Now while I am not formally ‘vegan’ (someone who eats no animal products at all), I do abstain from dairy, all beef and most other animal meat. I eat a primarily plant-based diet with very small amounts of organic fish and eggs. One question I hear consistantly is: ‘But HOW on Earth do you get your protein? Surely you can’t be getting enough protein from plants!’
And then I was reminded of something while listening to a lecture by Dr Neal Barnard about the power of veganism in fighting disease and for longevity about a week ago. And it’s quite a powerful message for anyone who lives by the belief that animal-based protein is the only way to gain muscle strength and stamina…
Yes, some of the strongest and most agile animals on Earth are… VEGAN! The don’t eat ANY animal protein, and yet, they are ‘strong like bull’, and have the agility of a stallion (or quarter horse, the fastest horse clocking about 55mph). Gorillas and elephants are on the Top 10 strongest animals list – where a gorilla can lift something over 10 times their body weight, and elephants are the strongest mammals and the strongest land animals on the planet, and can ‘bench press’ up to 9,000kg, or the weight of 130 average adult humans. But yet, they haven’t eaten any animal protein in their lives.
So it’s a misnomer to think that one must eat animal protein to become strong.
Lets take a brief look at a few plants with significant levels of protein, and a few other added benefits from including a diet rich in these sources:
Gluten Free Whole Grains (partial list)
Quinoa is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, as well as a significant source of fiber, iron, lysine for tissue growth and repair, magnesium to help prevent migraines and diabetes, as well as detoxification and bone health, riboflavin (B2) for energy production and manganese, and important antioxidant for cancer and other disease prevention.
Millet is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, and is also big in fiber, magnesium, niacin (B3) to help lower cholesterol, as well as antioxidants.
Buckwheat or Kasha (not related to the wheat plant, but a relative of the rhubarb family) has a complete amino acid profile that enhances buckwheat’s ability to reduce and stabilize blood sugar levels following meals—a key factor in preventing diabetes and obesity. Similar to widely prescribed, synthetic hypertension drugs, buckwheat proteins reduce the activity of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), thereby reducing hypertension.
Brown Rice, while not quite as high as quinoa, millet and buckwheat, brown rice has a composition of all essential amino acids, and is very high in dietary fiber, thus prevention colon and breast cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease. It is also very rich in manganese and selenium antioxidants for immunity from illness and disease.
Amaranth is very rich in all essential amino acids, and in particular, is very high in the amino acid lysine, which helps the body absorb calcium, build muscle, and produce energy.
Green Leafies (partial list)
Some of the top protein-containing green leafy vegetables include: broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, collard greens, green peas and kale. Combining these with other plant-based foods can deliver a full profile of amino acids, as well as a vital array of micro-nutrients that are critical to human longevity and disease prevention. Green leafy vegetables are one of the most important foods to include in our daily diets, because they are so rich in the true sources of vitamins and minerals that help make our bodies function properly (and synthetic substitutes can never replace the true micronutrients found in original food sources).
Beans, Legumes (partial list)
A significant source of protein, beans and legumes, when combined with other protein-rich foods such as brown rice, can deliver a full array of essential amino acids, comparable to beef, but more nutrient dense. Some of the best beans and legumes include soybeans, white, adzuki, pinto, kidney, black, navy, garbanzo and lima beans. Soybeans have the highest protein, and on their own, include a full amino acid profile (complete protein). Cooked soybeans have 28.62 grams and edamame have 22.23 grams of protein in a 1-cup serving, which is roughly equal to the protein you’ll get from a 3-ounce serving of meat. Soybeans also have substances called isoflavones that may help prevent some types of cancer.
Nuts and Seeds (partial list)
Also a great plant-based food source for adding protein to the diet are nuts and seeds. The highest sources of protein, as well as other critical sources of nutrition, are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chia and flax seeds. Walnuts are made up of 15 to 20 percent protein and contain linoleic (omega-6 fatty acids) and alpha-linoleic acids (omega-3 fatty acids), vitamin E and vitamin B6, making them an excellent source of nourishment for your nervous system (this is why we often hear of walnuts as ‘brain food’). Flax and Chia seeds are also rich in Omega-3s, cashews are high in magnesium, which can “open up” the blood vessels in your body (mentioned before to help with migraine prevention), including those in your brain. When more oxygen-rich blood reaches your brain, it operates better. By providing your body with phenylalanine, adding almonds to your diet can do wonders for your mental and neurological health.
Of course, this is only a partial list of the many plant-based proteins out there, and the amazing ADDED nutritional benefits you can achieve from these nutrient dense foods. To that point, you may also want to note that ALMOST ALL animal-based proteins rank LOWER on nutrient density indexes than plant-based proteins. So by eating plant-based proteins, you are not only getting the protein you need, but you are also getting a significantly higher amount of micro-nutrients per calorie to fuel all of your bodily functions, and therefore, to help in the prevention of disease.
And one last thing to remember, when elephants and rhinos and hippos and gorillas and stallions and giraffes and bulls are out there looking for plant-based protein to fill them up and make them strong and agile, they aren’t carrying a salt shaker! So when choosing nuts and seeds, remember organic, raw, roasted and unsalted is the best way to go!