Plant proteins provide 65% of the world’s supply of edible protein and come from just about 20 different plant crops. These come from cereals, legumes, other vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Cereal grain accounts for nearly half (47%) of the world’s protein supplies.

Protein intake from plants in the US and other developed countries is much smaller than in developing countries. In the US, only 31% of protein intake comes from plants, compared to 80% in developing countries. Wheat (43%), rice (39%), and maize (12%) are the leading contributors.

A mix of plants can fulfill our needs for amino acids — the building blocks of protein. These are adequate to take care of all human physiological needs for protein. It should be noted, though, that there is a difference between plant and animal protein in terms of digestibility and amino acid composition, in addition to essential nutrients like antioxidants and phytoestrogens.

Humans require dietary protein, which can be split into two categories: the first is composed of nutritionally indispensable amino acids like histidine, isoleucine, leucine, and lysine. The second component contains nutritionally dispensable amino acids like aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, alanine, and serine.

As stated earlier, a combination of plant proteins can serve as a complete and well-balanced source of amino acids essential for all our physiological requirements for this class of molecules. Some protein sources, like soybean, are low in sulfur-containing amino acids. Cottonseed, peanuts, sesame flour, and cereal grains are good protein sources in general but lack lysine. Diet, therefore, is best not restricted to a single protein source (Young et al., 1994).

Nutrients get denatured by heat, changes in pH, detergents, organic solvents, urea, and other chemicals. In heat treatment of soy flakes (while it inactivates nearly all biologically active components), the protein contained therein retains most of its functionality (Wu et al., 1974).

A plant-based diet has features that are different from those coming from animal sources. Plant lectins are a unique group of proteins with potent biological activity found only in plants. They occur in wheat, corn, tomato, peanut, kidney bean, banana, pea, lentil, soybean, mushroom, rice, and potato.

Lectins resist digestion, survive the gut passage, and bind to gastrointestinal cells entering the circulation system intact — thereby maintaining full biological activity. Several of these lectins have also been found to possess anticancer properties; they are used as therapeutic and potential anticancer agents (De Mejia., et al., 2005).

Soy products are particularly beneficial for cardiovascular and overall health. These are rich in polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in saturated fat (Sacks et al., 2006). Grain legumes, in general, are valuable sources of protein (Duranti, 2006).

Nutraceutical combinations of proteins have been developed, aside from natural food. Gummies containing collagen and protein are now available in natural flavors like cherry, lemon, orange, etc. These are also offered in powder format. Some of the protein products come combined with Vitamin C. Such products help older men (50 and above) meet the body’s need for collagen — which is essential to keep bones and cartilage healthy.

Among other products developed — and available in multiple flavors — we have vegan clear protein, low-sugar probiotic juices, and lactose-free ready-to-drink nutritional supplements with casein, whey protein, vitamins, and minerals. These are often recommended to elderly individuals and those suffering from general physical debility. Some of these are also popular sports supplements.

Protein is one of the most important building blocks of the human body. Most North America and Europe obtain their protein requirements from meat, seafood, and dairy products. On the other hand, there are vast sections of the global populace living in Asia, Africa, and Latin America whose primary source of protein is plant-based.  A low-carbohydrate plant-based diet is known to lower blood lipids, reducing heart disease risks. During the trial, conventional low-fat food consumption with animal products was not consumed. (Jenkins et al., 2009).

A plant-based diet is a healthier alternative to one laden with meat; It reduces the chances of artery blockage and artery hardening, which are common causes of heart attacks (Tuso et al., 2015; Hu.,2003). It’s been observed that subjects who follow a plant-based diet (especially legumes) have high levels of genistein in their urine. Genistein is also said to help prevent chronic degenerative diseases like cancer tumors (Fotsis et al., 1993).

Additional reading:
Nutrition Facts – a guide to good health

Natural Solutions tri-series

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