Top 6 Plant-based Protein Sources to Improve Your Health in 2020

by Ishani Bose last updated -

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The plant-based foods sector is booming right now with more and more people turning towards veganism, vegetarianism, and a flexitarian diet. A majority of consumers are following the advice of food guides published all across the world that highlight the health benefits of plant-based protein sources such as legumes, pulses, nuts, beans, and soy products in place of eggs, meat, fish and dairy products.

This shift is indicative of a vast change in the vegan food market, with the demand coming in not just from vegetarians but also from meat-eaters, who are consciously choosing non-animal sourced proteins for the low health risks associated with them. That coupled with a desire to lessen the environmental damage with their food choices and the overall concerns related to animal welfare, a majority of the population is going through a dietary transition- one that is here to stay.

What are the Alternative Protein Sources to Meat?

To curb the excessiveness of meat consumption and make conscious health decisions, it is necessary to incorporate alternative protein sources to our diet – one that will push us towards more plant-based nutrition. The most common types of plant-based protein sources that you can try are soy and soy products, beans and legumes, superfood grains and flour, seeds and nuts, plant-based protein supplements and faux meat.

To catch up with the changing trends, more and more brands are coming up with innovative ways to incorporate protein-rich plants in unprocessed and processed forms to substitute meat. Some brands are using highly sophisticated biotechnology to integrate products from multiple plant sources to create the same taste and texture of real meat. But while they may be good for the environment, is it good for you? Let us find out.

Food sources of plant based protein. Healthy diet with legumes, dried fruit, seeds, nuts and vegetables. Foods high in protein, antioxidants, vitamins and fiber.

Soy and soy products

For the longest time, soy and soy products were considered as the most apparent alternative to meat. The foods that come under this category include:

Cooked tofu typically contains 12 grams of protein per 5 oz serving and supplies nearly one-third of the average woman’s protein requirements for the day. People have been using firm tofu to substitute meat in baked and grilled recipes and even stir-fries. They are even used to make scrambled tofu, which is the perfect substitute for scrambled eggs. Soft tofu, on the other hand, has been used in place of egg or cream and also to make chocolate mousse dessert, vegan quiche or healthy dips.

Tempeh, which is a fermented form of soy is high in protein, low in fat and rich in probiotics. It is extremely versatile and is used as an excellent meat replacement in sandwiches, salads, and as additions to pasta. However, soy has, over the years, become one of the most run-of-the-mill meat substitutes, which brands want to change in the coming year.

Beans and legumes

After studying consumer preferences and trends, Whole Foods Market (an American multinational supermarket chain) in its top food trend’s list for the coming year said that in 2020, the trendiest brands would be slowing down on soy, which has traditionally and predominantly dominated the plant-based protein space. One of the biggest trends coming up next year in the  ‘alternatives to meat category’, has to thus be beans and legumes. They are high in protein and fiber content, inexpensive, wholesome and contain no saturated fats. A few examples of them are:

Beans and legumes give a grounding wholesomeness to your meals.  They are used to make mouthwatering vegetable burger patties, shepherd’s pies, dumplings, and salads. Additionally, they are used as a meat replacement to stuff sandwiches and burritos.

A flat lay picture of hemp seeds kept ina bowl atop a white surface

Seeds and nuts

Seeds and nuts are excellent protein sources. People search for more meat-free protein sources such as hemp seeds, given that they are high in protein and amino acids as well as low in carbs. Hemps seeds are obtained from Cannabis Sativa. They are from the same species as cannabis (marijuana) but of a different variety. Hemp seeds are also good for gut health. This will ensure your daily dose of protein and omega 3-fatty acids. Daily consumption of two tablespoons of hemp seeds will provide you about 6 1/2 grams of protein. Other high protein seeds and nuts include:

Going by the trend, these seeds and nuts will feature a lot on your plate in the coming year. You can add a punch of plant-based protein to your diet by using these seeds and nuts to make the perfect vegan-friendly smoothie, salad, yogurt, or porridge.

