With concerns for the environment and animal welfare growing, interest in plant-based protein is on the rise too. In response to the demand, a dizzying array of plant-based burgers and meat substitutes are flooding the market, including a burger that “bleeds” when you take a bite. No, that’s not actually blood – but beet juice.
As of now, you can only purchase this plant-based burger in certain restaurants but should eventually be available via other outlets. Although this may be the most realistic burger to reach the market, there’s no shortage of plant-based burgers made from soy, whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. Plus, you can even make your own. But why should you want to get more protein in your diet, particularly plant-based protein?
Plant-based Protein and Satiety
One reason people do better on a diet higher in protein is the satiety factor. Research shows that protein is the most satiating macronutrient. In other words, eating protein at every meal helps curb hunger and reduce calorie consumption later as well. Protein is also more complex than carbohydrates or fat and requires more energy for your body to break down. That means protein boosts the “thermic effect of food,” the extra energy your body burns to digest and process food.
In addition, foods high in protein boost the release of appetite-suppressing hormones such as CCK and GLP-1. Appetite suppression and a modest metabolic boost come in handy when you’re trying to lose weight. However, plants contain protein too. In fact, many whole plant-based foods are a good source of protein, although not all plants contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs but can’t make. You can resolve this problem by adding a diversity of plant-based foods.
It’s true that you can get your protein from plant and animal foods but is there an advantage to one over the other? In fact, there is. A recent study showed that plant-based protein may be more satiating than that from meat and dairy. In the study, researchers asked three, healthy men to eat a breakfast meal consisting of various types of protein. One meal consisted of a high-protein burger made from legumes and split peas. The second was a meat patty combined with mashed potatoes. The third, a low-protein burger made of split peas combined with potatoes. The participants ate each breakfast on three different days over a 2-week period.
The results? The high-protein burger made from legumes and split peas led to the greatest feelings of satiety. Plus, the participants consumed 13% fewer calories at lunch after eating the high-protein, plant-based breakfast. Why was the high-protein, plant burger the most filling?
The researchers in the study believe the extra fiber held hunger at bay. The meat and mashed potato patty had 6 grams of fiber while the high-protein, plant burger boasted 25 grams of fiber, more than 4 times as much. The low-protein, plant burger had around 10 grams of carbs. What’s interesting is the low-protein, plant burger was more satiating than the high-protein meat burger. This suggests that the fiber content of food adds to its satiety and other studies support this idea as well. Based on this, the combination of the two could be “the bomb” for appetite and weight control. In fact, a number of studies link higher fiber consumption with lower body weight and plant foods are the only ones that have a significant quantity of fiber.
High-Fiber Diets and Weight Loss
So much for appetite control, but can fiber help with weight control too? One study showed that people who added more fiber to their diet lost weight without changing other aspects of their diet. The best fiber for curbing appetite is soluble fiber, a fiber that pulls in water and expands like a sponge. As your stomach expands in response to fiber, it feeds back to the centers in your brain that control appetite and tell you that you’re full. Soluble fiber has other benefits that may impact your weight. It helps lower the blood sugar response to a meal. So, fiber is a plus if you have type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Soluble versus insoluble fiber is one way to classify the type of fiber in food, but many experts believe a better approach is to classify it as viscous versus non-viscous or fermentable versus non-fermentable. Viscous refers to whether a fiber forms a gelatinous material in your stomach. Then, there’s fermentable fiber and non-fermentable fiber. Bacteria can convert fermentable fiber to short-chain fatty acids that are beneficial for the lining of the colon. These fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in the colon and may even lower the risk of colon cancer.
So, how do you get more hunger-reducing fiber? Eat more veggies, legumes, nuts, and whole grain foods. Some of the best sources of soluble fiber are lentils, beans, oats, ground flaxseed, and vegetables, but you can boost your soluble fiber intake by simply eating more plants. Don’t get caught up in picking plant foods based only on soluble fiber. Simply help yourself to more natural, fiber-rich foods. Some packaged foods also contain functional fiber, a fiber extracted from starchy foods and added to products. It’s not clear whether functional fiber has the same health benefits as fiber from whole foods since it lacks the natural phytochemicals and nutrients you get when you eat plants.
The Bottom Line
Protein and fiber are a powerful combination for controlling appetite and for weight control. Plants offer both dietary components in a single food. So, getting at least a portion of your protein from plant sources may be beneficial. You have a lot to choose from!
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