Like all living organisms, plants contain proteins. They fulfil in plants the same type of function as they do in animals: enzymatic (they catalyse reactions), structural, mobility, cell communication, etc.
It’s proteins, for example, which determine when trees shed their leaves and how plants defend themselves against attack, as well as facilitating absorption of nutrients essential to the growth of the plant or its fruit, etc. (1-3)
For anyone keen to increase their daily protein intake, or reduce their consumption of animal-source protein (for ethical or environmental reasons), it’s thus important to know which foods are high in plant proteins.
As a reminder, daily protein intake, depending on age, objectives and level of physical activity, should be between 0.8g per kilo of bodyweight and 2g per kilo of bodyweight (the latter when building muscle mass for example) (4).
Given that plant proteins play a fundamental role in the development, growth and death of plants, the highest amounts are usually found in seeds (with a few exceptions: spirulina, klamath algae, moringa leaves ...)
The best plant protein sources are: (5-8)
The aim is to vary your plant protein sources over a week to create balanced meals from a variety of seeds, nuts, grains and pulses.
Above all, however, we need to obtain specific amino acids from the protein we consume. Amino acids are actually the building blocks of proteins. While the body is able to produce 11 of them itself, 9 have to be obtained from the diet: tryptophan, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, valine, leucine, isoleucine and histidine (9).
The problem is that these essential amino acids are not uniformly present in all plant proteins. That’s why it’s always best to combine cereals with pulses. Apart from being more digestible, this combination delivers a balanced intake of essential amino acids: the pulses offer amino acids not provided by the cereals, and vice versa.
Here are some very simple vegetarian or vegan combinations/recipes: rice (cereal) with lentils (pulses) ; corn (cereal) with kidney beans (pulses); oats (cereal) with soya (pulses)... all of which you can mix with sauteed pumpkin seeds or chopped peanuts (seeds), or sprinkle with chopped pistachios, almonds or walnuts (nuts).
Vegetarians, though not vegans, also have the option of taking a daily dose of whey protein (such as Undenatured Whey Protein Isolate), whey being a by-product of cheese production. Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities to meet the body’s needs (10).
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