Vegan Protein Sources
Vegan protein sources
As you guessed all proteins are not born equal. The first step is to understand what proteins are, what are they made from. The second step is deciding the right protein sources for your unique needs.
How do you break down and utilize proteins? What amino acids do you need and why are they so important for your health?
Check, compare, learn.
But before comparing any protein let’s put things into perspective: Any protein source be it animal (meat, dairy, eggs) or plant-based, more known as vegetarian protein source, has a unique blend of proteins, or more exactly a unique combination of certain amino acids.
In order to achieve a balanced protein profile, it is useful to combine the different amino acid they contain properly. More than a matter of “how much protein", it is much more a matter of “which proteins”.
Which is the best protein rich food for vegetarians?
Asserting which vegetarian protein or vegan protein is the “best" protein depends more on your specific needs and condition than on the amount of proteins a certain food contains.
That said, when we compare proteins, we should keep in mind that there really is no such “thing" as dairy protein or whey protein or soy protein or any other “type" of protein, for that matter.
Each source of protein is actually a composed of several protein fractions bound together under their source name.
Dairy protein, for example, actually describes a group of proteins that includes casein (which itself is a conglomeration of alpha caseins 1&2, beta-casein, and kappa casein), alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, and bovine serum albumin.
Soy protein, likewise, is a mix of a number of protein fractions, described by codes such as 28 kD, 30-34 kD, 37 kD, 49 kD, and 50 kD.
You don’t need to know the scientific names of all the different protein fractions in the different types of protein, but it is vital to know that they exist because the different fractions have different degrees of digestibility and promote different degrees of allergic response.
The allergic response is determined by how your body handles each particular fraction in each specific protein source.
So let’s revise them one by one:
Hemp Powder protein
Hemp protein powder is a protein-rich food for vegetarians and vegans, which comes from grinding the whole seeds of a plant named Cannabis sativa.
Hemp protein is an extremely balanced, versatile and good tasting vegan protein source, which even includes omega 3 & 6 fatty acids in balanced proportion.
It has all the 20 amino acids including 9 essential amino acids in some major or minor quantity. Hemp seeds contain up to 50% protein, which is composed of two primary types of protein: Edestin (65%) and Albumin (35%), the main component of egg white.
Edestine (from the Greek “edestós", meaning “edible") is a globular vegetable protein contained in several seeds: hemp seeds, cotton, pumpkin, and some other plants’ seeds. It is a globulin rich in glutamic acid and aspartic and poor in lysine.
Compared to some animal protein, like whey protein, hemp is relatively low in leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and threonine. On the other hand, hemp protein powder is relatively high in glutamic acid, arginine, and glycine.
65% of the total protein content of hemp seed comes from the easily digestible globular protein Edestin which closely resembles the globulin in blood plasma, and is compatible with the human digestive system.
Edestin has the unique ability to stimulate antibodies’ production against attacks (virus, microbes), and it supports DNA cells repair. The vegan protein contained in Hemp powder is also hypoallergenic, therefore there are seldom allergies to hemp made foods.
Some questions as a reminder:
- Are Hemp and Marijuana the same?
Short answer: No, they are just both part of the Cannabis family.
- Can you get “high” of Hemp?“No, your lungs will fail before your brain attains any high from smoking industrial hemp” Here below is a comparative graphic of Hemp protein compared to some other vegetarian protein sources as well as dairy protein sources
Spirulina is certainly the most concentrated source of plant-based proteins on earth. Its content in proteins is extremely high, around 60 g/100 g.
It is highly recommended by the World Health Organization as a mean to fight malnutrition and hunger worldwide. In the developed nations it is a great help against nutrients’ malabsorption and a first choice protein for vegetarians and more so for vegans. The cells which make up Spirulina have no hard membranes which Chlorella does have and therefore highly digestible.
Spirulina is a complete protein because it contains all the essential and non-essential amino acids, in a balanced composition. Spirulina protein content ranges from 60-70 percent which is high compared to hemp, around 50% protein, almonds, 40% protein, and extremely high in comparison to lentils which is 26 percent, beef or egg white which is 22 percent, tofu 16% or even the so popular whey (in its natural, non concentrated form whey has 10% proteins, mainly casein to which some people are allergic).
Lysine and other amino-acids are abundant in primary animal-source protein (meat, fish) and secondary animal sources (dairy) but the ones present in Spirulina powder are free from purines, which can overload the kidneys and produce gout attacks. From the amino-acids, leucine, isoleucine, and lysine are outstanding in amount compared to other vegan protein powders like hemp, for example.
Whey concentrates and isolates range from 30% to 90% protein by weight. It has to be extracted and concentrated from dairy to reach the higher proteins’ concentration levels.
