When you hear the word “protein” most people think: meat and dairy. Most of us have been conditioned to equate protein with animal-based food. But the myth that plant–based protein sources are high in carbs, can’t build muscle, and are of low quality are just fallacies that float around nutrition circles. Especially in circles of healthcare professionals and dietitians in rehabiltation centers who are still animal protein-obsessed, and advice people with spinal cord injury to eat mountains of chicken, beef, fish and yogurt to make sure they’re getting enough of it. “Essential for recovery, minimizing muscle loss and wound healing”, they say to this day. But, is this actually true?
People with SCI are brainwashed into believing that animal proteins are a vital part of their diet, because they are essential for recovery, minimizing muscle loss and wound healing. But, is this actually true?
The answer is: NO. You don’t need meat, fish and dairy as a wheelchair user. This is complete outdated information and if a dietician tells you this, it’s in fact even harmful advice. Incorrectly suggesting and advising that people with spinal cord injury should eat animal protein because otherwise they lack nutrients, encourages them to add foods to their diet that – proven- contribute to just about everything that wheelchair users already have such a high risk of: overweight / obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer, (Weisburger J. Eat to live, not live to eat. Nutrition. 2000; 16: 767–773) while plant proteins have shown significant protective effects (Mingyang Song, MD et al. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA. Oct. 2016). Plant based proteins have far more benefits for wheelchair users than animal proteins – like fiber and a complete package of vitamins and antioxidants; all things that meat doesn’t contain.
Incorrectly suggesting that people with spinal cord injury should eat animal protein because otherwise they lack nutrients, encourages them to add foods to their diet that – proven- contribute to just about everything that wheelchair users already have such a high risk of: obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer.
And … protein deficiency? According to research, most people even consume 70% more protein than they need. And if you eat enough (whole food plant based food) throughout the day, a protein deficiency is impossible. All these misconceptions were refuted decades ago. The renowned doctor, nutritionist and scientist Dr. John McDougall says: “Yet many people in the medical field and dietetics apparently completely missed this message. “In fact, it is practically impossible to come up with even a diet that contains sufficient calories but a shortage of proteins. So don’t worry and don’t be scared: plant-based proteins can provide all the essential amino acids. And no, those proteins do not all have to be on your plate at once, and there is no need to combine proteins”. (McDougall J. Circulation, June 2002).
In addition, our body has ‘pools’ of free amino acids, which it can use to do all the complementary work for us, not to mention the enormous protein recycling program that our body has. Approximately 90 grams of protein is dumped daily from one’s own body into the digestive tract to be broken down and reassembled. (H.N. MUNRO. Mammalian Protein Metabolism, Chapter 34) So your body can “mix and match” amino acids to any amount you need – whatever you eat. This makes it practically impossible to even think of a plant based diet that contains enough calories, but has a protein shortage.
A varied plant-based diet of whole grains (like quinoa, amarant, buckwheat, brown or black/purple rice), vegetables, and beans can easily meet your daily protein needs, without the risks of animal products.
Did you know that at least 14% of the total calories of every plant are protein? Or that quinoa, hempseeds, tofu and tempé, spirulina and chlorella offer all 8 essential amino acids? And that a cup of cooked oatmeal offers as much protein as an egg, and per calorie, spinach is about equal to chicken and fish?Vegetables are just as veritable a source of protein as animals. A varied plant-based diet of whole grains (like quinoa, amarant, buckwheat, black rice), vegetables, and beans can easily meet your daily protein needs, without the risks of animal products.
My top 10 plant based proteins:
1. Hemp seeds: all 8 amino acids
Absolutely a protein hit. Hemp seed contains all eight essential amino acids. So there are indeed plant products that they contain all eight. Hemp seed also contains the healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and it is also tasty and easy to use. Make vegetable milk with it, sprinkle it over salads, incorporate into dressings, sprinkle over soups or use it in your smoothies or oatmeal breakfast. Do not heat hemp seeds above 40 degrees, because heating will destroy the valuable omga-3 fatty acids. 3 tablespoons of hemp seed contains approximately 10 grams of protein.
