The word protein may immediately bring to mind thoughts of sizzling steak and chicken sosaties on a good old South African braai. Yet, if combined correctly, plant sources such as soy, tofu, legumes and other grains can also provide all of the essential amino acids required in a healthy diet.
Often, we think of protein as a single nutrient. In fact, proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids, of which, unique sequences and arrangements make up the different proteins that are found in foods. The amino acids are classified into groups of essentiality based on the body’s ability or produce them. Nine of the twenty different amino acids are considered essential because the body cannot make them, and as such they must be provided by the diet.
Quinoa and Soybeans contain all 9 essential amino acids and as such can be considered complete proteins. Similarly, if legumes are combined with grains or legumes combined with seeds, the combination can also provide all 9 essential amino acids. Therefore, a plant based diet can supply complete protein to the diet. It is important to focus not just on the protein content of foods consumed, but also on the nutrients packaged with the protein. Legumes, grains and seeds also supply optimal fibre, vitamins and minerals to the diet. Vitamins and Minerals support essential metabolic functions in the body and fibre plays a key role in the maintenance of a healthy gut. Plant protein sources also contribute higher levels of poly- and mono-unsaturated fats to the diet than do many animal sources of protein. As a result, including plant sources of protein in the diet can have a significant impact on health conditions such cardiovascular health and diabetes. Studies have even indicated that increasing fibre, whole grains and legumes in the diet can contribute to more optimal weight management and overall health.
Nutritional Solutions, is a registered dietetic practice with all its dietitians registered with the Health Professional Council of South Africa and Association for Dietetics in South Africa.