There is a growing trend towards consumption of plant-based protein sources. And for good reason! A recent study found that those eating the most fruit/veg dense diets had a 31% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 20% lower risk of overall mortality than those eating animal-focused diets. Besides promoting a longer and healthier life, plant proteins also provide well-established environmental health benefits. This article will explain why plant protein sources should substitute at least some of your animal protein sources.
1. Plant protein sources are more nutrient dense
Compared to their meat counterparts, pound-for-pound, plant proteins pack more nutrients into fewer calories. This means you are getting most of the nutrients found in meat, but without the added saturated fat. Besides vitamin B12, plants have a similar vitamin profile to meat and the added benefit of fibre and terpenes. Terpenes are natural compounds that can have powerful therapeutic effects, including pain relief, improved sleep and reduced anxiety.
2. Plants contain fibre
High fibre foods form an important part of healthy living. Dietary fibre is the bulk that keeps things moving through our bodies. Essentially, it keeps our digestive tract healthy. Fibre is also a prebiotic, meaning it feeds the gut flora and help reduce inflammation in the body. Healthy gut flora is essential to a strong immune system and good mental health. Animal-based protein does not contain any fibre. Therefore, by switching to plant protein sources you get the added benefit of dietary fibre.
3. Plant protein sources contain less saturated fats
Animal proteins are well-known for being high in saturated fats, which are linked to cardiovascular disease and a range of other health issues like obesity and diabetes. Most plant protein sources are from nuts and seeds, which are also high in fat. However, these are unsaturated fats (good fats!) like omega 3 and 6. Omega 3 benefits include fighting depression, ADHD, inflammation and a range of autoimmune diseases.
4. Lower risk of ill health from plant based diets
In 2015, the World Health Organisation classified processed red meat as carcinogenic. The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. This alone is a huge incentive to reduce overall meat consumption! Further incentive comes from a 2019 study showing diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a general population. The message is pretty clear. Reduce meat consumption to increase your chances of a longer, healthier life.
5. Plant protein sources have lower environmental impact
Production of plant foods tends to be less resource-intensive and environmentally destructive for a number of reasons, especially due to lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to raising animals for human consumption. Producing plant protein generally requires less land, water, and energy compared to producing animal protein. Consequently, following a more plant-based diet is often considered the most effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural land use related to food production and consumption (Machovina et al 2015). Based on life cycle assessment studies, 1 kg of protein from beef generated 45–640 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) in comparison to 10 kg CO2e per kg of protein from tofu. Notably, pork, chicken, and seafood fare better than beef so making the switch to white meats is a good first step. Although vegan and vegetarian diets dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, following a healthy, less-animal intensive diet would also provide environmental benefits.
ConclusionIt is pretty clear that plant-based proteins provide significant benefits to our health and the environment. But you don’t have to switch to veganism to gain these benefits. Simply reduce red meat consumption and try to eat vegetarian meals more often. The most important thing is that you eat a well-balanced and varied diet.
Sources of vegan proteinThe following plant-based proteins are ‘complete protein sources’, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids. Try to include some of these in your daily diet.
- Soy (incuding tofu and tempeh)
- Hemp seeds
- Chia sees
Recipe for protein ballsProtein balls offer a great way to incorporate plant proteins into your diet. They are easy to make, store well, highly nutritious and taste fantastic. Here is a great recipe for protein balls using protein rich hemp seeds and peanut butter.
- 1 1/2 cups / 120g Oats
- 1 1/2 tbsp / 9.6g Coconut Oil
- 1/2 cup / 120g Peanut Butter
- 1/3 cup / 110g Maple Syrup
- 1/2 cup / 62g Vasse Valley Hemp Protein Powder
- 1/3 cup / 42g Chopped Pecans Pinch Salt
- 1 tsp / 4.2g Vanilla Extract
- 1/3 cup / 56g Vasse Valley Hemp Hearts (hemp seeds)
- Add all the dry ingredients, except the hemp hearts, into a large mixing bowl and mix.
- Once combined, melt the coconut oil and combine to the dry mixture along with the other wet ingredients.
- Line a baking tray and place the hemp hearts into a separate bowl.
- Roll the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls and roll into the hemp hearts. Place balls on the baking tray.
- Once all the balls are rolled and lain out on the baking tray, place them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- You can store these in the fridge for up to 8 days.