Food Pharmacy, Therese Elgquist

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Plant-Based Protein (part 2)

A few weeks ago we kicked off our new blog series on plant-based protein. Ringing any bells? Therese Elgquist, our admired blog-chef and protein expert, is taking the wheel again today for part two. If you missed part one, click here.

What is protein?

As you may already know, we are made up of an incredible amount of cells that build up everything from skin to muscles and organs. Protein is the body’s building blocks and its primary purpose is to repair and build all of our cells, a job that is constantly going on throughout the entire body. In addition, protein is involved in other bodily functions, such as our hormone system, functioning as enzymes and is needed for a healthy immune system. As you can see, this is important stuff and has a deep impact on the well-being of the body. It involves much much more than just achieving big pumping muscles.

Since exercise and protein is often a focal point for many questions, I’ll dive right into that and go a little deeper. Protein, as mentioned, is needed to repair and build muscles. Since exercise, of all different forms, breaks down muscle cells, extra protein is then needed to repair and strengthen. If you work-out a lot, you typically get an increase in muscle mass which – quite logically – means a higher turnover of muscular cells. Often, you will feel more hunger, which leads you to eat more, thus increasing your food intake – and consequently, protein. So that piece solves itself completely naturally. Nice, right?!

Animal vs. plant-based protein

Where do we find this vital protein then? Oddly enough protein exist, in a variety of sizes, in more or less everything we eat – yeah, everything from avocado to lentils (truly a wonderment how INCREDIBLY smart life on this planet is!). Here comes a short protein school – join me!

Protein is made up of 20 different so-called amino acids (imagine letters being put together to build a word – an amino acid is a bit like a letter). 9 of these 20 amino acids can not be created by our bodies themselves, we must therefore get them through the food we eat. These 9 are called essential amino acids. In animal protein (e.g., protein from meat, bird, fish, shellfish and dairy) we find all the essential amino acids, that is the 9 we have to get through food. It is usually called a complete protein. Here in lies some differences with plant-based protein sources.

In many plants all 9 essential amino acids are not sufficiently present in one and the same protein to be considered as complete. BUT (and this is important to understand), these 9 amino acids are distributed in a variety of vegetables, and when we eat a large and varied intake of plant-based foods, these vital essential amino acids – simply explained – accumulate together.

Examples of types of plant-based protein that together become complete are cereals (e.g., oats or rice) and legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas). It was previously believed that the different proteins needed to be eaten during the same meal, but today it is known that it’s enough for them to be consumed during the same day. The body takes care of the rest on its own!

With this method, protein from plant-based sources can also be complete! And there is a whole world of plant-based, natural foods that contain all the protein we need.

Protein highlights

  • Protein is made up of amino acids in a specific order.
  • A protein that contains all the amino acids we need to consume via food, in sufficient quantity, is called a complete protein. Plant-based protein can be complete when we combine different types of plant-based proteins throughout the same day.
  • Buckwheat, hemp, soy and quinoa are examples of plant-based foods that are complete protein sources on their own.
  • Having an dietary intake that meets your energy requirements is necessary to enabling your body’s use of protein as its building blocks, in short this means, you eat enough calories per day. If you have a deficit, the protein is used as energy instead of, for example, building and repairing cells.


In Part 3, Therese gives more plant-based protein recommendations.

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