As consumers become increasingly health conscious in their food choices, manufacturers, foodservice and retailers are moving to increase their plant-based diet options. The latest market data reveals that U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods totaled $4.5 billion over the past year, marking growth of 11%, according to the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute.1 Over a two-year period, plant-based food retail sales rose 31%.
Image Courtesy: Plant Based Foods Association
Additionally, a study published recently in the Journal of the American Heart Association concludes that plant-based diets, which include plant-based protein, are good for the general population.2 The authors note that previous studies documented the cardiometabolic health benefits of plant‐based diets, but they were conducted in selected study populations. This most recent study finds that diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in the general population.
These studies are good news for current producers and marketers of plant-based foods.
At the same time, a larger social movement around environmental health and sustainability will likely help drive adoption of the plant-based diet well into the future.
Until recently, scientific targets for healthy, plant-based diets related to sustainable food production didn’t exist. That changed with the landmark EAT-Lancet Commission3, which convened 37 leading scientists from 16 countries in various disciplines to develop benchmarks. Their 2019 report provides context regarding plant-based protein needs for human health in light of sustainability issues.
How Much Plant-Based Protein Do You Need?
As seen in the figure below, the EAT-Lancet Commission recommends that a healthy diet consist (by volume) of approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits, and the other half (displayed by contribution to calories) consist primarily of whole grains, plant-based protein sources, unsaturated plant oils and, optionally, modest amounts of animal sources of protein.
Image Courtesy: Lancet EAT Commission Study3
The Commission recommends increased consumption of plant-based foods, “including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.” However, that is the only mention of seeds in the report.
Although legumes and nuts are certainly important sources of protein in the plant-based diet, the tiniest of protein powerhouses—seeds—should not be overlooked.
Seeds provide an important opportunity for consumers, food formulators and manufacturers alike.
Seeds lay a strong foundation for a plant-based diet and some contribute unique and particularly high combinations of nutrients.
An article in a peer-reviewed medical journal4 recommends 1 to 3 tablespoons of seeds per day. The author, a registered dietician, states, “Seeds, too, are special in that their essential fat ratios, are well-balanced, and they contain multiple trace minerals and phytochemicals. One or 2 tablespoons per day will boost overall nutrition.”
According to an article by Harvard Health5, seeds contain mostly healthy fats and about 150 calories per 1 ounce/28 grams. Just a small serving yields “surprising” nutrition, particularly protein. In fact, seed protein is on par with, or in some cases exceeds, the protein content of nuts.
|Protein Content (per 1 ounce/28 g) of Popular Seeds vs. Popular Nuts7|
|Hemp (hearts)||9.2 g|
And — while seeds compare well vs. nuts — you can see that hemp seed contains at least 50% more protein per ounce than many popular varieties.
And what about the overall nutritional value of seeds? The chart below was adapted from the previously mentioned peer-reviewed article.4 Each mention of seeds is highlighted.
Sources of Notable Nutrients
legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts), nuts, seeds, soy foods (tempeh, tofu)
Omega 3 fats
seeds (chia, hemp, flax), leafy green vegetables, microalgae, soybeans and soy foods, walnuts, wheat germ
vegetables, fruits (berries, pears, papaya, dried fruits), avocado, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), nuts, seeds, whole grains
low-oxalate leafy greens (broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, collard, dandelion, kale, watercress), calcium-set tofu, almonds, almond butter, fortified plant milks, sesame seeds, tahini, figs, blackstrap molasses
sea vegetables (arame, dulse, nori, wakame), iodized salt
legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts), leafy greens, soybeans and soy foods, quinoa, potatoes, dried fruit, dark chocolate, tahini, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower), sea vegetables (dulse, nori)
legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts), soy foods, nuts, seeds, oats
Seeds show up as strong contributors across all of these important nutritional categories.
In summary, if you're interested in maintaining a healthy plant-based diet or formulating foods that can fit this dietary profile, seeds are an important, nutrient-dense source.
Keep in mind that when it comes to protein, not all seeds are created equal!
Hemp seeds are a good starting point in exploring seed sources of plant-based protein because they not only contain more than 28% protein, but also contain many other essential nutrients.7
Here are a few quick facts about hemp seeds:
Ideal balance of polyunsaturated fats — The fats in hemp seeds contain the ideal human ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 at 3:1. Studies indicate that hemp seed oil may have a beneficial effect on heart health by increasing the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids in the blood.8
Anti-Inflammatory — Hemp seeds contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an important anti-inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acid. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory action of Omega 3 fatty acids may also help improve symptoms of eczema.8
Nutrient-dense — Hemp seeds contain high amounts of several important minerals.
Hemp hearts are an excellent source of (per 3-tablespoon/30-gram serving):
- manganese (100% of daily value, RDA)
- magnesium (45% of RDA)
- phosphorous (45% of RDA)
- thiamine (25% of RDA)
- zinc (20% of RDA)
They also contain riboflavin, folate and vitamin B6.9
One of the best plant-based proteins ingredients — Hemp seeds are one of the few plant-based foods that are complete protein sources, which means they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids the body can’t produce. Hemp hearts contain 9.5 grams of protein per ounce (28 grams),8 which ounce-for-ounce is significantly more than other popular nuts and seeds.
Hemp seed-based proteins are an ideal addition to your ingredient deck
Victory Hemp Foods V-70 is a 70% protein ingredient that is easily digestible while avoiding the flavor and texture problems of other primary protein ingredient sources. It is mild and bland as well as nearly colorless, making it an ideal ingredient to be used across a wide range of foods.
Hemp-seed based protein ingredients avoid the allergen, phytoestrogen concerns and GMO status risks of other protein sources.
To learn more, check out our nutrition page.
You can also learn more at the following sources:
- Kim et. al. Plant‐Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All‐Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle‐Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8. 7 Aug 2019. doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865
- Hever J. Plant-Based Diets: A Physician's Guide. Perm J. 2016;20(3):15–082. doi:10.7812/TPP/15-082. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991921/