As sales of plant proteins continue to rise, I want to make sure that you are provided with the correct information when choosing your protein sources. Often I see images on social media which indicate that you can get protein from vegetables, and these images often compare the quality of protein with meat sources. The problem with this is that animal proteins and vegetables contain largely different amounts of proteins, but also quality.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, think of amino acids like Lego. They are the building blocks of a protein and if one amino acid is incomplete, the protein cannot be made. Proteins are essential for muscle growth and repair as well as hair, nails and all of the cells in our body. When we lack protein it can lead to serious health conditions, muscle wastage, brittle hair, skin and nails, and prevent injury recovery.
When comparing animal sources of protein with vegetables, the difference between the two is their amino acid content. Unfortunately, vegetables do not contain complete protein at all. In regards to plant proteins however, these can vary. For example, tempeh, quinoa and soy beans are complete proteins but legumes are high in the amino acid lysine but low in cysteine and methionine. Legumes consequently are incomplete, as are other plant sources like baked beans and peanut butter.
The good news is that when opting for plant based proteins you can simply combine foods together which will give you all the amino acids you need to form a complete protein. For example: beans on wholemeal toast, red lentil dhal with brown rice, or peanut butter with brown toast. By combining your incomplete proteins, they form a complete protein. It is a simple way to ensure optimal intake, but it just requires you to be more mindful.
It is difficult to know what to believe when there is so much misinformation on social media, but please be mindful with what you read. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always get your information from trusted sources and not socials which are heavily dominated by one side of information. Proteins are extremely complex but all you need to take away from this is that a varied plate of vegetables, grains and a good source of protein is the key for adequate intake.