Vegan diets do not contain any animals or fishes and unlike vegetarians there are also no animal-related sources, including: eggs or dairy products such as milk and butter. The exclusion of meat, fish and dairy in a vegan diet means that many of the more common sources of protein are missing.
Proteins are a fundamental part of the human diet and are essential for all the main physiological processes of life. Proteins are nitrogen-containing substances that are composed of amino acid chains.
When protein is consumed, the human body metabolizes it back into its simplest form: amino acids. After the ingestion, the Amino acids can then be reused to synthesize other more functional proteins necessary for the body. Examples of such necessary key proteins in the human body are:
- Myoglobin is a major structural protein in muscles
- Hemoglobin carries oxygen in red blood cells
- The insulin hormone regulates glucose metabolism
- Pepsin is an important digestive enzyme in the gut
- Collagen is a fibrous protein that gives skin its elasticity
- Antibodies are proteins that recognize and destroy foreign pathogens
Proteins are important nutrients that provide the human body with amino acids. There are a total of 20 amino acids: eight are classed as essential and twelve as non-essential. Humans must obtain the eight essential amino acids from their diet because the human body cannot biosynthesize them.
Common dietary sources of protein include plants, meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, legumes, and nuts. However, vegetable or non-animal derived protein sources generally lack one or more of these key essential amino acids.
Therefore, vegans and vegetarians face a greater challenge to meet their dietary protein needs compared to omnivores. So, although these diets are popular for their favorable health consequences, restrictive diets can have nutritional limitations.
Many vegans therefore have concerns over the completeness of their diet with deficiencies in protein, minerals (such as calcium and iron) and vitamins(such as vitamin D3 and vitamin B 12) all possibly being under-represented.
In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide some of these important nutrients, however, many vegans will decide to supplement with some form of plant protein powder to meet recommended daily guidelines.
Vegan Diet Health Benefits
Studies show that people on a vegan diet have the following favorable health benefits:
- Lower risk of developing metabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes and obesity
- Lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and atherosclerosis
- Lower blood pressure and lower circulating cholesterol levels
- Vegans have generally a lower body mass index
- Lower risk of all-cause cancer rates, particularly for colon, gastrointestinal, and prostrate cancer
Vegan Protein Supplement Health Benefits
Research into protein-supplemented diets is generally focused on studying the athletic population rather than the general population. This is because athletes have a greater demand for protein to maintain optimal physical performance.
As well as the greater protein demand, athletes take protein supplements as they offer a fast and convenient option to assist in meeting their daily protein targets.
However, the general population can also supplement with protein powders to enhance weight reduction for those who are overweight or obese. This is because using proteins as a meal replacement is associated with an overall reduced caloric consumption.
Specific health benefits of maintaining a vegan lifestyle and consuming vegan protein powders include:
- Cardiovascular health improvements: plant-based diets are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat
- Joint health improvements: consuming dairy and meat products are associated with increased biomarkers of inflammation
The most used vegan protein sources are pea prtein, hemp protein, rice protein and soy protein.
1. Pea Protein
The amino acid composition of proteins play a key role in determining how well the body utilizes it. A complete protein profile describes a protein that has an adequate representation of all eight of the essential amino acids necessary for humans.
Pea protein is described as a complete protein as it has an amino acid profile that includes all eight essential amino acids in adequate quantities. Pea protein also has a high concentration of the branched amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—which are known to heavily favor muscle protein synthesis.
Studies show that bodybuilders that supplement with pea protein powder, in association with resistance training, can achieve significant gains in muscle mass and muscle thickness. Therefore pea protein powders also offer a viable alternative to whey protein for bodybuilders, athletes and sportsmen and women.
2. Rice Protein
Vegan rice protein supplements contain a rice protein isolate that offer an alternative source of protein that can be used in smoothies or protein shakes. It is often found as a blend with other vegan protein powders, such as pea protein.
Rice protein has most of the essential amino acids represented, but does have relatively low amounts of some (leucine, lysine, and threonine) yet relatively high levels of other essential amino acids (phenylalanine, histidine and methionine).
Vegan rice protein supplements have been shown to be comparable to whey protein when taken as a post-exercise supplement with improvements in short-term recovery after intense bouts of exercise.
Rice protein also has similar positive effects on training-induced adaptations—in some cases as much as whey protein—including skeletal muscle hypertrophy, lean body mass, and power and strength gains.
3. Hemp Protein
Hemp refers to products made from the cannabis plant and historically has been an important agricultural crop, because it can be used as a source of food and fibre. Hemp protein products have no THC (the chemical present in marijuana). Therefore, hemp protein powders do not possess any psychotropic action.
Isolates of hemp seed protein are highly digestible and therefore offer a great source of bioavailable protein. Studies show that hemp protein do also have moderate antioxidant effects, which may therefore offer antihypertensive and antirthombotic properties.
Hemp protein is not considered to have a complete amino acid profile due to the low levels of the essential amino acid, lysine. Therefore many hemp protein supplements are combined with other protein sources to complete the essential amino acid profile. However, hemp protein also has the added benefit of being higher in fiber compared to other protein sources.
4. Soy Protein
The soybean is currently the most widely used and most researched plant-based source of protein. The soybean is a legume and is a nutritional and dietary staple in China and other Far East Asian countries.
Populations that have a high dietary intake of soy protein have been shown to have lower incidences of some cancers, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Soy may also be particularly beneficial for women as it contains high quantities of bioactive phytoestrogen, which can bind to estrogen receptors and potentially reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Who Should Use Vegan Protein?Vegan protein supplements can be part of a healthy lifestyle whether you are a
- Anyone wanting to make the switch to a vegan diet for health and lifestyle reasons
- Vegan bodybuilders
- Vegan endurance athletes
- Vegan sportsmen and women
Vegan Protein Combinations
To get a complete amino acid profile from non-animal protein sources requires eating a range of fruit and vegetables. This is also why vegan protein powders often come as mixed or blends of two or more different protein powders.
Therefore it is ideal to mix rice protein, hemp protein and pea protein together. Or you can mix nuts, seeds and legumes to compliment vegan protein powders.
Vegan Protein Dosage
Dosage of vegan protein powders should be approximately 0.8 gram per kilogram of bodyweight. For athletic individuals who have a greater protein requirement, 1.2 to 2.0 gram per kilogram of bodyweight is sufficient.
Foods Highest in Vegan Protein
Nuts, legumes and seeds have the highest content of vegan protein.
Why Take Vegan Protein?Vegan protein supplements allow you to support a healthy plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle with the following benefits:
- Optimize the intake of high quality vegan protein
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Improve digestive health
- Agricultural sustainability
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