Packing enough protein into a plant-based diet is often considered a challenge for those who don’t know better. But it turns out that plant and animal proteins contain 22 amino acids that are said to be structurally equal aside from the simple fact that one comes from an animal and one comes from a plant.
The benefits of consuming plant-based proteins are numerous, ranging from increased fiber intake to an ample supply of antioxidants and phytonutrients, all leading to overall improved health. Strictly plant-based eaters brag about superficial benefits too, like clear and glowing skin and improved mood and energy.
Even if you do choose to eat meat, it’s been proven beneficial to lean heavily on plants as do those following a flexitarian or reducetarian diet, so go ahead and put Meatless Monday on your calendar.
While vegan or plant-based eating is generally low-calorie and found to be sufficient in supporting excess weight loss, special efforts should be made to ensure that vitamins like B12, calcium, iron, and zinc are incorporated.
You can make sure to get enough B12 by eating fortified foods or taking supplements daily, while calcium, iron, and zinc can come from soy and other beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s, can be consumed in leafy greens, beans, seeds, and hard winter squashes.
Medical evidence has shown that maintaining a well-balanced vegan diet improves kidney function and blood sugar levels while decreasing blood pressure, risk of heart disease, and certain cancers.
Documentary films like Forks Over Knives (Monica Beach Media, 2011) have even demonstrated how vegan diets can reverse critical conditions in patients with type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
By eating more plants, you may be able to effectively reduce your carbon and water footprints.
The EPA reports that 9% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, a third of which comes from methane produced by livestock. And it’s estimated that it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef.
Your dependency and contribution to such outputs is zero if you avoid them.
KEEPING IT LOCAL
Our year-round access to fresh vegetables and fruits doesn’t necessarily mean there is an abundance of protein-dense vegetable crops like grains, beans, and nuts cultivated locally. But many of these crops are sourced easily from Central Valley growers, like Hopkins AG, beloved at local farmers’ markets for their nonpareil supreme unpasteurized almonds grown on 3,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley.
If you’re interested in growing your own plant proteins, might we suggest fava and garbanzo beans: Not only do they look lovely in a garden, they also dehydrate and store well.
Like other legumes, they’re nitrogen correctors and are said to flourish for home growers in the region. If you’re putting beans in your garden for the first time or you’re having growing difficulties, check out Joyce Gemmell’s Veggie Guide on the San Diego Master Gardener Association website for tips. Prime planting season starts in April.
Specialty Produce is a great place to buy California-grown quinoa and rice. For locally made tofu, look out for the good stuff made by San Diego Soy Dairy at local grocers including Jimbo’s Naturally locations, Sprouts, Frazier Farms Markets, the Cardiff Seaside Market, and Boney’s in Coronado.
The California Connection
Tempeh was first made in the US by Mary Otten, who brought a recipe to make the highly nutritious fermented soy product with her after immigrating from Indonesia to the Bay Area during World War II. The caterer started making tempeh in her basement with her daughter in 1961, and it gained popularity at Bay Area health food stores in the form of ready-to-eat Indonesian dishes like Sayur Lodeh Tempeh and Sambal Goreng Tempeh.
We have a great recipe for tempeh spring rolls and, as with almost any tempeh recipe, feel free to swap in tofu if you prefer the texture.