Even without the studies and reports we’ve all seen, many of us feel instinctively that plant-based nutrition is a healthy choice for us and our families.
Mention it to others, though, and you might get that quizzical turn of the head sideways and the often-repeated question: “Will you get enough protein from plants, though?”
On that point, you can rest easy. The evidence is in and the science is clear. Yes, your body can get all the protein it needs from plant-based sources.
People who want to promote a meat-heavy diet argue that plants alone can’t provide the “complete” protein your body needs to stay strong and healthy. This argument rests on two fallacies: first, that your body requires complete protein from a single source rather than combined sources; and second, that there are no individual plant-based foods that offer complete dietary protein.
Let’s take a closer look at those fallacies. In this article, we’ll give you everything you need to know to dispel the unwarranted concerns that are so often raised about plant-based protein.
The human body uses twenty amino acids to grow and regenerate muscles, or in other words, to stay strong and healthy. Of these, there are nine “essential” amino acids that the body cannot synthesize by itself and has to obtain through food in the diet.
Foods containing protein “are broken down into amino acids in the stomach and absorbed in the small intestine, then the liver sorts out which amino acids the body needs,”
Lucky for us, the body is a marvelous machine that can assemble nutritional building blocks from a variety of sources. You may not find all of the essential amino acids in most individual plant foods, but you can get all nine by consuming grains, legumes and/or nuts in combination. “As long as you consume a variety of plant foods every day, your body maintains a pool of amino acids to meet your needs,” says the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, “Healthy Eating - A guide to the new nutrition.”
One outstanding exception to this is soy, which contains a good balance of all nine amino acids, similar to the levels found in animal proteins.
Soy is a member of the legume family and has been traced back to ancient China as an important food source. It is an exceptionally rich source of high-quality protein, as well as iron and calcium, and has the additional health benefits of phytoestrogens, whose antioxidant properties are considered to lower the risk of heart disease.
One convenient and easy way to enjoy the health benefits of soy is with the Yves line of Ground Round products, including Original Veggie Ground Round, Veggie Ground Chick'n and Italian Veggie Ground Round. They can form the basis for any number of recipes, including ones that traditionally call for meat.
Beyond the complete protein offered by soy, the Harvard Healthy Eating guide suggests that a simple way to ensure you get the protein you need is to build your menu plans around pairings of grains and legumes. For instance, Indian cuisine brings together many dishes that include rice and dal (lentils), while Mediterranean cuisine pairs rice and beans, with the result that “any essential components missing from the beans are in the rice.” Other possible combinations are peanuts and millet, or white beans with farro wheat. “Any range of protein-containing plants is likely to supply the nine, so this is not something you should stress over.”
You may be reading this article because you have chosen a vegan lifestyle (eliminating all animal products including honey) or a vegetarian lifestyle (including dairy products and eggs in your diet). Or you may be interested in plant-based protein just because you have heard of the health benefits of transitioning towards more plant-based nutrition.
As noted in the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, “a ‘plant-based’ diet can also be one that simply maximizes plant food intake and reduces animal proteins.”
Whatever your dietary choice, it’s good to know that plant-based nutrition can provide all the protein you need, and other health benefits as well!
A prime example is fibre. Fibre is an important component of any healthy diet, that only plant-based foods can provide. Overall, plant-based proteins tend to be lower in calories and fat than animal proteins but higher in fibre and essential nutrients. For instance, Yves Falafel Balls and Yves Sweet Potato and Chia Bites are sources of fibre, with no trans fat and no cholesterol!
That’s not all. “Plant-specific nutrients, called phytonutrients, and some antioxidants are absent from sources of animal protein.” Phytonutrients are natural chemicals or compounds found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tea, nuts, beans and spices. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help support a healthy human body.
So as you see, there are many reasons besides protein to consider plant-based nutrition.
As the Harvard Healthy Eating guide points out, “packing your plate with more plant foods than animal foods may protect you from disease, lengthen your life, and help you maintain a healthy weight …there are healthful and not-so-healthful sources of fat and protein. The more you can tilt your diet in favour of the beneficial ones while reducing the others, the better off you’ll be.”
 BBC Future: We Don't Need Nearly As Much Protein As We Consume, Jessica Brown, 23 May 2018
 Healthy Eating: A guide to the new nutrition, A Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, Ed. Teresa Fung, ScD, RD, LDN (2016) pg. 21.
 Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, The Power of Plant-Based Proteins, Sept 2018
 Medical News Today, What is the difference between animal and plant proteins?, Jon Johnson, August 2018
 Healthy Eating, pgs. 3, 5