Vegetable proteins: where are they found?

Vegetable proteins: where are they found?

Vegetables, cereals, legumes are just some of the foods that contain vegetable proteins. Find out what other foods you can find them in and what benefits they bring to the body

To function well, our body needs micro and macro nutrients including vitamins, mineral salts, lipids, proteins. They are naturally contained in the foods we consume during the day, even if some of them can be more or less rich or even very poor.

The proteins then play a functional and structural role, which is why it is essential to consume the necessary doses. Alongside the proteins of animal origin that we find in foods such as cheese, meat, fish, there are also vegetable proteins.

But where are plant proteins found and what benefits do they bring? We talked about it with Dr. Laura Giori, Nutritionist Biologist.


  • Characteristics of vegetable proteins
    • Protein quality of vegetable proteins
    • Digestibility of vegetable proteins
  • Amino acids: false myths to dispel
  • Benefits
  • What foods are they found in?
  • When to use plant-based protein supplements

Characteristics of vegetable proteins

“When it comes to vegetable proteins, it is necessary to refer to two particular aspects: one concerns the protein quality and the other concerns digestibility”.

Protein quality of vegetable proteins

Constitutionally, both animal and vegetable proteins are composed of a series of bricks (amino acids) joined together by a bond that leads to the formation of more or less long chains. Although hundreds of types of amino acids are present in nature, there are only 20 amino acids needed to produce all the proteins present in the human body: of these 20, 9 are defined as essential and the remaining non-essential. This means that the former cannot be synthesized by the human body and must necessarily be introduced with food, while the latter can be synthesized by the human body starting from essential amino acids.

«The quality (defined by the chemical index) of a protein is determined according to the limiting amino acid that conditions its use. By “limiting” we mean an essential amino acid contained in that food in a quantity that is not optimal compared to the reference standards defined by the FAO.

The higher the chemical index, the greater the quantity of that protein that can be used by the body. If we examine the chemical index of some vegetable foods, it can be seen that in the case of pseudo cereals (amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat) it is equal to 100, which is equivalent to that of the reference standards. In the case of legumes, on the other hand, soy has a chemical index even higher than the reference one, but other legumes still have a very high chemical index ».

Digestibility of vegetable proteins

«As regards digestibility (ie the body’s ability to assimilate the protein and use it), vegetable proteins have a slightly lower digestibility, about 10% less than the digestibility of animal proteins. Animal proteins have a digestibility of 95%, while vegetable proteins have an average of 85%. This is because in plant foods there are some factors that affect their availability: fibers (the more refined the food, the greater its digestibility), cellulose, polyphenols, type of link between amino acids, industrial methods of food processing, presence of “Antinutrients” (tannins, phytates, etc.) », explains the doctor.

Amino acids: false myths to dispel

«As anticipated, the amino acids used by our body to build proteins are 20, of which 8 are considered essential, since they must be taken with food. In plant foods all essential amino acids are present, none exist that is present only in foods of animal origin.

The misinformation that is often passed on is that one or more of these amino acids are missing from plant foods. In reality they are all present, but simply in some foods one or two of the amino acids is present in quantities less than that considered optimal. These amino acids, present in more “scarce” quantities, are not always the same, but differ between the various plant foods; therefore, by varying the plant foods in a single day, all essential amino acids are obtained in optimal quantities », explains Dr. Giori.


“In general, diets high in plant-based proteins, such as the vegetarian diet, have many health benefits. Studies suggest that vegetarians have a lower incidence of stroke, hypertension, obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease than those who consume high amounts of animal protein. As animal proteins are associated with a higher intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. In particular:

  • vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts and seeds contain many soluble fiber which stimulate the sense of satiety;
  • vegetable proteins are transformed more slowly than carbohydrates and fats, due to the higher presence of fibers. More work means more energy and faster metabolism;
  • there is a lower intake of hormones and antibiotics that are found in foods of animal origin;
  • it has a positive effect on the environment, resources and climate by preferring plant foods to animal ones;
  • there are beneficial effects obtained from vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants present in foods of plant origin », continues the expert.

What foods are they found in?

“Vegetable proteins are contained within:

  • cereals (eg spelled, barley);
  • pseudo cereals (eg quinoa);
  • seitan;
  • legumes (eg beans, chickpeas, lentils, broad beans, peas);
  • soia e derivati ​​(es. Tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari shoyu);
  • wheat muscle;
  • dried fruit (e.g. walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts);
  • seeds (eg sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds);
  • algae (spirulina);
  • vegetables (in small quantities) ‘.

When to use plant-based protein supplements

“This type of integration is used:

  • if you have an unbalanced diet;
  • by vegan sportsmen;
  • by those who have shown sensitivity to milk proteins.

Elderly people who are lactase deficient and / or unable to get enough protein in their diet can also benefit from these herbal supplements. These products are characterized by ease of intake and have an excellent level of assimilation as they are in hydrolyzed form. Any integration is subjective and must be evaluated by a professional. I do not recommend doing it yourself », concludes the expert.

Therefore, vegetable proteins are assimilable through the consumption of easily available foods. It is good to take the right quantities through nutrition, otherwise you can resort to specific supplements, after having heard the opinion of your doctor.

Also be careful not to take excessive amounts of protein. In this case, they may not be absorbed by the body and burden organs such as the liver and kidneys.

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