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Healthy and Affordable Proteins: Soya, Lentils, and Beans

Average read time: 4 minutes

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Protein is a critical macronutrient for a healthy, functioning body. It forms part of nearly every part of our body tissue, and there are at least 10 000 different proteins that make us who we are. Making sure that you eat enough protein-rich foods can sometimes be expensive, as food sources known for containing protein are mostly meat and other costly animal products, like eggs. But eating protein doesn’t have to mean eating meat, and it doesn’t have to be expensive![a]

There are a range of inexpensive and protein-packed food sources that you can add to your diet instead of the usual go-tos. Some of the top options include soya, lentils, and beans.

Why is protein important?

Proteins are fundamental in the building and reparation of muscles. Furthermore, they’re essential in the structuring and functioning of cells where they’re responsible for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes, transporting molecules to and from cells, and facilitating several biochemical reactions within cells. Protein also plays a role in many of our physiological processes by acting as chemical messengers.

It doesn’t end there. Protein plays an important function in our immune systems, and is essential for the repair and maintenance of different body tissues, including our skin, hair and nails. Specific proteins, such as haemoglobin in red blood cells, help transport oxygen from our lungs to our cells so it can be carried throughout our bodies.

With all of these functions in mind, it’s clear to see that consuming an adequate amount of protein is necessary to support a range of functions to keep the body healthy and working optimally.

Typical sources of protein

Protein is made from more than twenty-two building blocks called amino acids. Our bodies don’t store amino acids but, instead, make them in two different ways. They’re either made from scratch or by modifying existing amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids that we need to get from the food we eat. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Animal-based protein

Animal-based protein (obtained from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods) tend to be good sources of complete proteins. This means that they include all nine essential amino acids. Generally, animal proteins also contain a range of other nutrients such as vitamin B12 and heme iron (which is a type of iron that’s easily absorbed by the body).

Some animal products are, however, not nutritious at all and don’t contain sufficient protein. Ultra-processed meats, such as viennas and chicken nuggets, are some examples. These products are also high in unhealthy fats and sodium.[b]

Plant-based protein

There are a range of plant-based proteins (including fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, and seeds). Sources such as quinoa, buckwheat, spirulina, soy, nutritional yeast, chia seeds, and hemp contain all nine essential amino acids, so they are complete protein sources. Others lack one or more essential amino acid, which means that they’re incomplete and need to be consumed in combination with other sources. Rice or pasta with beans is a good example of such a combination.

These plant proteins can be consumed instead of meat and, best of all, are healthy and affordable too. When replacing animal protein with plant protein, it’s important to enjoy a variety of food sources to ensure that your body is getting all nine essential amino acids.[c]

Alternative proteins: Soya, lentils and beans

Lentils, soya and beans form part of a food group called pulses and legumes. Pulses contain a unique combination of nutrients and offer a vast range of health benefits. They’re also high in fibre and a good source of iron.[d] Other benefits include that they’re accessible, affordable and versatile so they can be included in a variety of meals.

Pulses and legumes include a variety of products, from baked beans and sugar beans to butter beans, soya, and lentils. These can be bought as dry products, making it economical, easy to store, and easy to cook. Most beans can also be bought in a can, for even more convenience.[e]

For most South Africans, legumes and pulses won’t be anything new. It forms part of many well-known and loved dishes, like Tasty Samp and Beans. But, if you haven’t eaten a lot of these before, it’s best to add them to your diet slowly so your body can get used them.

One of the South African Guidelines for Healthy Eating states that dry beans, lentils or soya should be eaten regularly as part of a balanced diet. However, if these are your main sources of protein, you should eat dry beans and other pulses every day as part of a healthy eating plan that includes starchy foods and plenty of vegetables and fruit.

Tips to keep in mind

Stretching meals

Stretch minced meat dishes or stews by adding soya mince or dry beans. Doing so will add more sustenance and nutrients, without affecting the taste of your dish. This Tasty Beef Stew with Sugar Beans is a good recipe to start with and makes for a nutritious dinner. Knorrox Soya Mince is available in a range of flavours so you can enjoy beef, chicken and mutton flavoured dishes.

Added nutritional value: Source of fibre

When dry beans, soy or lentils are combined with starchy foods, there are dual benefits. Firstly, you’re getting fibre in, and, secondly, the proteins complement each other and create a better-quality protein. These dishes will also keep you feeling fuller for longer. Try out this Sweet Potato Sugar Bean Stew, for example.

Versatility and flavour

You can include beans and lentils in soups, stews, mince, pasta or rice dishes for added flavour and nutritional value. Here’s a great Lentil Soup Recipe to try out, or if you want to experiment with soya, try this one instead: Spicy Soya Mince with Samp Beans.[f]

Long shelf life

Stock up on a variety of canned legumes, such as lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas for a quick meal solution. These products have a long shelf life so they make for the ideal pantry staple! Try these Grilled Chickpea Burgers for lunch, or create a delicious side dish, such as this Three-bean Salad, for a braai.

Add extra goodness with Knorrox

Knorrox is a well-known and respected South African brand, committed to making nutritious, delicious, and affordable eating possible for all. Knorrox’s easy and practical products range gives you many new ways to cook delicious meals. Their range of products include soya mince, stock cubes, spices and dried soups to add a flavoursome and meaty taste to your dishes.

Some of their products are fortified with important micronutrients that help to maintain good health. With extra nourishment and goodness in the form of minerals, vitamins, protein and fibre, you can be sure that your family is well fed when you use any of their products.

By making soya, beans, and lentils part of your daily diet, and adding that delicious touch with Knorrox’s product range, you’ll be able to start reaping the many health benefits offered by legumes and pulses.

FAQs

Is protein really that important?

Yes, it’s one of the most important nutrients. Consuming an adequate amount of protein in your diet is necessary to support a range of functions to keep the body healthy and working optimally.

What are the best sources of protein?

Animal-based foods (so, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods) tend to be good sources of complete protein. There are also a range of plant-based foods (such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds) that contain protein, but these often lack one or more essential amino acid, which we then need to consume in a different way. There’s a variety of protein-containing plant foods available that have all the amino acids needed to make new protein. The top options are soya, lentils, and beans.

Do meat alternatives contain sufficient protein?

Yes. One of the South African Guidelines for Healthy Eating states that dry beans, lentils or soya should be eaten regularly as part of a balanced diet. However, if these are your main sources of protein, you should eat dry beans and other pulses every day as part of a healthy eating plan that includes starchy foods and plenty of vegetables and fruit.

How do I introduce soya, beans and lentils in my diet?

If you haven’t eaten a lot of these pulses and legumes before, it’s best to add them to your diet slowly so your body can get used them. You can start by adding beans and lentils in soups, stews, mince, pasta dishes or rice dishes for added flavour and nutritional value.

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