your questions, answered.
For many the move from predominantly animal proteins to plant-based proteins can feel like entering uncharted territory. We took to Instagram to ask what you would like to know more about & set out to answer your questions when it comes to all thing’s protein.
What is the difference between animal & plant proteins?
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids; some amino acids can be made in the body - non-essential amino acids, whereas others have to be obtained from the food we eat - essential amino acids.
Animal protein such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy & some plant protein such as soy, quinoa contain all 9 essential amino acids and are referred to as ‘complete’ proteins. In comparison plant proteins such as grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, are typically missing 1 of the essential amino acids -‘incomplete’ proteins. It is often assumed that animal protein is superior to plant protein due to the variation of amino acid composition. There is now evidence to show eating a wide variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds & grains can provide you with all the essential amino acids & protein without the need for protein supplements.
Apart from building & repairing muscles what else is protein important for?
Protein is the second most abundant component in the body (water is no. 1) & is found in muscle, skin, blood & cells. It provides energy (4kcal/g), however carbohydrate & fat are the main energy providers. Protein has many functions in the body, it is continuously broken down & resynthesised for the growth and repair of muscle & bones and for metabolic reactions. It is also the structural component for all cells in the body & is used to make enzyme & hormones.
Can I still meet protein requirements following a plant-based diet?
There is a common misconception that limiting or excluding animal foods results in not eating enough protein. A study carried out in the UK called the Epic Study showed that while vegetarians don’t eat as much protein as those who consume animal protein, they still meet the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI).
The RNI for adults is 0.8g/kg bodyweight per day which includes up to 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. For a 70kg person who enjoys low-moderate intensity exercise, 56g of protein a day is more than enough to meet requirements. The amount, duration & intensity of exercise you do will alter your needs. For strength training higher protein requirements are often recommended at 1.2-2g/kg/day & endurance training at 1.2-1.4g/kg/day.
Do I need to take protein supplements when eating predominantly plant-based?
A very common question that concerns people when moving towards plant-based eating. For the majority a healthy & balanced diet is sufficient, and very few people require protein supplements to meet their protein requirements.
Protein supplements are however convenient and relatively cheap per portion. They can be useful for people who have certain dietary restrictions meaning they may struggle to eat enough protein at mealtimes, or those who have high requirements such as elite athletes.
What are some tips to introduce plant-based protein to meals?
- Sprinkle nuts & seeds onto your porridge, yogurt, salads, stir-fry’s.
- Half & Half – substitute half the meat typically used for Bolognese, stews, chili etc. for lentils.
- Swaps – choose whole grain options such as pitta, bagels, rice, pasta, quinoa & grains
- Create a shopping list of nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, wholegrains, tinned, frozen veg that you don’t currently have in your kitchen. Variety of plant-protein sources is key!
- Visit the plant-based section in your local supermarkets, you’re bound to find plenty of convenient meals to choose from.
- Follow plant-based social media accounts, sign up for recipe newsletters.
- Challenge yourself to make one new plant-based recipe a week.