by Christine Hunt
The debate about how we get enough protein and from what sources continues amongst the health researchers and the food industries. I hope this is an easy to understand explanation as to why plants are one of the best sources for your daily needs. Since I advocate an anti-inflammatory diet, which is obtained by eating 75% of your foods in plants and fruits and 25% in everything else, including beverages, alcohol, meats, sweets, etc. it is also the best way to meet your daily protein, vitamin and mineral needs and lose weight.
I didn’t take bio- chemistry in school but this is what I understand about proteins. There are different kinds of proteins that the body uses for different needs. And proteins are made up of amino acids. When you ingest animal protein the body immediately breaks it down into the individual amino acids then recombines them into the various proteins it needs to build and repair muscles, replicate DNA, create nails, hair, bone, skin, muscles, tendons, cartilage and perform other functions.
Every edible plant contains combinations of amino acids. So wouldn’t it make sense that if you ate foods that contain amino acids and once in your body they combine to make the proteins the body needs at the time that you would get enough protein?
Let me explain further without trying to get too technical.
There are 22 amino acids from our diet which are required to create needed proteins. Nine are essential, meaning the body cannot make them from other compounds in the needed level for proper growth and they must be obtained from food.
Below is a list of essential and nonessential amino acids.
Lysine Aspartic acid
Phenylalanine Glutamic acid
Admittedly meat has all 20 essential amino acids whereas you need a combination of vegetables and grains to get the 20. But the advantages of deriving protein from plants vs. animals is considerable because of the additional vitamins, minerals, fiber, beneficial gut bacteria and other components that plants contain with very little fat. So, the 75/25 rule will still give you plenty of protein in your diet. And you can explain this to the men in your family who insist on having meat at every meal.
The human body needs different amounts of protein based on age.
* Babies need about 10 grams per day
* Teenage boys need up to 52 grams per day
* Teenage girls need about 46 grams per day
* Adult men need about 56 grams per day
* Adult women need about 46 grams per day (71 grams if pregnant or breastfeeding.
All in all, your dietary intake of protein should be no less than 10% and no more than 35% of your daily calories according to the Institute of Medicine.
Here is a list of the essential amino acids, what they do and in what plants they can be found.
Classified as a semi-essential or “conditionally” essential amino acid, depending on the developmental stage and health status of the individual.
Find it in: almonds, beets, Brazil nuts, buckwheat, carrots, cashews, celery, chickpeas, coconut, cucumbers, flax seed, garlic, green vegetables, hazelnuts, kidney beans, leeks, lentil, lettuce, nutritional yeast, onion, parsnips, pecans, pine nuts, potatoes, pumpkin seeds, radishes, sesame seeds, sprouts, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
Especially needed during infancy for proper growth and development—once was believed to be only essential for newborns, but is now known to be essential for adults, as well.
Find it in:apples, bananas, beans, beets, buckwheat, carrots, cantaloupe, cauliflower, celery, citrus fruits, cucumber, dandelion, endive, garlic, greens, legumes, mushrooms, pomegranates, radish, rice, seaweed, sesame, spinach, spirulina and turnip greens.
Necessary for muscle production, maintenance and recovery—especially post-workout. Involved in hemoglobin formation, regulating blood sugar levels, blood clot formation and energy.
Find it in:almonds, avocados, cashews, chickpeas, coconut, lentils, olives, papaya, seaweed and most seeds like sunflower.
Essential for growth hormone production, tissue production and repair. Prevents muscle wasting and is used in treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
Find it in:almonds, asparagus, avocados, chickpeas, coconut, lentils, oats, olives, papayas, rice, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
Great for calcium absorption, bone development, nitrogen maintenance, tissue repair, hormone production, antibody production.
Find it in:amaranth, apples, apricots, beans, beets, carrots, celery, cucumber, dandelion greens, grapes, papayas, parsley, pears, peas, spinach and turnip greens.
The “cleaner”—important for fat emulsification, digestion, antioxidant (cancer prevention), arterial plaque prevention (heart health) and heavy metal removal.
Find it in:black beans, Brazil nuts, cashews, kidney beans, oats, sesame seeds, spirulina, spinach, sunflower seeds and watercress.
A precursor for tyrosine and the signaling molecules: dopamine, norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and epinephrine (adrenaline), as well as the skin pigment: melanin. Supports learning and memory, brain processes and mood elevation.
Find it in:apples, beets, carrots, cashews, flax seed, hazelnuts, nutritional yeast, parsley, pineapples, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, spinach and tomatoes.
Monitors bodily proteins for maintaining or recycling processes.
Find it in:almonds, beans, carrots, celery, chickpeas, collards, flax seed, greens, green leafy vegetables, kale, lentils, lima beans, nori, nuts, papayas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
Needed for niacin production, serotonin production, pain management, sleep and mood regulation.
Find it in:Brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, chives, dandelion greens, endive, fennel, nutritional yeast, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, snap beans, spinach, sunflower seeds, turnips and walnuts.
Helps muscle production, recovery, energy, endurance—balances nitrogen levels and is used in treatment of alcohol-related brain damage.
Find it in:apples, almonds, bananas, beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, dandelion greens, lettuce, nutritional yeast, okra, parsley, parsnips, pomegranates, potatoes, squash, tomatoes and turnips.
Although there is no color code for what color vegetables or fruits contain what amino acids the key to getting enough to create the needed proteins is to eat a wide range of colored foods – a rainbow ranging from reds, oranges and greens all the way across the spectrum to purples and whites. Eating this rainbow of food throughout the week – not necessarily every day because your body stores amino acids for a while until it needs them – will get you on the way to providing your body not only with the proteins it needs but more vitamins, minerals and other organic compounds to help you lose weight, build strong bones and muscles and live a thriving life full of energy and good health.
To your health!