If you thought protein only came from a non-vegetarian diet, here's some news for you
Did you know that haemoglobin, a primary carrier of oxygen in the blood, is in fact a protein? While we may have a basic knowledge of what protein is, and how important it is for a balanced diet, how well do we truly understand its role in our keeping our body fit?
Protein comprises long chains of amino acids, and is also crucial to our body’s growth, strength, and its recovery. It can be structural (like collagen), or hormonal (like insulin), and can also operate as a carrier (like haemoglobin) or enzymes, which are catalysts and allow our bodies to generate chemical reactions and stimuli to our surroundings. Protein can also act as a neurotransmitter. Aesthetically, it is also vital for the development of our muscles, skin, bones, and hair, hence constituting an indispensable component of our healthy diet. The recommended daily intake, or Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of protein is 0.8 gm per kg of our body weight. This amounts to 56 gm per day for an average adult man, and 46 gm per day for the average adult woman. For a good health and to meet daily intake, only about one calorie out of every 10 we consume, needs to come from protein. A plant-based diet comprising vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds can easily fit in to meet our protein requirements. Most of these food groups are protein-rich and can adequately meet the suggested intake.
Why do we often believe that vegetarians are not lucky enough to get protein as the non-vegetarians? Why do we assume that a plant-based diet would fail us in that requirement?
A good plant-based diet can provide multiple health benefits such as:
3/4 – 1/2 lower rates of high blood pressure
2/3 lower risk of type-2 diabetes
15–20% lower risk of cancer
Significantly lower cholesterol levels
A balanced intake of protein-rich foods such as kidney beans and soy meats, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, tempeh, tofu, peanuts, and soymilk can help an individual to be healthy enough to thrive on a plant-based lifestyle. An informed approach to veganism can help one tackle obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases, and can impart more antioxidants and fibre, than a standard unregulated diet. Replacing meat, dairy, and eggs with plant-based proteins even once a week can aid prevention or reverse chronic health conditions.
Athletes normally require more proteins than the sedentary people. There is, however, no evidence that they require a higher percentage of protein in comparison with other macronutrients in their diet to boost their performance level. In other words, most athletes just need to eat more food. Protein requirement for athletes seldom varies on the kind of sports they play. Normally, for a kg of body weight 1.2 gm of protein is generally recommended (up from typical 0.8 gm protein/kg body weight), and even up to 2.0 grams for individuals participating in certain events.
Consuming plant-based food is not only beneficial to an individual’s health, but also to our environment. It could save uncountable animals from being butchered for their meat supplied for commercial purposes.
More than 80.3 billion land animals are raised and slaughtered for food all across the globe each year to feed 7.8 billion people. This implies almost 10 animals killed each year, and that’s excluding the sea animals consumed every year. In totality, close to 1.1 million animals are killed for food every single hour. By adopting a plant-based diet and saying no to meat, we could put an end to the gruesome practice of animal slaughtering.
Animal agriculture also contributes to human-made greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water pollution, and air pollution. Livestock factories result in almost 15% of global greenhouse emissions. These factories also use enormous quantities of water, thus dispensing dirty water that pollutes clean waterways and systems.
Fun Fact: While production of 1 kg of chicken would consume close to 4325 litres of water, the production of 1 kg of cereals would consume only 1644 litres in comparison. What we consume and what we produce, directly or indirectly has an impact on the way in which we utilize our resources. and affect the global environment.
All in all, a plant-based diet can change your health for the better, and also help improve the condition of animals and habitats suffering from cruel treatment, abuse, pollution, and environmental change around the world.
(The authors are Co-founders of Ahimsa Trust that runs a campaign ‘Plants Are Power’ that advocates the benefit of plant-based living for human, animal and environmental health.)