Superfood grains and flours

Quinoa is a superfood that must be a part of your diet. It is gluten-free, high in protein and contains all of the nine essential amino acids. It can be made the base of any type of salad or used as a substitute for rice. Quinoa scrambles or quinoa oats make for nutritious breakfast options.

The use of different types of protein-rich flours is also coming up in a big way as more people are looking for plant-based protein options. These flours include almond flour, coconut flour, nut flours, chickpea flours and those made from ancient grains such as buckwheat and millet. Many are even making the shift to cauliflower flour, which is used to make gluten-free bread, pizza bases and other keto-friendly desserts.

Plant-based protein supplements

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition Journal, protein supplementation is the most practical way of getting sufficient protein before and after a workout. There are a plethora of options in the vegan protein powder category. While some are made of grains and legumes, others are made of seeds. So let us look at the options in the vegan category.

  • Hemp protein: It is made from the seeds of the cannabis plant. 
  • Pea protein: It is made out of yellow split peas.
  • Brown rice protein: According to a study published by a team of American researchers in the Foods Journal, typically a 28-gram serving of nonflavored brown rice protein powder contains 107 calories and 22 grams of protein. This, however, varies with the brand.
  • Pumpkin seeds protein: Pumpkin seeds are rich in proteins and contain healthy fats. When it is churned into a powder, it loses most of its fat, which consequently reduces the calorie content.
  • Sunflower seed protein: A quarter cup of sunflower seed protein powder ideally contains about 91 calories. This varies with the brand and although it contains less amount of lysine, an essential amino acid, it aids in muscle building. It is often mixed with quinoa, to make up for its lysine content.
  • Soy protein: Although this is a complete protein by itself, it is not consumed much in the US as most of the soy that is available there is genetically modified.  However, there are a few brands that provide non-genetically modified protein powder, which can be consumed.
  • Chia protein: This is a popular seed that is added to smoothies, porridges and baked goods, to give you your daily dose of protein. However, it can also be made into chia protein powder. The powdered form of chia seeds enhances digestibility.
  • In the protein supplement category, brands are also using avocado and a variety of algae known as golden chlorella, for preserving the smooth texture in most of the vegan protein powders. 

Faux meat

Faux meat is a highly controversial subject. To make plant-based protein faux meat, protein is removed from the plant and kept in isolation, only to be later combined with other plant-based ingredients. This is later used to make the final meaty product. Some popular examples of this are Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger and many other options, which are now found in the freezer section of the grocery store.

Soy is also one of the most common ingredients that are used to make faux meat burger patty. Impossible Foods was one of the first brands to engineer a beef-like patty made from the combination of soy and other plant sources. However, the brand faced a lot of backlash for using heme, an iron-containing molecule from the roots of the soy plant, which they fermented in genetically engineered yeast to give the burger a meaty texture. According to a report published in the Harvard School of Public Health, a higher intake of heme iron can potentially heighten the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

While we understand that plant-based engineered products such as these are an easy swap-in for meat from animals, one can’t deny that they are highly processed, which also results in weight gain and other chronic diseases in the long run. That is why many nutritionists believe that it is preferable to eat whole foods rather than going in for faux meat options unless necessary. In the end, traditional wisdom holds: vegetables and whole foods will always be the cheapest, healthy and most sustainable option in the long run.

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About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Ishani Bose has worked as a reporter/features writer for several leading newspapers and organizations in India. It was her love for food, health, and wellness that brought her to Organic Facts. As a Content & Culinary Outreach Specialist, she is responsible for developing and managing the website’s recipe section. An avid Instagrammer who knows the latest social media trends, Ishani helps strategize and create authentic content for the website’s social media platforms. When not writing or cooking, you’ll find her reading, traveling, soaking herself in music, arts, and culture in every way possible. Ishani has completed an online program on “Introduction to Food and Health” by Stanford University, US. 

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