Complete Plant Protein
There are so many reasons to eat a plant-based diet. And when you add up the nutritional, environmental, ethical, and economic benefits of committing to plant-based eating, it becomes obvious that they far outweigh the excuses not to—including concerns about protein.
Nutritional and medical experts agree that you can get all the protein you need on a plant-based diet![1,2] What’s more, over 3 million Canadians are currently thriving on vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.
Whether you’re preparing to go meat free or are looking to increase the protein value of your current plant-based meals, here’s what you need to know about plant proteins and making yours complete.
Typical protein needs
Your body relies on a sufficient intake of protein to maintain many critical functions, such as muscle growth and recovery, immunity, building connective tissue in your skin and joints, hormone production, and supplying energy.
To meet these demands, a typical adult is estimated to need about 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight. This works out to about 64 g of protein per day for an 80 kg (176 lbs) adult or 52 g per day for a 65 kg (143 lbs) adult.
But rather than tracking the amount of protein you eat each day, Canada’s Food Guide recommends that people focus about ¼ of their diet on quality plant-based proteins, such as beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This is because most westerners already eat more protein than they need, including strict vegetarians who have been shown to consume about 70 g of protein per day.
The nutritional value of plant proteins is largely dependent on their amino acid content.
Amino acids are key
Plant and animal proteins have the same basic building blocks—amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids needed to form all of your body’s proteins. This includes nine “essential” amino acids that cannot be made by the body and must come from dietary sources. When planning plant-based meals and snacks, include foods that form a complete protein and foods that provide branched chain amino acids.
Complete proteins are those that contain all nine essential amino acids. Unlike animal sources of protein, most plant foods lack at least one essential amino acid and are considered incomplete. The good news is that a small number of plant foods, including quinoa, hempseeds, chia seeds, and soy, are complete proteins. Additionally, eating a variety of plant foods that have different amino acid profiles throughout the day (rather than in just one meal) will help keep your protein intake complete.
Although plant proteins take a little more work for your body to digest than animal proteins, they all succumb to the same digestive juices and enzymes that gradually unfold and dismantle them into amino acids during digestion. Once in circulation, your body mixes and matches the amino acids from various sources into new combinations to meet its needs.
Branched-chain amino acids
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine, play important roles in protein synthesis and repairing body tissues. Because of their role in muscle recovery, BCAAs should be top of mind for anyone engaged in endurance exercise and weight training. Plant sources of BCAAs, such as brown rice, hemp, and pea proteins, can be added to baked goods, smoothies, and other favourite recipes to help boost the protein content.
Delicious plant proteins
There are plenty of delicious, vegan sources of protein that will fulfill your body’s protein requirements, while keeping you full and satisfied after eating. Here are a few of the wonderful plant-based ingredients that you can include in your meals and snacks:
Lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, black beans, kidney beans, and green peas
Chia, hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, and peanut or almond butters
Quinoa, Kamut, hemp, buckwheat
Spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
Soy milk, tempeh, tofu
In addition to eating a variety of plant proteins throughout your day, include some that have been fermented, such as tempeh and sourdough. Fermentation helps enhance the protein quality and absorbability of certain nutrients, while also increasing the flavour and variety of your meals.
Supplementing a plant-based diet
Taking a daily protein supplement can help round out a plant-based diet and ensure that you’re getting the full range of essential amino acids in the right proportions. Additionally, a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement will help fulfill specific micronutrient requirements.
Fermented Organic Protein & Greens
Whole Earth & Sea® Fermented Organic Protein & Greens is a 100% fermented, plant-based superfood formula featuring 21 g of vegan protein per serving. It contains a broad spectrum of highly bioavailable nutrients and protein derived from organic vegetables, grasses, and herbs – including peas, rice, quinoa, amaranth, hemp, and a blend of micronized medicinal mushrooms. Just add one scoop to a 250 mL glass of water or juice and shake or blend until smooth. Fermented Organic Protein & Greens is a convenient and vegan-friendly way to support your active lifestyle.
Several vitamins and minerals can be more difficult to obtain from a plant-based diet, including vitamin B12, iron, and vitamin D. When choosing a multivitamin and mineral supplement, be sure that it includes these three nutrients.
A plant-based diet can provide all the protein you need – in addition to the fats, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are paramount to overall health. It’s no wonder more and more people are embracing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. By learning how to meet more of your nutritional needs with plant-based foods, you’re taking charge of your health and setting yourself up for a lifetime of successful eating habits.
1. Mariotti F, Gardner CD. Dietary protein and amino acids in vegetarian diets—a review. Nutrients. 2019; 11(11):2661.
2. Rogerson, D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017; 14(1):36.
3. Wunsch NG. Vegetarianism and veganism in Canada – statistics and facts [Internet]. Statista 2020. [Cited 10 March 2021]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/topics/3262/vegan-vegetarian-diets-in-canada/
4. HealthLinkBC. Quick nutrition check for protein [Internet]. Government of B.C. 2019. [Cited 10 March 2021]. Available from: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthy-eating/quick-nutrition-check-protein
5. Lopez MJ, Mohiuddin SS. Biochemistry, essential amino acids. [Internet]. In: StatPearls 2021. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557845/
6. Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, et al. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9:20.
7. Melini F, Melini V, Luziatelli F, et al. Health-promoting components in fermented foods: An up-to-date systematic review. Nutrients. 2019; 11:1189