Plant-based Protein: The Future of Food
The Earth’s population is increasing at an average rate of 1.3% annually, and the population is estimated to reach a daunting 10 billion by the year 2060.1 Food security is sure to be an issue if we don’t think about future generations today. It is generally accepted that animal-based proteins and their food products produce higher levels of greenhouse gases than their plant counterparts do. An astounding 12% of greenhouse gases produced are derived from livestock production. As a result of our increasing desire for animal proteins, a jaw-dropping 30% of terrestrial biodiversity has been lost.2 Much of our agriculture is going to feed these animals. It is estimated that 10lbs of plant material is needed to produce 1lbs of animal protein straining our food supply chain, water resources, and our land. Animal protein production contributes significantly to the declining biodiversity, increasing greenhouse gases, water pollution, soil pollution, and nutrient depletion, increasing global political problems, and the declining overall health of the Earth and its inhabitants.2, 3 This is not sustainable.
Why Plant-based Protein is Better?
Plant proteins and vegetarian diets are becoming more popular. We see more Canadians choosing to consume fewer animal-based products and change to a more plant-forward diet.4 There are health benefits to eating a more plant-forward diet such as the decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, decreased cholesterol, cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate, and lower risk of diabetes. Plant-forward diets are higher in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and can increase satiety which supports weight management.4 This rising trend of plant-forward diets benefits both our health and planetary wellness. So, what’s the downside?
Plant vs. Animal Protein
Animal and plant proteins are made of the same building blocks called amino acids. The composition of these amino acids that make up each source of protein is what sets these apart. There are 9 essential amino acids that our bodies are not capable of making so we must get them from our diet. When considering the quality of protein and amino acid composition, animal protein is considered a ‘favorable’ protein source because it contains all essential amino acids in ratios required by our bodies. It was found that isolated plant protein fell short when compared to animal protein.5 The amino acid ratios were ‘not favorable’ in isolated plant protein sources such as pea, quinoa, potato, and many legumes. As an example, legumes were notably rich in lysine but were lacking sulfur-containing amino acids, whereas, grains were good sources of sulfur-containing amino acids but lacked lysine. However, consuming these two foods in combination provides a more complete protein that is of comparable nutrient caliber as animal proteins. This allows us to meet our daily recommended intake of essential amino acids.5 Knowing how to combine plant-sourced foods is essential to maintaining a healthy plant-forward diet. Consuming a diverse variety of plant-based, unprocessed, whole foods is a great place to start.
Plant-based Protein Powder
Given that animal protein is calorically denser than plant-derived protein, a greater overall caloric intake is needed to meet our body’s energetic and protein needs.5 Plant-based protein powders are an easy and great addition to ensure you are getting enough protein in your busy day while providing you with a high nutritional value. There is a plethora of varieties on the market and a discussion with your healthcare practitioner can help you decipher which product is right for you. Some popular brands include Botanica, Iron Vegan, Genuine Health, and Vega. Outcast is a protein company that advocates for sustainability through upcycling. They derive their protein from healthy fruits and vegetables that are esthetically unacceptable for grocers. This helps decrease food insecurity and lowers the carbon footprint of the food supply chain.
Plant-based Protein Benefits
Proteins are necessary to maintain lean muscle mass, neurological and immunological function, optimal bone density, tissue repair, and so many other processes. We must get adequate protein to live, and we must do it in a manner that permits Earth to thrive. Switching to a plant-forward diet may seem daunting but the health of our Earth is depending on us. Even a small reduction in animal product consumption helps. Start by trying to make one day a week dedicated to plant-based meals. Together, we have so much to gain and nothing to lose by trying.
- Worldometer, World Population Projections. World meter. Available at: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-projections/ [Accessed February 3, 2022].
- Westhoek and Colleagues. Available online: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/animalwelfare/Protein_Puzzle_web_1.pdf(accessed on 17 July 2017)
- Tergesen, J.F., 2010. Sustainability points to plant proteins. IFT. Available at: https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2010/november/columns/perspective#:~:text=Plant%20protein%20production%2C%20on%20the,land%20usage%2C%20and%20water%20consumption.&text=The%20physical%20health%20benefits%20of,our%20risk%20for%20heart%20disease. [Accessed February 2, 2022].
- Henchion M, Hayes M, Mullen A, Fenelon M, Tiwari B. Future Protein Supply and Demand: Strategies and Factors Influencing a Sustainable Equilibrium. Foods. 2017;6(7):53. doi:10.3390/foods6070053.
- Hertzler SR, Lieblein-Boff JC, Weiler M, Allgeier C. Plant Proteins: Assessing Their Nutritional Quality and Effects on Health and Physical Function. Nutrients. 2020;12(12):3704. doi:10.3390/nu12123704.