Step away from the steak and eggs, because the latest research is clear: Protein you grow is better for your body and health
By Christa Sgobba
If you’ve ever tried to follow a healthy diet, you know how important protein is. Not only does it aid your muscles in recovering from your workouts, but it can also help you curb your hunger and keep your weight-loss efforts in check.
You probably associate protein with foods like chicken, steak, milk, and yogurt. But you don’t need animal products to get your protein fix. There’s loads of protein in plant-based foods, too—and emerging research suggests these alternate sources might actually be your best option. This is why we pack every flavor of Kate Farms Komplete with at least 16 grams of plant-based protein.
In a 2016 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, Harvard scientists analyzed the food data and health records of more than 30,000 people and discovered that eating more plant-based protein was linked to a lower risk of early death over the 32-year follow-up. Plus, when the subjects swapped 3 percent of their calories from processed red meat for plant-based protein, their risk of death over the course of the study dropped by 34 percent.
Here are five more great reasons to fill your plate with plant-based protein.
1. “Incomplete” Proteins Don’t Matter As Much As You Think
You might have heard that plant proteins are considered incomplete. But what does that really mean?
A complete protein contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein that our bodies can’t produce on our own. Incomplete proteins either don’t have all nine amino acids, or enough quantities of each. Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are complete, while legumes, vegetables, nuts, and grains are incomplete.
But it turns out the line between complete and incomplete proteins isn’t black and white, says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N, author of The Plant Powered Diet. “We know that when you eat good balances of all of the essential amino acids over the course of a day, your body can store them. You do not need to consume them all at once.”
That means as long as you’re taking in a variety of plant-based protein, you’re likely hitting that essential mark. “If you eat a balanced diet with lots of types of plant proteins—beans, lentils, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds—you’ll gain those amino acids over the day,” Palmer says.
At Kate Farms, we eliminate the guesswork. We combine rice and pea protein, or add amino acids, to ensure all our products provide a complete protein profile.
2. Your Stomach Will Thank You
Dairy-based protein—whether it’s in a food like milk or cheese, or in powder form—can come with a not-so-pleasant side effect for many people: digestive problems.
“Dairy sensitivities are one of the most common categories of food allergies and sensitivities,” says Palmer.
In fact, about 65 percent of humans have a reduced ability to digest lactose—the sugar in milk and other dairy products—after infancy, according to the National Institutes of Health. This can cause symptoms like pain, bloating, excess gas, nausea, or diarrhea anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy.
So if you notice your stomach gurgling after drinking milk, you may want to consider plant-based, dairy-free options to get the protein you need.
3. You’ll Consume More Fiber
When you eat whole foods, the plant-based protein doesn’t travel alone. member of its entourage is fiber, which has been linked with just as many health benefits.
For example, in a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who consumed the most fiber were 37 percent less likely to die during a 9-year follow-up than those who ate the least.
The only problem? You’re probably not getting enough of it. Women should be taking in 25 grams of fiber a day, but most fall about 10 grams short, finds a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, the average man is consuming around 18 grams—half what’s recommended.
That’s where plant-based protein sources come in.
“One of the best benefits of consuming a plant-based diet is that it’s high in fiber,” says Palmer. “Fiber is only found in plant foods, and it’s especially high in pulses—like beans, lentils, peas—as well as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.”
Just what can fiber do for your health? For starters, Palmer says diets that are high in fiber can help your heart, reduce your risk of obesity, and prevent diabetes. Case in point: Replacing just 1 percent of your calories from animal protein with plant protein may reduce your diabetes risk, suggests new research out of Finland.
There are likely a couple explanations for the link, Palmer says, but fiber plays an important part. That’s because it helps manage your blood sugar response and reduce blood sugar spikes.
4. You’ll Fend Off Inflammation
Inflammation—an immune response that triggers an influx of white blood cell production—is an insidious factor behind a whole host of serious health conditions. Everything from heart disease to cognitive function to cancer can have an inflammatory component.
But eating a diet that’s high in plant-based foods can cut your risk of inflammation. In fact, when people in a Northern Arizona University study consumed a vegan diet for just 3 weeks, they significantly lowered their levels of a marker of inflammation called c-reactive protein (CRP).
“Plant foods are filled with thousands of compounds called phytochemicals,” says Palmer, “which possess anti-inflammatory activity and can reduce inflammation in the body.”
5. You’ll Take In More Healthy Fats
According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, no more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fats, which are found in animal protein sources like high-fat dairy, red meat, processed meat, and poultry skin, says Palmer.
That recommendation is based on evidence suggesting that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help your health. Enter—you guessed it—plant-based protein sources.
“Plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives are rich in unsaturated fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids,” says Palmer. “They also have a lot of omega-3s, which are linked with a reduced risk of heart disease.”
A 2015 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that replacing just 5 percent of your calorie intake from saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 25 percent and 15 percent, respectively.