Whether you are considering trying a vegetarian lifestyle or just want to vary your protein sources, legumes can be a healthy alternative for meat. Choosing legumes, which include beans, dried peas, soybeans and lentils, over meat has both advantages and disadvantages. Legumes, while high in protein and lower in fat than most meat, are often an incomplete protein source.
Adult women should consume 46 grams of protein per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Protein makes up every cell, tissue and organ in your body. The body breaks down protein into amino acids, which are organic compounds that your body uses to support growth and for a number of other functions. Foods that are good sources of protein include meats, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds and dairy. Soybeans contain the highest amount of protein per serving. A 3.5-ounce serving of raw, mature soybeans has over 36 grams of protein.
Choosing legumes over meat offers a number of health benefits. Legumes are high in protein, similar to meat. Unlike meat, legumes are low in saturated fat, are a good source of fiber and do not contain any cholesterol. Substituting legumes for foods high in saturated fats, like red meat, can help lower the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The Linus Pauling Institute also states that some of the compounds in legumes may help reduce your risk of certain cancers, but more research is needed.
Although legumes are good sources of protein, not all proteins are the same. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that 20 different amino acids join to form various types of protein. Your body cannot make certain amino acids, known as the essential amino acids. You can only get these amino acids from your diet. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids. Most complete proteins are animal-based foods and not legumes. Soybeans are the only legume that is a complete protein.
Although legumes may not offer all of the essential amino acids, you can combine incomplete proteins to make a complete protein. You do not need to consume the incomplete proteins at the same time. Columbia University states that you just need to eat complementary proteins within 24 hours. Choose a variety of proteins, such as legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy. If you decide to eat meat, choose lean meats, such as chicken, pork and fish so that you do not get too much saturated fat in your diet.
Ireland Wolfe has been writing professionally since 2009, contributing to Toonari Post, Africana Online and Winzer Insurance. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Arts in mental health counseling. She is also a licensed mental health counselor, registered nutritionist and yoga teacher.