With all the buzz surrounding plant-based diets and vegetarian protein, you might think that the number of vegetarians and vegans in the U.S. would have increased. The data tells a different story, however. Fewer than one in 10 Americans adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet, according to a Gallup poll1 conducted in August 2018. Only 5% of respondents said they are vegetarians and 3% identified as vegans—numbers that have shown little change in recent years.In fact, Gallup has asked Americans if they consider themselves vegetarians four times since 1999, with only about 5% or 6% identifying as such each time. Gallup asked about veganism in the U.S. twice, with 2% of Americans saying they were vegan in 2012 and 3% in 2018.
incorporating more plant-based foods into our diets has grown more popular. That’s because the public increasingly recognizes the health and environmental benefits of plant-based diets and vegetarian proteins. Gallup found that the market for plant-based foods grew 8.1% in 2017 alone. A separate study2 from The Good Food Institute and Plant Based Foods Association found that U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods rose 11% from 2018 to 2019, bringing the total plant-based market value to $4.5 billion.
In addition, increasingly plant-based diets have been on the rise. In a study3 of the dietary choices of 2,000 Americans, 38% admitted to following more than one type of dietary lifestyle. Nearly a third of Americans, 31%, have adopted a flexitarian diet, in which someone does not adhere to a specific eating style and combines plant-based and meat-based diets. Nearly three in five Americans, 59%, eat plant-based meals at least once per day, and the average American studied eats four meat-free meals per week. Over half of Americans are trying to incorporate more plant-based meals into their daily lives.
Regardless of a consumer’s level of commitment to a plant-based diet, the center of the discussion is often what’s at the center of the plate. It’s vegetarian protein that makes the plant-based diet viable for humans.
What’s at the Center of the Plate?
Protein has long been a top-of-mind concern about following a vegetarian diet. The average person needs about 7 grams of protein each day for every 20 pounds of body weight, according to The Nutrition Source4 by Harvard. The authors point out that “not all protein ‘packages’ are created equal,” however.
A specific challenge is finding vegetarian protein sources that can provide the same nutrition as meat, especially for those who do not get the recommended daily amount of protein from eggs and dairy products. Many sources of vegetarian protein can help meet this need, including peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, seeds, nuts, soy products and whole grains. These proteins are widely considered a “win” for both human health and environmental sustainability.
Over the years, certain vegetarian proteins have had their moment in the spotlight. Just a few years ago, seeds may have been considered “trendy,”6 but as excellent sources of protein, minerals and other life-enhancing nutrients, they’re certainly more than a fad. In fact, seeds are an important part of plant-based nutrition and add variety and nutrient density to the plant-based diet.
Experts at Duke Health point to several studies5 in which research indicates that different types of seeds, when part of an overall balanced and healthy diet, help prevent weight gain, the development of heart disease and the accumulation of LDL (low-density lipoproteins), otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol. Seeds, and more broadly vegetarian protein, are also an important part of the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to overall improved health status, lower deaths from heart diseases and cancer, and decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Simply put, seeds help to deliver the protein consumers need as well as a range of other appealing health benefits.
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When it comes to identifying the top seed in protein per serving, there’s a clear winner! A healthline6 article states that more than 25% of the total calories of hemp seeds are from high-quality protein.
That is considerably more than similar seeds like chia seeds and flaxseeds, which have calories that are 16% to 18% protein, respectively.
Thirty grams of hemp seeds, roughly 2 to 3 tablespoons, provide about 11 grams of protein. For dietary context, by weight, hemp seeds provide similar amounts of protein per serving as beef and lamb.
Hemp seeds also contain all nine essential amino acids, which humans must absorb through diet, and are thus considered a complete plant-based protein. They are especially high in edestin and albumin, globular proteins that are easily digested and easy for bodies to put to use.
Does your ingredient list have room for one of the best sources of vegetarian protein?Food formulators or Ingredients Buyers might be interested in setting up a Discovery Call to learn more.