20 April, 2023
A plant-based diet, or one that is predominantly plant-based, is becoming increasingly common. Typically this involves fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds while reducing or entirely avoiding animal-based products.
Health Benefits of Plant-Based Diet
As well as ethical and environmental reasons, there are numerous benefits of a plant-based diet. These include:
- Lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers
- Body weight management
- Improved gut microbiota due to generally higher fibre intake & increased variety of plant-based foods
- Reduced inflammation
- Rich in vitamins & minerals to support overall wellbeing
However, we note that often due to food intolerances, personal preferences or lack of understanding, many people eat a limited range of plant foods. You may not realise that a healthy plant-based diet should consist of certain combinations to access all the essential amino acids to create complete proteins.
What are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein is widely used throughout the body. Muscles, connective tissue, skin, hair, teeth, hormones, neurotransmitters, digestive enzymes, immune factors, haemoglobin (to carry oxygen in your blood), and much more.
Essential amino acids are not made within the body. They must be eaten in our diet or from supplements. This include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
What's a Complete Protein?
A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids. Examples of complete proteins include:
- Soy products
Combining Foods to Eat Complete Proteins
Eating a combination of protein sources together, can give you all nine essential amino acids. This is called complementary proteins.
These are three ways to combine plant-based foods to get complete proteins:
- Legumes and Grains: Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas are high in protein but often lack methionine. Grains like rice, quinoa, and whole wheat are low in methionine but high in lysine. Combining legumes with grains provides a complete protein source. Examples of legume-grain combinations include black beans and rice, lentil soup with whole-grain bread, and split pea soup with cornbread.
- Legumes and Nuts/Seeds: Nuts and seeds are rich in protein, but they are often low in lysine. Legumes, on the other hand, are abundant in lysine but lack some other essential amino acids. By pairing legumes with nuts or seeds, you can create a complete protein. Some legume-nut/seed combinations are hummus with sesame seeds (tahini), lentil salad with sunflower seeds, and black bean tacos with avocado and pumpkin seeds.
- Eat a Variety of Protein Sources: While combining plant-based foods can provide complete proteins, it's also essential to eat a variety of protein sources to get all the necessary amino acids. Some examples of plant-based proteins include tofu, tempeh, seitan, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
So how is this important from a Chinese Medicine point of view?
The most basic rationale is to ensure that you are providing your body with a basic resources to enable the production of Qi, one of its most commonly known aspect is the energy radiating around the body.
Qi is written as 氣. The character is made up of two parts: 气 (directly translated as air), and 米 (rice grain). The “rice grain” character depicts the physical nourishment aspect of Qi – both in production of Qi, as well as Qi to nourish our body through its various forms and activities.
So, it is imperative that our diet is able to provide for our body’s requirements as fuel for daily activities, and our body’s requirement for growth and repair.
- Essential amino acids must be consumed, they cannot be made in the body
- Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids
- Complementary protein sources include legumes & grains
- Complete protein sources are important for Qi production
About the Author
Dr Chee Yeoh - Acupuncturist & Chinese Medicine Doctor
Dr Chee is a talented and caring Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practitioner. Understanding that health is more than just needles, she will work with you to transfer your lifestyle according to your needs and Qi patterns. She sees chronic illness, fertility & pregnancy, aches & pains, digestive issues and mental health complaints.