Vegetable proteins, how to integrate them in the diet

First we need to understand what is a protein and where we can get these essential elements for our daily diet.

Proteins are biological polymers, i.e. molecules composed of amino acids bound together and which can form many types of proteins, even large ones with different specific activities for the functionality of our body.

Some proteins are necessary for the structure of the body to create tissues, tendons and even hair. Other proteins serve for contractility such as myosin and actin in the muscles or serve for the reserve of energy such as ovalbumin which is present in the white part of the egg.

Other proteins are specific for the defense of our body such as antibodies or are proteins used for transport as in the case ofhemoglobin in the blood.

Finally there are regulatory proteins such as hormones and enzymes themselves are proteins capable of catalyzing chemical functions that happen in our body.

These proteins are all made up of agglomerates of amino acids. These amino acids are the basic building blocks for making proteins and are chemically formed by an amino and a carboxy group. Without going into too much detail, we can say that there are 20 different types of these bricks and that 8 of them are indispensable and cannot be produced independently in our body so we need to integrate them through the foods we eat.

The 8 essential amino acids are phenylalanine, isoleucine, valine, leucine, lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine and histidine. These amino acids they must therefore be taken in our diet so that it is balanced and does not lead to nutritional deficiencies.


Plant foods rich in proteins

In plant foods we have a wide range of foods rich in proteins or better in simple amino acids so it will be enough to have a good variety of plant foods to avoid any nutritional deficiency problems.


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Legumes and cereals
The plant foods that contain the most proteins and amino acids are legumes. In particular, beans in their infinite varieties but also chickpeas, lentils, peas, green beans, cicerchie, lupins and broad beans.

On the other hand, legumes such as the yellow soy but also mugo bean and red soy, tempeh and tofu. All these legumes and their derivative products are an excellent vegetable source of protein that we can include in our diet. 

Legumes can be included in the diet several times a week and are often recommended along with grains which are another protein source. Pasta and beans or the classic rice and peas are simple examples of a balanced food combination from a protein point of view.

In fact, in legumes the two essential amino acids - methionine and cysteine ​​- are deficient while all the other amino acids are present, including tryptophan and lysine. On the contrary, in cereals we find methionine and cysteine ​​but we have a lack of tryptophan and lysine. Through the association of legumes and cereals we can obtain a perfect protein complementation which ensures the right supply of amino acids to our body. 

The choice of cereals must take place towards the consumption of a grain in whole or semi-integrated form, avoiding white flours instead and too refined products. Furthermore, it is essential to vary the type of cereal avoiding eating wheat every day but also choosing between rice, spelled, oats, corn, barley, and again amaranth, millet, quinoa and buckwheat.

These last 3 cereals are actually defined pseudocereals because botanically they do not belong to the family of grasses, i.e. real cereals, but nutritionally they are comparable to cereals having a biological value between 12 and 18%. However, all these cereals or pseudocereals have a great wealth of amino acids and are certainly to be included in our diet.


Seeds and dried fruit
Another excellent source of vegetable protein are the seeds like those of hemp, chia, pumpkin and sunflower but also oil seeds such as almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, Amazon nuts, etc.

All of these seeds contain more than 20% protein besides being excellent for the integration of vitamins, mineral salts and essential fatty acids. Indicatively, it is recommended to consume 10 to 20 g of seeds per day and their use in the kitchen is very versatile since they can be eaten as they are or prepared as energy bars for snacks, chopped in salads or fruit salads and even included in recipes. of sauces, gravies, desserts and yogurt.


Soy and seitan based products
La soy it is a legume that is widely used as a source of plant-based protein supplementation. Only many of the products processed, extracted and processed from yellow soy that are used and sold as replacement of foods of animal origin such as milk, yoghurt and cheeses.

In fact, from soy we get tempeh, tofu, soy yogurt, soy milk but also sauces and condiments such as tamari. For example, tofu has a protein content of 100% protein per 10 g of product and tempeh even reaches 20%. 

Yellow soy is thus another good source of plant protein whether it is consumed as a legume or as processed products from soy.
The only advice for using soy is to do not exceed in daily consumption given that this legume is a traditional product in the East while our body in the country may not recognize it well and also the excessive use of soy could lead to an excess of proteins and nitrogenous substances harmful to our body.

Seitan is another vegetable protein source that is highly recommended for integration in the diet especially for those who have chosen a vegetarian or vegan diet. Seitan is obtained from the processing of wheat through which the protein part of the wheat called gluten is extracted.

Subsequently the recipe foresees the flavoring with herbs, algae, aromas and cooking in soy sauce. The product obtained is therefore composed of gluten and contains approximately 35 g of vegetable protein per 100 g of product.

Its consistency is firm and the flavor can vary a lot depending on the recipes: it is highly appreciated as a meat substitute. It does not contain cholesterol, it is low in fat and its richness in protein is so high that it is still recommended to consume it a few times a week to avoid excess protein.


Other sources of vegetable protein
Other foods that contain good amounts of vegetable proteins and amino acids are le apricots, raw spinach, kale and broccoli but also artichokes, peppers, asparagus, potatoes and avocado.

These foods can then in turn be associated with other protein sources and prepare recipes such as veggie burgers which are thus another excellent plant-based source of protein.

Spirulina algae is also an excellent amino acid supplement and is often recommended to cover the need for essential amino acids. Its name is Arthrospira platensis and it is usually sold as natural supplement in powder or capsule form but sometimes it is fresh.


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