Plant-based eating is on the rise. It’s arguably better for the environment and, if done the right way, is full of disease-fighting antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats. But getting adequate protein from plant-based foods can be a challenge due to the types and amounts of amino acids—the building blocks of protein—found in them.
Amino Acids: Gotta Catch ‘Em All
There are 20 different kinds of amino acids, and the body needs all of them to function optimally. Amino acids fall into 2 groups:
1) nonessential (the body can produce these), and
2) essential (the body cannot produce these, making it vital to get them through food or supplements).
Meat, poultry, game, fish, and their byproducts (eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese) naturally contain all 20 amino acids because, like us, their bodies are made from and depend on all 20 amino acids. Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, contain some but not all amino acids, or do not have an optimal balance of all 20 amino acids.
What’s a plant-based eater to do? Marry different protein sources! Combining different types of foods will form a complete protein with all 20 amino acids.
Here’s How to Combine Proteins
Build your meals and snacks with foods from at least two of these categories: grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Here are some examples:
· Brown rice (grain) and black beans (legume)
· Oatmeal (grain) with almond butter (nuts & seeds)
· Unwrapp’d Peanut Butter Protein Bites – peanut butter (legume) + pea protein (legume) + squash seed protein (nuts & seeds)
When we decided to make Protein Bites from plant-based foods, we designed our recipe to provide you with a complete protein snack. Our Peanut Butter Chocolate Energy Bites are also a complete protein: peanuts (legume) + pumpkin seeds (nuts & seeds).
Now that you know how to complete plant-based protein sources, what’s stopping you from giving them a try? Whether you’re a vegan or just a Meatless Monday participant, put this guide to work for best results.
In addition to being the Head of Product & Nutrition at Unwrapp’d, Maria Capecelatro, MNT is the owner of Dream Nutrition, a holistic nutrition practice in Denver for women who are tired, stressed, and depressed.