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The Advantages of Using Plant Sources of Protein in Your Diet

By Clay McNight

While plant proteins are lower in essential amino acids than animal proteins, they have their own distinct advantages. Many plant proteins contain components that can help protect against chronic disease and promote overall bodily health. Legumes, soy beans and nuts are three plant sources of protein that possess such health-affirming properties.

Protect Against Cancer With Legumes

Legumes, a plant food high in protein, contain multiple health-promoting substances, including saponins, notes a 2004 article published in the "Journal of Medicinal Food." Saponins, which are present in all legumes, such as pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans and peanuts, can help lower cholesterol levels, improve immune function and help protect against cancer. The authors of the review note that these components have a wide range of uses, including everything from reducing blood lipids to treating acute lead poisoning. Saponins may also be able to reduce the risk of kidney stones.

Reduce Your Cholesterol With Soybeans

Soybeans are often used in place of animal proteins because they contain no cholesterol and very little saturated fat, notes to a 2003 article published in the "Journal of Perinatal Education." In addition, soybeans are the only vegetable that includes all of the essential amino acids. Substituting animal proteins with soy proteins, such as edamame, tofu and soy milk, can help reduce bad cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels, according to the authors. Soy protein may also possess some efficacy in controlling body weight and reducing high blood sugar in diabetics. One particular phytochemical found in soy, genistein, can lower your risk for cancer.

Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease With Nuts

Nuts -- such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, pecans, cashews and hazelnuts -- are high-quality plant proteins, rich in fiber, minerals and other bioactive compounds that can help promote good health. They may be able to help reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes and gallstones, notes a 2010 paper published in "Nutrients." The authors also mention the role of nuts in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Nuts are known for their high concentrations of important minerals, including magnesium, calcium and potassium.

Lectins in Other Plants

A group of proteins in plants known as lectins have been found to possess anti-cancer properties in both test tube and human case studies, notes a 2005 article published in "Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition." These lectins, which are found in foods including corn, wheat, kidney beans, peanuts, tomatoes, bananas, peas, soybeans, rice, potatoes, lentils and mushrooms, can become internalized into cells, blocking cancerous growths, while also modulating immune function, by activating components of the immune system.

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