Health and environmental benefits, additional tips

Health and environmental benefits, additional tips

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All aboard the plant train! As we approach the new year, interest in plant-based proteins shows no signs of slowing down.

According to the International Food Information Council 2022 report Food and health survey12% of Americans now eat a plant-based diet and 31% say they are eating more food from whole plant sources.

Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of new plant-based protein sources to choose from, with new powders, milks and meat substitutes emerging every month. And of course, old convenience foods like beans, quinoa, and tofu are always available to add non-animal protein to your diet, too.

Thinking about leaning more on plants to fill you up, build muscle, and even help you lose weight?

Here’s an overview of the latest scientific findings on plant-based proteins, when to use them, and why they make a difference for the environment and your health.

When comparing plant-based proteins to animal proteins, there are many factors to consider, from taste to cost. But if you turn to plants for health purposes, it’s helpful to examine the science behind their benefits.

Are they as good as animal proteins for health?

Vegetarians (and their well-meaning mothers) have long been concerned with getting so-called “complete” proteins from plant-based sources.

Complete proteins are those that provide all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own and must obtain from food.

Many vegan proteins don’t contain all the essential amino acids, leading some people to believe they need to mix and match their menu to create the right balance. A common example is the combination of rice and beans.

However, many experts now say that it is probably not necessary to match specific vegetarian foods to their amino acids. A well-balanced diet is likely to provide sufficient quantities of all 20 amino acids, both essential and non-essential.

In fact, a 2019 study people following vegan and vegetarian diets found they were getting more than adequate protein and amino acids. The study authors went so far as to say that the concept of amino acid deficiency has been “substantially overstated.”

Vitamin B12

However, there is one nutrient for which plant proteins cannot compete with their animal counterparts: vitamin B12, responsible for the proper functioning of the brain and the formation of red blood cells. If you choose to go fully vegan, you will likely need to add this nutrient to your diet with a supplement.

Are there any negative health effects?

Opting for plant proteins over animal proteins can produce positive health effects. Studies have associated plant-based diets with health weight maintenance, lower risk of type 2 diabetesand an even longer life.

However, there are some caveats.

Processed foods

Some plant-based protein foods (like plant-based meats and cheeses) are highly processed, which could bring with them some unpleasant health surprises.

“Depending on the type, the sodium and saturated fat content (components many of us may want to reduce) may be comparable or even higher than that of meat,” says Christine Milmine, RDN, founder of The plant fed you. “However, the opposite could also be true, so check your nutrition facts panel.”

Plant-based dietitian Amy Gorin, MS, RDNowner of Plant-Based with Amyagrees that it’s best to limit ultra-processed plant-based convenience foods.

“Options like plant-based meat are delicious and keep things interesting, but it’s a food I recommend eating in moderation and not at every meal,” she says.

Food sensitivities

People with allergies to soy or nuts (two of the eight most common food allergens) may also find it difficult to eat a diet rich in plant proteins. And people with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome may need to watch out for the higher fiber content of many plant-based foods.

Side effects of soy?

Another concern that requires clarity: the health effects of soy. For years, soy foods have been plagued by rumors that they alter hormone balance or even cause cancer.

Luckily, current research shows there’s no need to worry if you include a tofu stir-fry or steamed edamame with dinner.

A 2020 study which tracked over 300,000 women revealed that they were indeed eating soy foods reduced their chances of developing breast cancer. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society claims that soy foods are healthy and safe.

Eating more plant-based protein not only nourishes your body, but can help restore the planet!

Carbon emissions

A 2019 study have shown that switching from an omnivorous diet to veganism reduced personal greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, while switching to a lacto-ovo-vegetarian dietary pattern reduced them by 35%.

Water conservation

Water usage is another key area where plant proteins outperform animal proteins.

According to data from Water footprint networkan advocacy group dedicated to solving the global water crisis, meats like beef, poultry, and pork use significantly more water than plant-based proteins like legumes, nuts, and grains.

