N.B. Post Sponsored by the FutureKitchen Project*
Most people who enjoy a plant-based diet have been stopped and asked, by mystified passers-by, the question, “but where do you get your protein from?”
One of the most common (and frustrating!) misconceptions of vegan diets is that going meat-free means we must be devoid of nutrients, and hugely lacking in protein. Yet, as more and more of us make the switch to a vegan diet – whether for health or for animal welfare reasons – many new sources of plant-based proteins are becoming available.
Here’s a quick lowdown on plant-based proteins and diets to help you make the healthiest, most sustainable choices…
WHY DO WE NEED PROTEIN?
Over the last few years, protein has become something of a buzzword – a marketing term used to sell endless products, promising long, lean muscles and even weight loss.
Yet, protein isn’t just for gym gains and bulging biceps – as a macronutrient, it is actually crucial for our health.
Protein is made up of thousands of amino acids, which all have different functions within the body. However, to avoid getting scientific on you, all you really need to know is that protein has all sorts of benefits!
Essentially, it forms the building blocks of our bodies, needed by each and every single cell, and is crucial for our blood, muscles and bones. It also builds tissue, encourages us to retain muscle, helps to produce hormones, gives us energy, regulates fluid balance and guides nutrients to where they need to be.
Protein consumption also helps to keep us feeling fuller for longer (meaning no diving for the biscuit jar mid-morning!), meaning it is crucial for weight loss and weight maintenance.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO WE NEED?
This is where it can get tricky! There’s no magic number, no perfect formula for our protein needs. However, it’s recommended that adults eat 0.8g of protein per kg of weight, although this amount will change depending on your activity level. Just a word of warning – eating too much protein can be dangerous! Always consult a nutritionist if you’re feeling unsure.
WHERE CAN I FIND PLANT-BASED PROTEIN?
Wherever you can, aim to pile your plates with nutrient-dense plant-based produce. This is especially important when it comes to veggie or vegan protein (for example, just because a product is high in protein does not make it healthy!). I always suggest reading the label – if it contains endless ingredients, or ingredients which you can’t pronounce, it’s usually wise to steer clear!
However, it’s important to include as many sources of plant proteins as possible in your diet to ensure you don’t miss out on any key amino acids. Complete plant proteins (in other words, those that contain all essential amino acids) are rare, but include quinoa, buckwheat, soy, hemp, chia seeds, amaranth and tempeh.
Here are some of my favourite sources of plant proteins for you to try:
THE FUTURE OF PLANT PROTEIN?
As more of the world’s population turns to a plant-based diet, there are all sorts of exciting discoveries.
The latest vegan discovery is a sustainable source of plant-based protein coming from rapeseed. Rapeseed protein is made from recycling the leftover material (known as rapeseed cake) which is a byproduct made by pressing the rapeseed into oil. Since rapeseed also happens to be grown in fields all over the world, this new discovery is pretty exciting, and will hopefully make huge strides towards helping to feed a world population expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050.
The video above is made by the FutureKitchen project* (in collaboration with the biotech company NapiFeryn and funded by EIT Food – an independent EU body) and is in Virtual Reality, which makes you an on-site viewer of how this Polish food tech works and how it can advance sustainable protein in the future.
Happily, rapeseed protein also happens to be suitable for those sensitive to allergens such as soy and is flavourless in taste, making it incredibly versatile. In fact, it tastes great in everything from meat substitutes to granolas and protein bars and can even be used in place of egg whites in meringues!
EIT Food – who work to “Future Proof” food – is worth checking out if you’re interested in food innovation.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF GOING PLANT-BASED?
As many of us become more aware of what we are putting onto our plates and into our mouths, plant-based diets (not to be confused with traditional vegan or vegetarian diets) are growing more and more popular. They focus on eating an abundance of produce which come from healthy, nutrient-dense plants including fruits and veg, whole grains, beans and pulses.
When done properly, plant based diets can have all sorts of health benefits! These include a higher intake of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), an increase in fibre and a reduction in saturated fats and added sugars and salt. Plant-based diets are also thought to reduce our risk of developing heart disease, certain cancers and even type II diabetes.
Of course, with animal foods producing so many greenhouse gases, eating a plant-based diet is also good for the environment!
HOW CAN I EAT HEALTHILY ON A PLANT-BASED DIET?
As with all diets, you can be unhealthy on a plant-based one. For example, you could sit on the sofa and eat chips all day and be plant-based, but you wouldn’t necessarily be healthy!
Here are some simple tips to help you to stay healthy on a vegan or veggie diet:
Avoid Processed Foods
Wherever possible, avoid overly-processed foods and opt for nutrient-dense plants. Aim to avoid foods which are high in saturated fats, sugar as salt, such as crisps, cakes and fizzy drinks.
Add Healthy Fats
Contrary to 90s diets, fat is good for you! Try to eat small amounts of healthy fats, including EVOO, avocado or nuts with every meal. These fats are another crucial building block in our bodies and also support healthy, happy hormones.
Eat a Variety of Plants
To help ensure you’re getting all the nutrients and amino acids you need, try to eat a variety of plant-based foods! Choose produce from all colours of the rainbow, which all enjoy their own benefits. Eating an abundance of plants will also help to keep your gut healthy!
Choose Whole Grains
Ditch those refined grains, such as white pasta and bread, and opt for whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice instead. These will help to boost your fibre intake, help to prevent blood sugar spikes and will also keep you feeling fuller for longer!
If you’re easing into a plant-based diet, great! Taking those small steps can be a good way of finding your feet and enjoying more nutritious plant foods. One easy way to do this is to make simple swaps – for example, switching out dairy milk for coconut or almond milk, or by having Meat-Free Mondays.
Some diets which are completely plant-based may lack in certain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12. It may be worth taking a supplement if you aren’t consuming meat, eggs or oily fish. However, always seek advice with a nutritionist or dietician first.
* The FutureKitchen project is led by the Icelandic food and biotech company Matis, partnering with a variety of EID Food partners and start-ups. These are EUFIC, IMDEA Food Institute, University of Cambridge, as well as innovative and progressive food-related companies such as Dohler, NapiFeryn BioTech, Essento, 3FBio, Vaxa, Natural Machines and Alberts.