What is Protein? Why Do You Need it?
Long story short, proteins are necessary components of the majority of your body's functions. They are large biomolecules assembled from a variety of amino acids into amino acid chains that are essential for nearly every function of your body. Any particular cell can assemble a variety of necessary proteins depending on the information encoded into its unique genes.
This means that all cells of your body can combine amino acids into proteins that are used to allow its continued functioning. Without amino acids your body's cells would fail to perform actions necessary for life.
Some amino acids are produced in our bodies, and others are found in our food. There are 21 amino acids the human body needs to function. Nine of these amino acids, known as the 9 essential amino acids, cannot be produced by your own metabolism, and they must be attained through your diet. Once your body has assembled the right amino acids, it constructs the necessary proteins. These proteins are then used by your cells to perform DNA replication, to move molecules throughout your body, carry out metabolic responses, build your cells' physical structures, construct enzymes, etc.
So amino acids combine to create proteins, and perform functions essential to your health. Without the right proteins, your body cannot function.
How Can I Get the Protein I Need? Plant vs Animal...
You know that 21 amino acids are essential to the human body. Your body can produce about half of these amino acids from chemicals within its own systems, but the other half, known as the 9 essential amino acids, cannot be produced by your body, and they must be introduced into your system via your diet.
Plant and animal tissues contain a variety of micro-nutrients and proteins. By eating a wide range of foods, you're offering your body a wide variety of amino acids it needs. Plant based proteins offer your body gentle, bio-available amino acids and a variety of micro-nutrients, fiber, and alkalinizing nutrients. Though plants contain less concentrated amounts of proteins and amino acids, they tend to be gentler on your system and on the planet, making them an ideal choice for many when considering the long-term health of your body and planet. Animal protein contains concentrated amounts of protein and some micro-nutrients such as B vitamins, and can be a helpful part of some peoples diet. But the energy necessary to raise the animals to be harvested, combined with the difficulty some people have with digesting animal tissue, the lack of dietary fiber in meat, and the issue of toxic side-effects, it makes sense to look at the percentage of protein that you derive from animal sources. Also, diets based on animal protein can sometimes lead to long-term health issues and often cause extensive environmental damage.
Do your own research. Talk to your functional medicine provider. Understanding the long-term affects of your diet, on your own body, and your planet is extremely valuable. And it will empower you when deciding what to put on your plate. Please consider the "values of life" humans project onto both the plant and animal world. Every item in your diet has undergoes a journey through cultivation and harvest to consumption and elimination. This process of bringing food to your plate requires time and energy, and it guarantees that your small decisions about food have a huge effect on you, your health, your planet, and your decedents.
This is not an argument for or against diets of plant or animal based proteins, it's in invitation and reminder to recognize the power your smallest decisions have over your world, your health, and your future.
Either way, we recommend including a variety of plant-based proteins in your diet. Whether you’re vegan, or following a Paleo diet, there are a lot of misunderstandings about protein and which sources are best for you. Perhaps you want to incorporate aspects of a Paleo approach, or maybe you might be inclined to avoid all animal-based foods. Either way, there are excellent sources of plant protein for you!
Plant-based proteins are incredibly high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and essential amino acids. Generally, plant proteins are also good for the environment as they can be sustainably grown, harvested and processed. Unlike meat and dairy protein sources, plant proteins do not concentrate toxins the way animal proteins and fats do. There’s also a growing body of evidence that plant-based diets can reduce the risk of many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
What Are the Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein?
Here's a brief review of the six most common plant proteins. Find the one that's best for you.
1. Sprouted Brown Rice Protein. First off, let's dispel a popular myth. Many people think that because this protein began as rice that it's still "a grain". The truth is: plain rice is only about 7% protein and the rest is starch and fiber, but after sprouting etc, Rice Protein 80% pure protein! And the remaining 20% is vitamins, minerals, just a tiny bit of starch, and some good fiber. And it's one of the easiest to digest, most affordable, and least allergy prone proteins available. A true superfood.