The water footprint of beef, for example, is six times higher than that of legumes.

Supported by the UN

The environmental effects of reducing meat consumption are so notable that the 2019 UN climate change report called for action global reduction in animal proteins.

Even if you don’t choose to adopt an all-plant-based protein intake, you may want to consider making some small changes to promote the health of the planet.

Do you have more questions about plant-based proteins? Get the facts below.

What are the best plant-based protein sources?

The best plant-based foods are those that provide not only abundant protein, but other benefits as well.

For starters, you can’t go wrong with beans. “Beans are unique in that they contain fiber, whereas animal proteins do not,” Milmine points out. “Dietary fiber has been associated with many advantages such as digestive health and reducing the risk of certain conditions.”

Gorin recommends tofu. “I love tofu because he is so versatile. It picks up the flavor of everything it’s cooked with,” he says.

Additionally, tofu may not be as allergenic as once believed.

“You may be concerned that soybeans are a major food allergen, but soy allergies are actually less common than you might think,” he says. “A study In Nutrition today shows that the prevalence of soy allergies is lower than the prevalence of the other seven major allergens which include milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts and wheat.

Walnuts are another excellent plant-based protein choice due to their convenience and versatility (not to mention their crunch!).

Gorin, which is a nutritional partner of Wonderful Pistachios, encourages incorporating miniature green nuts into meals and snacks. “Pistachios offer 6 grams of protein per quarter-cup serving. They’re one of the most protein-rich snacks around.”

Who shouldn’t eat plant-based proteins?

Anyone can (and should!) enjoy whole, plant-based foods in a balanced diet. But some people will need to pay attention to certain plant foods.

Those on a low-sodium or low-fat diet will need to check the labels of highly processed plant-based foods like fake burgers, bacon and cheeses.

Likewise, if you have an allergy to plant foods like nuts or soy, be sure to read the ingredient list to avoid these items. And if excess fiber is a problem, choose plant-based protein sources wisely. Soy milk and tofu, for example, provide plenty of protein with minimal fiber.

How do plant-based protein powders compare to whey powder?

The benefits of plant-based protein powder over whey powder are hotly debated in the nutrition world. Both powders help build muscle and support weight loss, but plant-based options don’t always contain complete proteins and may not contain as many grams per scoop.

On the other hand, some people find plant-based powders easier to digest because they do not contain lactose. If you’re vegan, you’ll also want to avoid whey powder, as it comes from cow’s milk.

What is the tastiest plant-based protein powder?

Taste preferences may vary, but judging by online reviews, some protein powders are the tastiest spread among plant-based cultures.

Orgain organic superfood powder with vanilla bean flavour It has over 40,000 reviews on Amazon, 77% of which are five stars.

Numerous other flavors, from chocolate to strawberries and cream, are available from thousands of brands. With some personal taste testing, you’ll likely find a powder that suits your taste buds.

Where can I find plant-based protein recipes?

Want to incorporate more plants into your meals and snacks? The internet is full of ideas, but we’ll get you started!

Start your day with a quinoa for breakfast with chocolate and bananas oh scrambled tofu to keep you satisfied all morning long.

Then, at lunch, BBQ chickpea rolls OR simple noodles with broccoli and peanuts prepare tasty, protein-rich meals.

And for dinner, go for it this easy black bean and spinach enchilada casseroleA spicy seitanoh lentil soup rich in vegetables.

Whether you prefer tofu, beans, nuts, or a combination of all of the above, plant-based proteins have so much to offer. They are usually cheap, packed with nutrients, and come in a delicious palette of flavors.

With all the environmental and personal benefits of these vegetarian macronutrients – and with the myths about their smaller stature debunked – there’s little stopping you from making friends with plants.

Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer and food blogger. She find her sharing down-to-earth nutritional information on A love letter to food or follow it Twitter.

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