2. Quinoa: all 8 amino acids
Quinoa is a true “protein powerhouse”, it is a seed, but it is used as grain. It is therefore also called a “pseudo-grain”. It is gluten-free and quinoa also contains all eight essential amino acids. It is super easy to use: just wash well with a strainer, set in 2 times the amount of water and let it boil for 10 minutes. Then remove the lid, stir and let stand for a while. I make it in larger quantities so that I have the day after or I freeze a container. I use it as rice, as a basis for cold salads, make muffins or stuffed peppers with it, but also often use it as porridge in the morning instead of oatmeal with blueberries and nuts. It has a neutral taste. Quinoa contains 8 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Many people do not know that vegetables are also a source of proteins. Well they ARE and you can eat a lot of it. An avocado contains about 4 grams of protein and 250 grams of broccoli 8 grams, 250 grams of asparagus contains about 5 grams of protein and 250 grams of Brussels sprouts about 7 grams. Eat 5 ounces of vegetables a day and there is a good chance that you have nevertheless received 20 grams of protein.
4. Beans and legumes
The best suppliers of proteins are green peas, split peas, kidney beans, mung beans and Borlotti beans, with around 24 grams of protein per 100 grams. I also use chickpeas (9 grams of protein per 100 grams) and lentils (6 grams of proteins per 100 grams) for the variation. Beans are a diabetes super food. They are low on the glycemic index and can help manage blood sugar levels better than many other starchy foods. Beans also contain protein and fiber, making them a healthy component to every meal. Combine them with red / purple rice or quinoa or make it into burgers or use them cold in salads. Beans are incredibly versatile. You can even make muffins and chocolate cakes with them!
5. Soy and tempé: all 8 amino acids
Soy and tempeh actually belong to the beans. Tempeh is fermented soy and also contains all eight amino acids. Thanks to the fermentation process, it contains good bacteria for your intestinal flora and can help you to better your hormone balance, because it contains lignans that have a positive influence on your estrogen levels during menopause. Do use organic tempeh so that you are sure that you do not have a GMO soy. You can use it as a meat substitute in salads, stir-fries and sauces. Very versatile. 100 grams of tempé contains 12 grams of protein.
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pistachios contain not only many minerals, vitamin E and healthy fats, but also plenty of protein. Note: this only applies to the unroasted nuts. They contain between 15-20 grams of protein per 100 grams. I use them in homemade nut milk, in salads, homemade muesli, in my oatmeal porridge and in snacks and homemade nut-fruit bars and cookies.
7. Seeds and pits
Even more protein beauties: chia seed, linseed and pumpkin seeds. Per 100 grams around 25 grams of protein. Use them in your homemade “muesli” over vegetable yogurt (coconut yogurt for example, very tasty) or oatmeal porridge breakfast, sprinkle over salads, use them in green smoothies, baking and desserts.
8. Spirulina: all 8 amino acids
Spirulina is an algae. In dried form, spirulina is 70% protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. You can’t get a better source. It is for sale in powder form but I use it in tablets myself because I don’t like it in my smoothies.
9. Chlorella: all 8 amino acids
Chlorella is also an algae. It is a green, single-celled freshwater algae and also offers high-quality protein. With 3 teaspoons of chlorella per day (stir through a smoothie or a plate of porridge or fruit or vegetable juice) you already have 6 grams of protein inside, and of high quality. It is an incredible superfood for wheelchair users. The algae has a mild laxative effect and is very effective against constipation and can be used as a good replacement for traditional pharmaceutical laxatives, also because this algae also has so many more health benefits.
Chlorella contains the largest amount of chlorophyll of all food products. Chlorophyll can help purifying your blood, and keep your digestive organs, including your intestines, healthy and support your liver and kidneys. It helps to restore your intestinal flora. Very important. Remember that your gut microbiome is crucial for your health.
10. Nutritional yeast
Have you ever heard of nutritional yeast? I use it A LOT because it is so incredibly easy to use and so delicious. Nutritional yeast tastes a bit like grated cheese, I often make vegan parmesan with it (see page 171 of The Sit Smart Diet). Every 10 grams contains no less than five grams of protein in nutritional yeast flakes. Two tablespoons is about ten grams and you can sprinkle this over your salad, soup or stir-fry vegetables, or whatever you would sprinkle cheese on. In addition, it contains plenty of B vitamins.
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