Who Says Protein Is Expensive?

Essential for proper nutrition, proteins can be found in several easily available and common vegetables, beans and seeds.

Dr Nidhi Joshi | May 19, 2020

Protein, an essential nutrient for the human body, is the second most abundant component of the body after water. Comprising about 16% of our bodyweight, proteins play several critical roles. They help to repair and build our tissues, and are the component of muscles which provide a structural framework to the body. They help in metabolism by acting as enzymes, hormones, or carriers. Keratin protein in the hair, nails, skin, (as well as feathers and hooves in birds and animals) act as a protective barrier. Protein maintains pH and fluid balance in the body. They are also a source of energy. Each gram of protein provides 4 Kcal of energy. In the form of antibodies, proteins play an important role in immunological responses. They also act as a lubricant in internal cavities.

Protein comes under the body-building food group. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. As protein is an important macronutrient, any deficiency has a far-reaching impact on the body. Given the prevalence of undernutrition in India, we need to understand and fill the protein gap. Protein-rich foods are often seen as costly as compared to other foods; but certain foods are rich in protein and accessible for all population groups. Here are some affordable protein sources for all:

Soybeans- Soybeans are high in protein content. 100 grams of raw soybeans contains 36 grams of protein. Soybean proteins are good quality protein as they contain all the essential amino acids required by the human body. Soybeans are also rich source of phytoestrogens. Research has shown regular intake of soybean reduces the risk of prostate and breast cancer. They also alleviate the symptoms related to menopause.

Black Soybean- A soybean with a black seed coat, it is commonly known as Bhat. It is widely consumed in Uttarakhand in the form of pulses. They are high in protein and fiber content. They also contain various bioactive compounds such as anthocyanins, isoflavones, phenols, which provide numerous health benefits.

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Green Peas- Greens peas are one of the biggest sources of vegetable protein. Peas are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, folate, thiamin, vitamin C, iron, and manganese. They also contain a high level of vitamin K. However, they are not a complete source of protein as they are deficient in an essential amino acid- methionine. However, peas can be consumed with any of the cereal proteins to complement the diet. Their low glycemic index makes them suitable food to control blood sugar.

Pumpkin Seeds- Pumpkin seeds are a great source of proteins and unsaturated fats. Every 100 grams of pumpkin seeds contain 19 grams of protein. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium, zinc. Pumpkin seeds contain antioxidants like vitamin E and carotenoids. Being packed with a range of nutrients, pumpkin seeds reduces the risk of chronic degenerative diseases. The seeds can be eaten raw or can be roasted to enhance the taste.

Sunflower Seeds- Sunflower seeds are one of the cheapest seeds available and a decent source of plant protein. About 21 grams of protein is present per 100 grams of sunflower seeds. They are rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium. They can be incorporated in salads, multi-grain bread or could be eaten as a snack. Sunflower seeds help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

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Quinoa- Quinoa is a type of edible seed and classified as a whole grain. It is a good source of protein and fiber. It is an unusual grain as it contains all the nine essential amino acids. It is
a good protein source for vegetarians. Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and considered safe for those with gluten intolerance. Quinoa is packed with various vitamins and minerals such as folate, thiamin, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium. Quinoa can be prepared and consumed like rice.

Besides this, chickpea, lentils, beans and mushrooms are also densely packed with proteins and a wide range of nutrients, making them healthy food options.

The author is a Ph.D. scholar (Human Nutrition) in the Department of Food and Nutrition, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology Uttarakhand.