Ideal for vegans, vegetarian athletes or anybody looking to increase or improve the amount of protein in their diet, sprouted brown rice protein is becoming a popular plant protein source. Not only does this plant protein offer a full spectrum of amino acids, it is also easily digested, absorbed and assimilated by the body. One of the best forms of rice protein is a bio-fermented, raw and sprouted whole grain brown rice protein, which combines the sprouted endosperm and the bran. Being naturally hypoallergenic, this source of plant protein can be consumed by almost everyone. Being very lean and low in fat, this source of protein is great for those wanting a pure protein that is easy to digest and promotes weight loss while also promoting muscle recovery. At 80% pure protein, it's great for everyone from athletes to the elderly!
What is the difference between rice protein and sprouted rice protein? When brown rice is sprouted, it means that it’s been soaked in water and has begun to germinate. The sprouting removes most of the starch that is naturally found in rice. Once sprouted and germinated, the rice actually becomes a potent protein with very little sugar or starch content, unlocking amino acids that drastically improve the body’s ability to utilize and absorb the nutrients, thus becoming very low in starch and sugar. Unlike ordinary rice protein which can actually boost your blood sugar levels and cause a blood sugar “crash,” sprouted rice protein creates an even flow of energy to the body without a crash.
And there's more: The sprouting and fermenting decrease the phytic acid and lectin content to make it an even more ideal protein source! Another benefit? Sprouted brown rice protein is often much smoother than other plant proteins, making it ideal for blending into smoothies or drinks.
Important! - You'll be much better off if you use products that utilize only Organic brown rice protein to eliminate the dangers of residual heavy metals that can be found in non-organic rice.
Sprouted Brown Rice Protein is easy to digest and offers a healthy and lower cost alternative to most of the other plant protein sources. Expert Advice: Excellent choice, and go organic!
2. Pea Protein. This incredibly popular and common protein powder is found in everything from cereals, to bars, to meal replacement powders. Entirely gluten-free, soy free and dairy-free, this protein is great for vegans or vegetarians. It is known to have a large amount of amino acids, fiber, and a high iron content.
Pea Protein is also 80% pure protein and has left behind the excess starches and the other components that many of us find hard to digest in normal legumes and beans. As well, Pea Protein when combined with Brown Rice Protein includes the three essential Branch Chain Amino Acids, BCAAs.
Branch Chain Amino Acids. There's a lot of buzz amongst athletes and others that are looking for the absolute fastest and best "recovery protein" after intense muscle action of any kind. And traditionally, most people have had to rely on whey protein with all of it's inherent negative qualities. Now with the increased availability of Organic Pea Protein and the perfect synergy of combining Organic Pea Protein with Organic Brown Rice Protein can offer your body the best branch chain amino acids!
But, what are BCAAs? BCAA are amino acids that have side-chains of three or more carbon atoms, and they account for nearly half of mammalian muscle proteins. These three BCAAs essential to mammals are leucine, isoleucine and valine, and they account for 35% of essential amino acids in muscle proteins, and 40% of the preformed amino acids required by mammals!
Warning. Be sure to use only Organic Pea Protein! You don't want any residual toxin chemicals in your protein!
3. Hemp Seed Protein. Hemp protein is one of the most "earth-friendly" plant proteins on the planet. Much like other beans or legumes, hemp seed is an excellent source of protein as it contains all of the 21 amino acids humans need– including the 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. Also, unlike soy, hemp has not been subject to genetic modification and is one of the most sustainable plants as it needs next to zero pesticides, chemicals, or fertilizers. Much like a weed, hemp is incredibly adaptive to a variety of growing conditions and environments which makes hemp a safe plant source of protein that requires very little processing to produce. Not only that, but 2 tablespoons of hemp protein powder can provide up to 15 grams of usable protein. Hemp seeds are truly a gift from nature. Containing a balanced and concentrated blend of protein, essential fats (Omega 3 & 6), vitamins, and enzymes combined with relatively low levels of sugar, starches and saturated fats, hemp is one of nature’s perfect foods – a true Superfood! Some of the health benefits of consuming hemp seeds whether in powder or whole food form, include weight loss, increased energy, rapid recovery from disease or injury, reduced inflammation, a boost in immunity and natural blood sugar control. You can find this incredible superfood in many protein powder blends, bars, and sold on its own in health food stores.
