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Protein Based Plant Cuisine

HOW TO GET MORE PROTEIN INTO YOUR PLANT-BASED DIET


By Aria Beheshtaein, founder of B’liev


Protein plays a lead role in the creation and maintenance of every single cell in your body. It also controls hunger, helps keep blood sugar levels stable and is used in the regulation of hormones. And that is not all!


Over the years, protein’s importance for sports men and women to support their performance has become increasingly recognised. Hardly surprising when you consider that another of its benefits is maintaining muscle mass. Indeed, if you lack protein in your diet, your body can use muscle to produce energy. In sufficient quantities protein can repair muscle and connective tissue.


Perhaps you are not a keen sportsperson but if you are vegetarian or vegan, you’re almost certainly aware of the debate surrounding how easy - or not - it is to get protein from sources other than animal-based products.


Protein must come from meat and dairy, right?


Protein is made up of amino acids and there are nine amino acids that are considered essential (Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Valin). Traditionally, meat has been considered the go-to for fulfilling your protein needs, along with eggs and certain dairy products, as they include all of the nine essential amino acids and are, therefore, considered “complete proteins”.


This, in principle, causes questions for vegans over how they can get these supposedly important complete proteins into their diet. If you are one of those people, relax, you have no need to worry.


There are actually some plant-based foods that do contain complete proteins, including soy, quinoa, hemp and chia. But it would still be pretty restrictive if those were the only foods you could rely on. So, it’s even better news that the idea that you need to consume all nine amino acids in one sitting is, in fact, not true. Your liver will store amino acids. So, by eating a combination of plant-based proteins throughout the day you can easily consume all the amino acids you need!


Vegan protein sources – are they healthier?


It stands to reason that if you are consuming large quantities of meat in order to boost your protein levels, that you are also likely to be ingesting larger amounts of saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol and, therefore, your risk of cardiovascular disease. Consumption of large quantities of meat is also linked to cancer. So, you could assume that turning to plant-based proteins is automatically healthier.


However, it isn’t quite that simple. Take, for example, peanut butter on whole wheat toast, widely heralded as a good way to boost protein, particularly as the amino acids found in whole wheat toast combined with those in peanut butter gives you the magic nine in one sitting.


And, if you look at two average slices of peanut butter on toast, this does boost your protein intake by about 12g (around a quarter of your daily requirement). However, it is also likely to contain over 500 calories and 40g of fat, including saturated fat and the dreaded trans fats that we really should be avoiding. So, while this may be a tasty way to boost your protein intake, it is not what I would describe as a very healthy option. Beans on toast however also gives you the magic balance and is much healthier.


So, like all dietary choices, there needs to be balance and you cannot just assume that vegan always equals healthier.


Good sources of vegan protein?


If you want to consume vegan protein, look out for simple ingredients that are high in protein and that contain a good mixture of the amino acids. The entire list is surprisingly long but here are some I definitely recommend you keep an eye out for when making your food choices:


· Broccoli: You’d have to have been hiding under a rock not to know that this is a renowned superfood. But did you know it also boasts more protein than most other vegetables?

· Chickpeas: Largely known as the main ingredient of hummus, chickpeas can also be used in curries and stews, making them filling and hearty while packing in the protein.

· Grains: These contain almost all the amino acids, although they lack in lysine.

· Beans: Beans are high in lysine and, therefore, are great combined with grain in the diet.

o Fava (or broad) beans are a favourite of mine, as they are absolutely packed with nutrients and utterly delicious, particularly when young and tender.

· Peas: Yes, the humble pea, which might be found as a predictable accompaniment to many meals but rarely the star of the show. Well, step forward little legume! Pea protein is considered a superior plant source because peas contain high levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine, which support muscle recovery and lean muscle mass.

· Seeds: These are a convenient way to top up your protein. They can be scattered over salads or avocado toast, for example, and can be transported in your bag easily.

o Flax seeds also contain branched-chain amino acids, not to mention being a great vegan source of essential fatty acids.

o Pumpkin seeds are a tasty snack in their own right and great to have in a bowl by the side of your laptop while you work. They also contain all nine of the essential amino acids, albeit that they are too low in threonine and lysine to be considered a whole protein.


Getting enough vegan protein


You can use an online calculator to determine just how much protein you should have in your daily diet (e.g., https://www.calculator.net/protein-calculator.html) but, on average, women need around 45g per day and men need 55g, although for sportspeople and / or gym bunnies, you may want to include a bit more.


Eating the foods mentioned above plus other protein-rich vegan foods are the obvious route and it will get easier as you go along to know what to choose and how to incorporate these foods into your diet. There are also plenty of protein powders available but these can be faffy and don’t always fit into a busy lifestyle.


A great way to conveniently top up your protein is ready-made protein shakes from companies like B’liev. If you have tried shakes in the past and found the taste to be a bit predictable, there are some great new flavours available.


Now you know a protein-rich vegan diet is achievable the sky is your limit – enjoy!





ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Aria Beheshtaein is founder of B’liev, a new plant-based, protein shake available in three unusual, but utterly delicious flavours: Blueberry Muffin, Cookies & Cream and Chocolate Brownie. Packed with protein and fibre, and fortified with vitamins and minerals, B’liev delivers much more than hydration and great taste, and encourages us all to believe that anything is possible, we just have to believe in ourselves.


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