New Trends in Plant-Based Proteins
Bugs, Fungus and Eggless Eggs?!
Written by Emily Chow, University of Alberta Student in the Nutrition and Food Science program and reviewed by our Health Stand Nutrition Dietitian Team
Proteins are one of the three macronutrients that are essential for our body, the other two being fats and carbohydrates. They are important for building and repairing cells in our body. The basic structure of proteins is essentially an amino acid chain. There are 20 amino acids, 9 of them being essential which means they cannot be synthesized in the body and must come from the diet.
Protein sources are categorized into complete proteins and incomplete proteins.
Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids. Some examples of complete proteins are animal protein sources (such as meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, and eggs), whole soy foods (such as tofu, and edamame beans), and some grains (such as quinoa and buckwheat).
Incomplete proteins do not contain substantial amounts of all the essential amino acids but can be combined with other incomplete proteins to achieve all 9 essential amino acids. These include seeds, nuts, and legumes (such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas).
The availability of plant proteins is becoming increasingly wider in the market, as vegan, vegetarian and other plant-based diets become more popular. Attaining all 9 essential amino acids is entirely possible for plant-based diets but proper meal planning is indeed important.
In this post, we’ll go over some popular plant-based proteins and some new plant-based protein innovations that are being introduced to the market!
Popular Plant-Based Proteins
Tofu is one of the most popular plant-based proteins that are widely available in the market. It is made from condensed soy milk that is pressed into blocks. Tofu is common in stir-fries, rice bowls, and stews. Tofu is packed with nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants, including isoflavones, calcium, and iron. It is one of the few plant proteins that is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids.
Although nuts are not complete proteins, they are a great way to boost overall protein intake and once they are combined with other foods as part of a meal or snack, you will create a complete protein. The most protein-packed nuts include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews. Nuts are also packed with a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Most nuts contain heart-healthy ingredients including L-arginine, omega-3 fatty acids, and fibre. Nuts are a great addition to salads, yogurt, stir-fries, and even on their own paired with a fresh piece of fruit or whole grain crackers.
Chickpeas are a great source of fibre and protein which slow digestion to keep you feeling full. Chickpeas are one of the better sources of plant proteins because they contain 8/9 essential amino acids and once combined with other foods as part of a meal you will create a complete protein. Their unique taste and texture make them a great addition to soups, sandwiches, and salads. Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus so you might want to consider trying this tasty hummus recipe here on our blog Creamy Hummus Recipe.
Similar to nuts, seeds can easily be added to dishes including salads, smoothie bowls, and puddings. The most protein-packed proteins include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds. Hemp seeds and chia seeds contain complete proteins. Most other seeds are incomplete proteins so eat them with other foods as part of your meals and snacks to create a complete protein. Seeds also contain healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
New Plant-Based Protein Innovations
Mycoprotein is being advertised as the new plant-based meat replacement. It is a protein source made from a fungus called Fusarium venenatum. The fungus can be made into plant-based versions of fish sticks, chicken nuggets, meatballs, and other products. Depending on how the mycoprotein product is made, it may not be classified as vegan, as egg or milk is sometimes used for textural purposes. Mycoprotein is a complete protein and is high in fibre. It also uses less land and energy than normal meat production, so it’s better for the environment. One of the drawbacks is that it is not necessarily healthier than regular meat since it may be processed with high amounts of fat, sodium, and other additives.
The insect-based protein market has seen a significant increase in popularity in recent years. Although it is not technically plant-based, it is a sustainable option. Insect consumption is nothing new, but consumers have found it unappealing and off-putting. Researchers and scientists have been trying to find ways to incorporate insects into unrecognizable products. The most popular forms include powders which can be added to an array of products including energy bars, protein drinks, and burgers. Nutritional value can vary depending on the type of insect, but researchers agree that insects are great sources of protein, vitamins, and fat. Certain insects are complete proteins, including certain cricket species.
Eggs are a staple in most households and scientists have found a way to offer them to plant-based individuals. Many people are turning to plant-based eggs for environmental, ethical, allergy or other reasons. The exact ingredients of the egg substitute vary depending on the company. Just Egg is one of the most popular companies, which uses water, mung bean protein isolate, canola oil, and a few other ingredients for texture. The nutrition value compared to a normal egg is fairly similar (although, a normal egg has more cholesterol, but less sodium than Just Egg. Just Egg may resemble scrambled eggs in the pan, they do indeed have a different flavor profile that some people don’t mind, while others find unpalatable.
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