4. MicroAlgae Protein. One of the most intriguing sources of plant protein is that of algae. For a long time, it has been known that algae such as Spirulina, AFA, and Chlorella are incredibly high in the 9 essential amino acids. And the protein in AFA, Chlorella and Spirulina are a whole-food ingredient. Fact: Containing 54% natural protein, no other whole-food can match them! Other nutrients include good fats, fiber, vitamin A, B, C, and E; and minerals. And the wonderful chlorophyl content makes them a true superfood! Although they're somewhat costly, soon algae proteins may become cultivated on a larger scale which will bring prices down. And while many people find the taste a little unusual, they can be incorporated into your lifestyle in many ways, especially in smoothies containing cacao, or lemon, and you may find the flavor really nice. Whatever your taste preference, it’s worth a try! Over time, algae protein may become cultivated on a large scale as growing these foods save soil, doesn’t require pesticides and is sustainable for the planet.
5. Sprouted Seed and Grain Protein. There are many less common protein powders that you may see in health food products such as sprouted amaranth, quinoa, lentil, pumpkin seed and even sprouted garbanzo bean. What all of these plant proteins have in common is that they are all derived from the process of sprouting a seed or grain. Sprouting, in general is a great way to harbor many of the plants nutrients during this first stage of growth. No longer a seed, a newly emerging sprout consumes much of the grain’s starches, thus altering the foods nutritional content and digestibility. Due to the decreased amount of starch, the proportion of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals within each sprout becomes higher while the glycemic index decreases. Many people notice that when they start consuming sprouted grains or seeds that their blood sugar drops and they start to see better digestion. Growing fast, the sprouted grains industry is projected to be one of the top selling food products in only a few years time. However, despite these positive attributes, these food products are still relatively new on the market. As such, there is still not a lot of nutritional data on all the various sprouted grain and seed foods as a viable protein source. Before buying a food product with sprouted grains, it is good to do your research on the company and check that they are sourcing their sprouted grains from reliable and safe sources.
6. Soy Protein. Caution! A great deal of disagreement exists about soy protein. Up until 70 years ago, soy was viewed as “unfit” to eat unless it had been well fermented. Although soy contains decent amounts of some vitamins, minerals and fiber, it’s not always clear what soy's long-term effects are regarding human hormones. One thing is certain, soy has been heavily marketed for unethical reasons by big agribusiness. Another important point to remember is that soy is one of the “Big 8 Allergens" and caution is always advised. Perhaps the worst fact is that over 95% of soy is genetically modified, and therefore is one of the most contaminated plants on Earth. So buy ONLY organic soy products. Check with your healthcare provider and do your own research to come to your conclusion about soy-based protein. Expert Advice: Use very sparingly, and always organic.
Are Plant Proteins Compatible With the Paleo Diet?
Clearly there are benefits of following a high protein, no sugar, low refined-carb diet. Many studies show these three factors support certain goals such as weight loss, increased energy and resistance to disease. But are animal proteins the only way to hit those goals? What about the carb content of of plant protein? It’s critical to make a huge distinction between say rice-based protein powder at 80% pure protein, and rice as a grain. Rice is only 7% protein as a grain. But once it’s been sprouted and fermented it jumps to 80% pure protein! And as you may know, even lean meats are not even half that number. So plant proteins can be superior to animal proteins in a lot of ways!
Go with All or Mostly Plant-Based Protein!
Plant based protein powders can be a huge benefit to everyone from hard-core paleo types to strict vegans! We all need easy-to-digest, and super clean protein that is devoid of environmental toxins that accumulate in animal proteins. And plant-based proteins use much less water, land, and harmful chemicals. And are 100% to 900% more efficient at creating high quality protein than animal based proteins. So do yourself and the planet a favor and increase your plant protein as much as possible!
A Note About Organic and Non-GMO
Whenever possible, it is important to source all of your protein sources organically. Especially those of you who consume any animal-based protein, as toxins accumulate in animal tissues much more than in plant protein. As much as 712% more! So either way, you will want your protein sources to be super clean and that means avoiding all non-organic foods whenever possible. It's better for the environment, and it's better for you! Organic plant foods often contain up to 31% more vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients than their non-organic counterparts. The only exception to this is hemp seed protein, which often does not require any pesticides or herbicides whether it is grown organically or not. In general, consuming organic and non-GMO is part of a healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle for both you and the global community!
A Note To Vegans
Some studies have shown that over time, many Vegans can develop signs of Lysine deficiency. We whole-heartedly support all vegans and want you to be your very best in all ways! Therefore we recommend doing your research to determine if a Lysine supplement would help you thrive even more! Keep up the great work!