Produced with quite a bit of industrial manipulation and often containing additives (like sugars, artificial sweeteners & flavors), whey concentrate is quite allergenic and not suitable for vegans. Whey contains no fiber which may add digestive problems for some.
Soy protein, which was one of the first “superfoods" to emerge a few decades ago, although rich in nutrients and balanced in composition, has come under scrutiny recently due to the heavily genetically manipulated crops. Soy in all its forms is quite allergenic and can even disrupt your hormonal balance.
Soy protein from organic sources is still not for anyone looking for good vegan source protein: It still contains a strong allergen named 30 kD.
The vegetarian proteins found in Soy is not an effective alternative. Soy related allergies increase proportionally to the amount of Soy you eat.
Soy contains phytates which can block the absorption of important minerals such as calcium and high levels of phytoestrogens, which although beneficial in moderate amounts, can be counter-productive in large amounts. It’s certainly not a panacea, as often states when the Soya alternative began.
Fermented soy protein (soy sauce, tempeh or even tofu) is much better because by fermentation certain enzyme inhibitors blocking protein digestion are removed.
Unless fermented it can create significant amounts of gas and even harm the pancreas when eaten in excess. Industrial soy protein, a waste product of the soy oil industry, was once almost exclusively used to feed and increase cattle’s weight and is still used so, increasing deforestation in some number one soy producers like Brazil.
Cyanobacteria protein: Spirulina blue-green algae and wrongly assimilated Chlorella
Spirulina truly deserves the “best of superfoods" title: A complete branched amino-acids protein in its natural state with higher values than any other unprocessed food. Unlike most other forms of protein, the protein in Spirulina is extremely digestible; In fact, its amino acids are delivered to the body for almost instant absorption.
Chlorella protein although looking similar belongs to an entirely separate kingdom of plants and is not even half as assimilable when it comes to proteins.
Pea protein (and yellow pea protein) is also very balanced and has a very mild, sweet taste which many people appreciate. It's one of the best tasting proteins. Pea protein is the concentrated natural protein fraction of yellow peas. The process used for concentrating pea protein is water-based, making the end product quite “natural.” Pea protein combined with brown rice protein forms a quite balanced and complete amino-acid combination. The only disadvantage is that some people find its texture a bit too “chalky" and dry.
A standard daily dose of Spirulina is 1-3 grams, but doses of up to 10 grams per day have been used effectively with no side-effects. Spirulina is extremely high in many nutrients. Sports practitioners & bodybuilders who have included Spirulina to their routine take higher amounts.
This tiny alga is packed with nutrients. A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried Spirulina powder contains:
Protein: 4 grams
Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 11% of the RDA
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 15% of the RDA
Vitamin B3 (niacin): 4% of the RDA
Copper: 21% of the RDA
Iron: 11% of the RDA
It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese, and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that you need.
In addition, the same amount holds only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbs.
Gram for gram, Spirulina may be the single most nutritious food on the planet.
A tablespoon (7 grams) of Spirulina provides a small amount of fat — around 1 gram — including both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in an approximately 1.5-1.0 ratio.
The quality of the protein in Spirulina is considered excellent — comparable to many non-vegetarian proteins sources, like eggs.
It gives you all the essential amino acids that you need.
Beginners or Kids (age 2-9): 3-5 grams (1 tsp) per day
Adults or Teens (age 10-18-): 6-10 grams (1 tbsp) per day
Advanced or Cleansing: 11-20 grams per day (2 tbsp) per day
If suffering from any condition, consult your health care provider before taking Spirulina.
2.2 How to take Spirulina?
Spirulina has a particularly strong taste, between grassy & marine; if you are used to eating seaweeds, you’ll find the taste of Spirulina quite similar; the best quality Spirulina is organic and shouldn’t taste foul.
There are four main ways to take it:
- adding the powder to some water, stir it and drink straight away
- adding the powder to smoothies & juices
- adding the powder to some favorite salty/savory recipe
- tablets and capsules, mainly for those who can’t stomach the taste or smell
There is a huge amount of recipes online and many useful books for your further inspiration. Spirulina's minerals, vitamins, and trace elements retain their properties best when not cooked.
Sensitive persons should consider taking Spirulina in the morning or during the day due to its energizing properties. Due to its condensed nature, it is not a good idea to take it on an empty stomach.
Some bodybuilders and sports’ practitioners prefer to take it shortly before and during the training session.
Always respect the guidelines on the package and consult your health care provider before taking Spirulina, especially if that is the first time you do so or if you suffer from any particular condition.
In general, for healthy adults take 1 tablet daily during a week, increasing the amount gradually until you reach the required dosage.
For your pets, there are mainly Spirulina flakes and pellets available; Spirulina is mainly used for (herbivorous) fishes; it is a very good source of vegetarian protein for them; consult your vet. before giving it to any pet.
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