Solving the plant protein puzzle
Protein is one of three necessary macronutrients needed by the body to survive. Some even say it is the building block of the body.
In the world of fitness, protein is a buzz word thrown in with powders, bars, drinks, diet plans and muscle building. When talking about a balanced meal, it is key for ingredient selection and portion size. We all know we need it, but do we know what it is responsible for in the body? Can you say exactly how much you should consume each day? If the world went vegan tomorrow, would you know what foods to stock up on?
The reason protein has made headlines is due to the enormous role it plays in the growth and function of the body. We must have it to develop into adults and continue having it to maintain and repair all the tissues of the body. This includes your internal organs and muscles as well as your external tissues like skin, hair, nails and eyes. You are made of protein.
It is also key to daily processes in the body. Many organs need specific hormones to do their jobs, and several of these hormones are created with protein. For your body to regulate sugar, it needs insulin. For your pancreas to aid in digestion, it needs secretin. In order to break down large food molecules into smaller ones or even build your DNA, the body needs protein enzymes. Proteins act as transporters to carry things in your blood, like oxygen and to store molecules for use at a different time. It also assists in the production of antibodies which help to contain harmful substances in one location until the immune system can clear them out.
...it is a building block of all major tissue, like muscles, so if you want them to grow, you must feed them.
Protein is also an important source of energy. Once the body has used what it needs for growth and processes, it converts the rest to energy to fuel our movements.
This is why it is a better option for active individuals than fueling with carbs. As long as the body needs the energy, it will use the protein, but if the required fuel has already been met with carbs, then the extra protein will be turned into fat.
This brings us to the next piece of the protein puzzle. How much do you really need?
This is an incredibly personal question without an exact answer which makes it a bit tricky. You need to know your body: your age, your size and current shape along with the size and shape you want, your health and activity levels. To simply avoid deficiency, aim for 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. This is only to support the basic functions of a sedentary life. If you need to lose weight, go by overall percentages instead. Try to make protein 30-40% of your overall calorie intake. If you’re trying to bulk up muscle, you should consume 0.8-1.3 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass, meaning weight without any extra fat. If you’re not aiming for any physique goals but still lead an active lifestyle, it’s best to aim for around 0.6 grams per pound, or if you are elderly, your body needs a little extra as well, so the same is recommended.
With a little clarity on what protein does and how much you need, it’s time to look at the source. More and more research is showing that a plant-based diet not only significantly improves your shape and size, it also has myriad immune boosting and disease reversing benefits.
It's all about choosing the right ingredients & portion size.
But can the body really get what it needs from pumpkin, flaxseeds and peas?
A smoothie alone can meet a large portion of your protein requirements. Throw in 2 tablespoons of flax seeds, a ½ cup of pumpkin puree, 1 cup of almond milk, a tablespoon of chia, a tablespoon of hemp seeds and ½ cup of apricots for 20 grams of full health protein.
It’s all about choosing the right ingredients and portion size. One cup of black beans at dinner is an instant 13 grams, or one cup of hummus at lunch is around 15 grams. Nuts and seeds pack a wallop of protein and other vital nutrients in small packages. Even fruits and leafy greens contribute. When choosing meals for the day, the secret to success is a large variety of ingredients. While no one wants to eat 30 cups of spinach, we don’t mind having it as the base of a salad with numerous toppings. Also remember that when foods are ground up or cooked down, their bulk changes considerably.