Can Plant-Based Proteins Help Reduce Health Risks?

Very few people would argue against the importance of protein in our diets. And most would acknowledge that many of us aren’t getting enough of it. Especially as we age.

But there is some debate regarding which is better for your health. Meat-based protein or plant-based protein.

For many people, it depends on their overall health. And any conditions they might have. Meat is the way to get the most protein for some people. For others, plant-based protein is healthier.

But here’s the good news. Actually, I should call it great news. Both meat-based and plant-based protein is good for our health. Whichever you choose – and most folks like both – you can’t lose.

The Building Blocks of Life

We’ve talked plenty about meat in the past. So today I want to focus on plant-based protein. First, though, here’s some background on protein.

Proteins are crucial for life. They are the main components of our cells. Considering that the average human body has about 37.2 trillion cells, proteins are very significant.

They are part of every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies. They contribute to building, repairing and maintaining tissues. Other functions include triggering important processes within cells. Such as cell division, cell shape maintenance and cell movement.

Proteins also help us move. If our protein intake is too low, muscles don’t move smoothly. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t store amino acids like they can fats and carbohydrates. So, we need a daily intake of them through dietary protein. 

Researchers Laud Plant-Based Diets

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal revealed this. Eating a high-protein diet reduces the risk of serious health issues.

The report emphasized that plant-based high-protein diets are associated with avoiding those issues.

The study was conducted by researchers from a variety of healthcare organizations. Including the Harvard Medical School. And the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

As well as the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Tehran University Medical School in Iran.

 Comprehensive Study Covers Several Decades 

Those researchers say this about their findings. They “support current dietary recommendations to increase consumption of plant proteins.”

The study suggested consuming a variety of plant-based protein sources. Including legumes such as peas, beans and lentils. As well as whole grains, nuts and seeds.

A total of 32 other studies were reviewed as part of this study. The studies covered several decades of results.

The number of participants was more than 715,000. And all the studies were thoroughly assessed for biases that could affect results. 

Plant Foods Are Better in Pairs

Brittany Bearden is a sports nutrition manager with Texas Health Sports Medicine. She said most plant foods do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Therefore, they should be properly paired with each other.

“Pair complementary proteins together to form a complete protein that provides all essential amino acids,” she said.

Examples include rice and beans, hummus with pita bread, and peanut butter on whole wheat bread.

She added that plant foods also provide nutrients and fiber. “It promotes a healthy digestive system. It helps keep you feeling full.”

Protein Statistics to Consider

So, how do we know how much protein is enough? And how much might be too much?

Here’s what the National Academy of Medicine says. Adults should consume a little over seven grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.

A 140-pound person should get about 50 grams of protein per day. A 200-pound person should get about 70 grams of protein daily. 

The Academy also says protein should account for anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of our daily calories.

Not Enough Protein = Physical Problems

Around the world, many young children do not consume enough protein. Mainly due to food insecurity.

The results are tragic. Protein deficiency is associated with many physical problems. Including malnutrition, loss of muscle mass and a weakened immune system.

In America, there is an abundance of both animal-based and plant-based protein. But many of us don’t consume enough of it.

On the other hand, some of us may be consuming too much animal-based protein. And not enough plant-based protein.

The Good Without the Bad

One of the advantages of plant-based protein is that it doesn’t come with too much saturated fat or sodium.

For example, a cup of cooked lentils provides approximately 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber. But it has practically no saturated fat or sodium.

Many fruits and vegetables also contain protein. Although in smaller quantities compared to other plant-based foods. 

Vegetables with higher amounts of protein than most include corn and broccoli. Plus asparagus, Brussels sprouts and artichokes.  

Add More Plant-Based Protein

If you prefer to get most of your protein from animal sources, great. Same goes for those who prefer plant-based protein. Either way, adding more plant-based protein sources to your diet can provide health benefits.

Some folks can’t or choose not to eat meat. Fortunately, the American Dietetic Association has good news about that.

In one of their position papers, they extolled the virtues of plant-based protein.

The paper concluded that, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” 

Don’t neglect your protein. No matter what your main source is.

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