Protein is needed for growth and can also be an energy source. Proteins perform many tasks in your body. All your body’s enzymes and also many hormones are proteins.
Varied choices of plant protein eaten throughout the day can easily supply the essential amino acids.¹ It is not necessary to plan combinations of foods to obtain enough protein or the right mix of amino acids (protein components) since a varied diet throughout the day will provide a good balance already. If you require any dietary advice, please consult a reputable (vegetarian) naturopath/dietitician or nutritionist.
And remember, every plant has some protein in it. It all adds up! If you’re eating enough calories on a reasonably varied diet, it would be hard to avoid consuming enough protein.
Soy products are especially good plant-based sources of protein, and contain all the essential amino acids.
It is important for vegetarians and vegans to obtain protein from a variety of sources. This should include legumes. Beans are not only excellent protein sources but also rich in fibre and micronutrients such as magnesium and potassium. They are filling, nutrient-dense, tasty and low in calories. They are inexpensive and easy to use. As a bonus, beans can even lower your cholesterol levels!
A tin of baked beans with wholemeal bread and some alfalfa sprouts makes a perfect lunch that will sustain you for hours!
There are a large selection of legumes available; soya beans, pinto beans, black-eyed, pink, navy, lima, haricot, kidney, red, great northern, chickpeas, split peas, lentils … Legumes have the ability to absorb nitrogen from the air through their root tubercles, with the aid of bacteria in the soil. The nitrogen is the basis for their high protein content. Mature legumes which are usually dried, have more protein than immature legumes such as garden peas.
There are a lot of great recipes using legumes and they’re not all with chilli! Using them as a staple in your diet is inexpensive, healthy and easy. We have tips below on how to soak and cook beans but you can also easily buy tinned beans and lentils, meaning that you can cut out the soaking steps in any recipe you find. Check out our bean recipes page and/or try our Home Tried Favourites recipe book which has plenty of great recipes, with additional cooking tips.
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water which helps remove the complex sugars that contribute to flatulence. Discard the soaking water and cook until tender in fresh water.
Some beans contain toxic substances but these are eliminated by correct simple cooking procedures. You may hear that beans contain hemaglutins (which can clump red blood cells) and trypsin inhibits (which retard growth) but this is not a concern when the beans are soaked and cooked until tender. Liken beans to potatoes; we were not meant to eat potatoes raw either – they can be poisonous raw, but nutritious cooked.
When buying legumes look for the brightness in colour, uniformity in size, and choose beans which do not have cracks. Dry beans store well for several months in containers; keep in a cool, dry place. Mixing new with old beans results in uneven cooking.
Cooked beans freeze very well for convenient future use. When you have time e.g. in a weekend, have a ‘bean day’. Cook a variety of beans which have been soaked overnight, and store in one cup lots in the freezer for the busy weeks ahead.
If you’re new to eating pulses, introduce them slowly in to your diet, and that way you’ll get all the benefits of the added fibre and protein without any drawbacks.
Worried about gas?
Flatulence come from two places: swallowed air (chewing gums, sucking hard candies, eating too fast, smoking, talking while eating etc.) and bacterial fermentation of undigested sugars in the bowel. Common culprits are dairy products, sorbitol and xylitol in sugar-free candies, fizzy drinks, cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, kale) and yes, beans.
The good news is that studies are showing that increased flatulence only happens in the first few weeks – after that our bodies adapt to digesting these nutritious foods.
Tips to reduce flatulence/discomfort
Download our new protein & iron pamphlet (contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you require posted pamphlets)
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Available online.
Greger, M (2011). Beans & Gas: Clearing the Air. Available at: https://nutritionfacts.org/2011/12/05/beans-and-gas-clearing-the-air/