Proteins are large, complex molecules composed of chains of amino acids. They are essential for many functions of our organism: help to manufacture, regenerate and maintain organs and all tissues such as skin, nails and tendons.
Many people associate protein with meat, however, the reality is that it is not only found in foods of animal origin. Vegetable protein is also a source of protein to be included in a varied diet along with animal protein or that works on its own in vegan and vegetarian diets.
3 FALSE MYTHS ABOUT VEGETABLE PROTEIN
Vegetable protein is of poorer quality
Proteins are nutrients that are formed by the union of amino acids and according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), what quantifies the quality of a type of protein is evaluated by its content in essential amino acids, by its capacity to be digested, absorbed and assimilated by the organism.
There has long been a belief that amino acids are only found in meat, fish, eggs or milk, but they are also found in some plant foods. Therefore, as you read a few lines above, protein quality is measured by the amount of essential amino acids and digestibility and not because it is vegetable or animal protein. Thus, there are worse and better quality within both groups.
B12 is of animal origin
Surely you have heard or believe that B12, also called cobalamin, comes from animals. In fact, vitamin B12 is not actually of animal origin but of bacterial origin. Animals incorporate it into their structure when they eat from the soil, when they graze, because that is where the microorganisms are. Therefore, in animals that do not have access to fresh grass, it is included in the feed. That is, it is added to their feed.
For this reason, when a person eats a vegan or vegetarian diet that does not include animal protein, in order to obtain this B group vitamin, he/she must supplement and/or consume foods with added B12, since it is not present in the food itself. Therefore, the rest is added, except exclusively in grazing cattle, whose bacteria are responsible for synthesizing B12.
Vegetable protein is incomplete
This statement is not entirely true and is also applicable to animal protein. Essential amino acids are those that our body cannot synthesize and, therefore, must obtain from food. We say that it is a complete protein when it has all the essential amino acids in its composition. It was believed that to obtain them through vegetable protein, they had to be combined with other foods. A well-known example is the combination of cereal + legume, such as lentils with rice, but this is a belief that is not always true or applicable to all kinds of vegetable protein.
Chickpeas, soybeans, beans, pistachios, quinoa, hemp seeds or amaranth are complete proteins. Lentils have a lower amount of the amino acid methionine than other legumes, so it complements very well with rice, but this does not mean that they should always be combined and it does not have to be a headache because of it. Why? Because our organism has a “deposit” in the liver in which it stores amino acids that our body has at its disposal when it needs them.
TYPES OF VEGETABLE PROTEIN
If you do not follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and consume foods of animal origin, the ideal is to combine all types of proteins, but they should be healthy. The important thing is to incorporate all the amino acids that our body needs to perform the basic functions correctly and this is achieved with the different protein sources, both animal and vegetable, being able to choose only one option or combining both, depending on your ethical and/or dietary preferences.
Here are some foods that are vegetable protein:
- Chickpeas (in all forms)
- Soy in all its forms (texturized, tofu, tempeh, vegetable meat, grain, etc.)
- Peanuts (in all forms)
Nuts and dried fruits
- Brazil nuts
- Cashew nuts
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seed
Cereals and pseudocereals
- Composed of protein from legumes and enriched with B12
Fermented food made from soybeans, chickpea or other varieties