Plant protein is the healthiest protein.
For a long time, we were told that ‘white meat’ is healthier than ‘red meat’ meaning chicken is healthier for you than beef.
A recent study shows that white meats are just as damaging as red meats to cholesterol levels. The study put groups of men and women on three different diets and measured their cholesterol levels.
The plant-based diet had the lowest cholesterol levels at the end of the study, whereas the chicken and beef diets had the same levels.
The researchers were able to conclude that plant-based diets are beneficial for lowering or preventing high cholesterol, but were unable to recommend chicken over beef since they had the same levels of cholesterol.
Aside from having no cholesterol, researchers think that plant-based protein sources have an additional benefit by providing vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Plant-based protein sources also have lower levels of saturated fats. Cholesterol and saturated fats are associated with higher levels of heart disease that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. So changing out your chicken for chickpeas and your beef for beans will make you healthier!
Harvard Health laid out the difference well:
“A 5-ounce steak has 300 calories, while a cup of pinto beans has 265. But the steak comes with 44 grams of protein, 120 milligrams of cholesterol, and 12 grams of fat, much of it saturated. In contrast, the beans contain 15 grams of protein, no cholesterol, and only 1 gram of fat, which is polyunsaturated. The steak has no carbohydrates and no fiber; the beans have 26 grams of complex carbohydrates and 15 grams of dietary fiber. The beans have more potassium and less sodium than the steak; the iron content of the two foods is identical, but your body is more efficient at absorbing iron from animal sources. Add the enormous price differential to your comparison and you’ll see that beans are a much better nutritional bargain than steak.”
Not only are beans healthier than beef, they are also much cheaper.
The most common complaints I hear about beans is that they don’t taste as good as a steak (and cause gas!). Cooking them with coconut milk and curry spices makes a delicious dish! Add in some greens for some extra iron and a squirt of lime juice on top to help improve iron absorption and serve over rice or with chapati/naan.
With regards to the potential increased gas, when your body isn’t used to having a lot of fiber, it can produce gas during digestion. It takes some time for your body to adjust, but as it does the amount of gas will reduce.
(An old nursery rhyme we used to sing as kids was “beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot, the more you toot, the better you feel, beans, beans, for every meal!” While not a fruit, their reputation as being a gas-producing food is well known! But I promise, the amount of gas will reduce the more you change your diet to be plant-focused or vegan!)
Plant proteins are found in so many foods. The highest levels are in legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, peas, soya), seeds and nuts, but there are many vegetables and even some fruits with relatively high levels of protein such as broccoli, spinach, bananas and guava.
Ali Kimbrel is a public health professional interested in improving health domestically and internationally, and is lead columnist for WEEKENDER’s “#MeatlessMonday” series. A self-described vegan, she is passionate about inspiring and educating people about plant-based diets and lifestyle.
Follow her for on Instagram for more tips and inspiration on being vegan in Rwanda.
[Featured photo by Carlos Sillero]