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How to get the right kind of protein on a plant based diet
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Duncan

Duncan

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AIM FOR 0.9 GRAMS OF PROTEIN PER KILO OF BODY WEIGHt Pay attention to getting enough protein on a plant-based diet: those of us eating only plants need 0.9 grams of protein per kilo of body weight, per day. If you weigh 60 kilos, that means you need about 54 grams of protein per day.

look out for good sources of thE ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS, METHIONINE & LYSINE
Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Some of these amino acids can be lacking in plant-based protein sources. Methionine & lysine can be particularly lacking on a plant-based diet. Typically legumes are good sources of lysine, and grains are good sources of methionine

EAT A MIX OF PROTEIN SOURCES, INCLUDING PROTEIN RICH GRAINS, LEGUMES & SEEDS
Download our guide to grain and legumes as protein sources, including lysine & methionine

what is protein?​

Protein is a category of organic compounds made from smaller building blocks called amino acids. These amino acid building blocks link together, in various formations, to create different types of protein.​

Proteins are utilised by the human body for a number of roles, from building muscle to the production of hormones.

20 amino acids are used by the body to make proteins. 9 amino acids used in the body cannot be produced within the body itself – we have to source them from the food we eat. These are known as the essential amino acids.

Plant-based foods contain the essential amino acids in varying proportions. Some foods are higher in particular amino acids while lacking in others.

That said, almost all plant-based foods contain all the essential amino acids your body needs.

The issue for those of us on a plant-based diet is that plant-based sources of protein are typically low in two essential amino acids. They are lysine and methionine.

The key is to ensure that we get a range of plant-based protein sources every day to get all the essential amino acids that our bodies need. We need to take special care to include good sources of lysine and methionine in our diets everyday.

understanding amino acids
why is a lack of protein a problem?

Protein is essential for health. Or, to be more accurate, amino acids in the right proportions, are essential for excellent health.

We all know we need protein to build and maintain muscle, but we also need it for:

  • Our mental health – protein is used to build neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which is considered as a natural mood stabiliser. Deficiencies are linked to depression.

  • Keeping a healthy immune system.

  • Producing hormones that our body needs to function correctly.

  • Experiencing good energy levels.
how much protein do you need?

Protein requirements are often given as 0.8 miligrams per kilo of body weight.

For people following a plant-based diet a slightly higher level is often recomended.

The reason? Plant-based protein is more difficult for the body to absorb than protein from animal products.

For this reason, many experts recommend those on a plant-based diet get 0.9 milligrams of protein per kilo of body weight. ​

Example: if you weigh 60 kilograms and are eating a plant-based diet, you should aim for about 54 grams of protein per day. ​

how to get the right amino acids​

Each type of food has a different amino acid profile – that it, it has a different composition of the different amino acids that your body needs. Some sources are lacking in particular amino acids, while being abundant in others.

Let’s take wild rice for example. It’s a good source of the amino acid methionine, but isn’t a great source of lysine. If the only source of protein that you ate was wild rice, you could up being deficient in lysine. That’s because it’s possible to get over 54 grams of protein from wild rice, but not meet your lysine requirements for the day.

And remember, we’re talking about essential amino acids, which means they’re required for the healthy functioning of your body.

In order not to suffer from a deficiency, you could make sure that you also ate a good source of lysine – such as lentils. So combining wild rice and lentils together would be a great way to get good sources of both of these amino acids.

To discover more sources of lysine and methionine, download our guide to protein in common grains and legumes here.

Good sources of lysine and methionine

To ensure you get the full range of amino acids you should eat a variety of different plant-based protein sources, taking care to include good sources of lysine and methionine. Good sources are

CHIA SEEDS

Chia seeds are a good source of lysine and methionine.

Tips for use: Chia seeds are great to add to shakes or simply sprinkle them over salads or other dishes for a protein boost

EDAMAME

Edamame which are so popular in Japanese cuisine are simply raw soy beans. They are a delicious and protein rich snack. Moreover, they contain a good range of the essential amino acids.

Tips for use: They are probably most often used as snacks. You can buy them frozen and have them ready to eat in about 2 minutes. Otherwise, you can add them to sauces, stews or salads

TOFU

Tofu is made from soy beans and is widely found in Asian cuisine.

Tips for use: You can easily add tofu cold to salads, or heated up in pasta, noodle or rice dishes

CHICKPEAS

Chickpeas are a great source of lysine.

Tips for use: You can add them cold to salad, or included them in soups, stews or curries. A common use is to make them in to falafels to be served in pitta bread or with a salad

PUMPKIN SEEDS

Pumpkin seeds are a great source of both lysine and methionine

Tips for use: Really easy to sprinkle them over salads, or add them to your breakfast for a protein boost.

NUTRITIONAL YEAST

Nutritional yeast contains a good balance of all 9 essential amino acids. You get around 11g of protein per tablespoon so it’s a great way to increase the protein content of your meals.

Tips for use: Simply sprinkle over any dish to add a ‘cheesy’ and nutty flavour

FLAX SEEDS

Flax seeds are a good source of protein and also fibre. They are high in both lysine and methionine & so are great to include in your diet.

Tips for use: They can be used in shakes, or sprinkled on salads. We use them to make our seedy crackers – which are a good staple to have on hand as a snack or to accompany a meal.

'complete' protein

You may have heard people talking about “complete proteins” in relation to plant-based foods. We think this term’s a bit confusing.

The theory goes: a complete protein is a protein sources that contains the essential amino acids, required by the human body, in the ‘correct’ proportions. In reality, there aren’t any protein sources that contain all the amino acids in exactly the correct proportions of human health. AND, almost all plant based sources of protein contain all of the essential amino acids, to some degree.

Aiming for at least 0.9 grams of protein per kilo of body weight will ensure you get plenty of plant-based protein. Select a variety of protein sources, high in the essential amino acids lysine and methionine to get plenty protein along with your energy requirements.

That said, there are some great sources of plant-based protein that provide good sources of the essential amino acids, and so are efficient ways to get plenty of protein.​

Looking for great plant-based recipes? Try our Green Quinoa Brekkie Bowl.

do I need to eat these sources at the same meal?

It used to be thought that it was necessary to combine foods which were good sources of lysine, with foods which were good source of methionine, in the same meal. However, current research suggests that our bodies are actually able to store amino acids for a number of hours. Eating a range of protein sources across a 24 hour period is fine.

references

Amino acids: metabolism, functions, and nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19301095

Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337

Effect of dietary protein and amino acids on immune function. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2105184

A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16779921

​Protein and vegetarian diets. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25369930

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duncan turner
duncan turner

Duncan's mission is to support the next wave of plant-based eaters! His background in entrepreneurship, working with NGOs & in development has brought Thrive Republic to life. (His recipe tasting skills are second to none too!) He's focused on helping people to bring energy to their lives, while doing their bit to protect the future of the planet and all of its inhabitants.

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