Protein is an important building block of the body. It is one of three macronutrients that must be consumed in large amounts on a daily basis.
Protein is part of virtually every biochemical process or pathway in the human body. Amino acids – the individual components that make up a protein – are the raw materials that build important molecules like enzymes and neurotransmitters. If a person’s diet is protein-deficient, molecules like serotonin and dopamine may be imbalanced, and can potentially lead to low mood, depression, and anxiety.
Recommended daily allowance of protein
The required amount of daily protein is also vital to maintaining bodily functions, not to mention sustaining and building skeletal muscle mass. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To put this in perspective, one chicken breast contains approximately 30 grams of protein.
Newer research and debate suggests that healthy people and the elderly should consume an even higher protein-to-weight ratio of at least 1.2-2.5 grams of protein per kilogram in order to meet daily energy requirements.
Different types of protein
Not all proteins are the same, however. Protein can be plant-based or animal-based, and is either complete or incomplete. A complete (or whole) protein by definition requires that it contains all nine essential amino acids. These amino acids are “essential” because the body cannot make them, and must obtain them from food sources.
Protein-rich vegetables tend to be incomplete sources of protein – that is, they contain some essential amino acids but not all. In traditional plant-based diets, the pairing of protein-rich vegetables is practiced to deliver complete proteins in a single meal. This practice originated thousands of years ago in some of our earliest civilizations, likely as an intuitive response to a lack of access to complete animal protein sources.
In this regard, beans and rice are commonly paired together. Beans are high in the amino acid lysine, but low in methionine. Rice is high in methionine but low in lysine. When consumed together, beans and rice make a complete protein. In fact, each time legumes such as beans, lentils, and peanuts are combined with grains such as rice, corn, and wheat, a complete protein is formed.
Protein-rich vegetables are a major component of a healthy diet, and are able to replace animal proteins only when paired correctly with other proteins that together make a complete protein.
Top protein-rich vegetables that are easy to include in your diet:
•Edamame. This vegetable delivers an astonishing 18 grams of protein per cup, making it one of the most protein-rich vegetables. Since edamame is a soy-based vegetable, it is commonly genetically modified and contains pesticides. If edamame is a protein-rich vegetable you enjoy, try to consume it in its organic and non-GMO form.
•Tempeh. Tempeh is a fermented soybean and provides 16 grams of protein per 3 ounce serving. Tempeh is a great meat alternative and tends to be easier to digest because it is a fermented food.
•Lentils. Lentils are a high protein and high fibre vegetable, with one cup (cooked) providing about 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fibre.
•Beans. The protein content in beans generally depends on the type of bean. On average, 1 cup of cooked beans delivers about 15 grams of protein.
•Pumpkin seeds. These seeds provide 5 grams of protein per ounce, and are also excellent sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats
•Mung Bean Sprouts. One cup of cooked mung bean sprouts provides 3 grams of protein, as well as good doses of vitamins K and C.
•Broccoli. Broccoli provides about 2.5 grams per cup, and is also an excellent source of vitamin C and fibre.
•Artichoke. One large artichoke contains 5 grams of protein, as well as 7 grams of fibre.
•Hummus. Hummus contains about 1.2 grams of protein per tablespoon. Eating organic hummus alongside your other protein-rich vegetables is an excellent way to add on a few more grams of protein to your meal.