Health & Fitness

Plant-based proteins: Where to find them and how to enjoy them

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to want to increase your intake of plant-based protein -- it’s a great idea for everyone! In fact, more than 22 million of your fellow citizens follow what they call a “vegetarian-inclined diet,” as Dr. Mike does. So, if you’re wondering about adding more plant protein to your diet, ask yourself ...

▪  Would you like to dodge the health risks associated with eating red and processed meats and saturated fats — heart disease, bodywide inflammation and a lousy sex life, to name a few?

▪  How about helping fight the environmental and public-health problems associated with mega-livestock production? They include animal cruelty, the introduction of harmful antibiotics and hormones into the food chain and pollution of the environment.

See, there are reasons for almost everyone to get hungry for plant-derived protein!

What Is Protein, Exactly?

Your body produces proteins to build and repair tissue; help build bones, cartilage, blood and skin; and contribute to production of hormones and other body chemicals. It takes 20 different amino acids to make the proteins you need, but your body lacks the ability to produce nine of those; you must get them from the food you eat.

Complete protein foods supply all nine of those “missing” amino acids in roughly the same amounts. Foods like low- and nonfat dairy, quinoa and soy are complete.

Most vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and grains are incomplete; they lack or have very low levels of one or more of the nine essential amino acids.

But a diverse diet lets you take in amino acids from multiple sources so that you get all you need to form important proteins. According to the American Dietetic Association, “research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids ...” No need to eat them at the same time to produce the proteins you require.

Benefits of Getting Enough Good-For-You Amino Acids and Protein

When you focus on eating plant-derived proteins and amino acids, chances are you’ll reduce (or, we hope, eliminate) your intake of processed, sugar-added foods and cut way down on saturated fats! Plus:

▪  Eating meals loaded with plant amino acids and protein keeps you full longer and helps reduce what you eat during your next meal!

▪  Upping your amino acid and protein intake from healthy sources as you get older adds extra benefits: It helps protect against fragile skin, immune weakness, loss of muscle mass and problems with wound healing. At any age, just a 5 percent increase in intake can help you lose weight.

So What Should You Eat?

Top 10 sources of plant-based protein (complete and incomplete) include quinoa, soy, buckwheat, nuts, all legumes, all 100 percent whole grains, seitan, hempseed, chia seeds and mycoprotein (a meat-substitute fungus). And you haven’t even had broccoli, tomatoes, collards or beets yet! Plus, fruits such as avocados, dates, apples, blueberries, kiwis and, yes, cacao, contribute a lot of amino acids.

There’s a formula for establishing how much protein you should eat daily: It’s 0.8 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of your weight! For those over 65, it goes up to 1.0 gram per kilo. But there’s another system that uses ounce equivalents:

Women 19-30 need five and a half ounce equivalents of protein; those 31 and older need five ounce equivalents. Men 19-30 need six and a half ounce equivalents; those 31-50 need six ounce equivalents and 51-plus need five and a half.

Half an ounce of nuts; 1/2 ounce pumpkin or sunflower seeds, hulled and roasted; and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter all equal a 1-ounce equivalent of protein. A quarter-cup of cooked beans, peas, tofu, roasted soybeans, 2 tablespoons of hummus and 1 ounce of tempeh all equal a 1-ounce equivalent.

So if you want to go vegetarian or just lean that way (1 ounce of salmon, ocean trout or skinless poultry provides a 1-ounce equivalent), it’s easy to get sufficient high-quality protein!

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. www.sharecare.com.

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