro and micro nutrients. Even romaine lettuce has protein (amino acids). So, as long as you are eating a diverse diet in whole foods, you will attain all of the essential amino acids along with other macro and micro nutrients required to support your health. Variety is the spice of life, right!?! However, you don’t need to eat all essential amino acids in one meal. As long as you have a variety of whole foods over the course of a day or two, your body will store amino acids and then chain them together when it arrives through your diet for their various required functions.
Below is a list of plant proteins with high levels of protein (amino acids) per serving as well a list of the ‘Complete’ Plant-based Proteins. Now get shopping and enjoy the variety of flavours and benefits that a plant-centric diet can offer. As always, our recommendation is to buy organic whole foods to avoid the chemicals used in conventional agriculture or at least avoid the Dirty Dozen.
Spirulina = 57.5 g per 100 gram serving. Dried, powder.
Hemp Seeds = 36.7 g per 100 gram serving. Hemp hearts, hulled and raw.
Pumpkin Seeds = 24.5 g per 100 gram serving. (Life Hack: seek out pumpkin seeds that are raw and from Austria or other locations versus China. If it isn’t labelled as such, then, likely the seeds are coming from China. Unfortunately, China’s agricultural practices are much different than North America’s and quality can be an issue; even if they are organic.)
Another life hack: Toasting or roasting nuts and seeds will lower their nutritional value because heat will denature their nutritional profile.
To read more about how changing the fresh profile of whole foods leads to a different nutritional profile, read our blogpost Why you need to start eating more live food.
Tempeh = 21 g per 100 gram serving. Ideally, organic, raw, unpasteurized tempeh. Most soy products are non-organic and GMO, unless labelled as certified organic. Eating raw unpasteurized tempeh means you are gaining the nutrients. Pasteurization denatures microbes but also nutrients. Try making our Lemon Tempeh Collard Wraps for some delicious plant protein!
Flax Seeds = 18.3 g per 100 gram serving. Raw.
Cashews = 18.2 g per 100 gram serving. Raw.
Almonds = 15.1 g per 100 gram serving. Raw. (Life Hack: get your almonds from Europe or Spain versus California. Unfortunately, all almonds coming out of California are pasteurized which denatures the nutritional value.)
Buckwheat = 12.6 g per 100 gram serving. Raw groats versus kasha (roasted) to gain the most nutritional value.
Edamame Beans (young soybeans) = 10.9 g per 100 gram serving.
Chia Seeds = 15.6 g per 100 gram serving.
Lentils = 9 g per 100 gram serving.
Black Beans = 8.9 g per 100 gram serving.
Chickpeas = 8.9 g per 100 gram serving.
Quinoa = 4.4 g per 100 gram serving.
Amaranth = 3.8 g per 100 gram serving.
Avocado = 2 g per 100 gram serving.
Complete Plant Proteins (containing all 9 essential amino acids)
Soy Beans (Edamame & Tempeh)
When paired together...
Beans and Rice
Spirulina with nuts or grains
Hummus and Pita (chickpeas have 8 out of 9 essentials and the wheat in the pita as the missing one, lysine)
Let us know what your favourite plant protein is by reaching out to us on Facebook!