Minimally processed plant protein

Green fava beans are the richest source of plant protein.

Minimally processed plant protein is the future, whether we like it or not. These green fava beans are the richest source of amino acids from a non-meat source. Freshly harvested they are absolutely delicious; old and starchy they are perfectly horrid.

Therein lies the rub; you are almost certainly unable to purchase them, so you have to grow them yourself; it is not onerous.

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. What are legumes
  3. Minimally processed plant protein

By Bernard Preston

Red meat, and especially when processed as in bacon, ham and sausages, along with refined starches such as in a burger bun have been strongly associated with chronic disease and some malignant tumours1.

Smear that roll with margarine or another spread high in hydrogenated fat, add a hot dog and you have just turned it into the perfect recipe for cardiovascular disease, obesity and the attendant type 2 diabetes.

Not only is that excessive red meat proving deadly for us, but, whether through greenhouse gases or pollution of our water sources, it is also rapidly destroying the planet.

Climate change is upon us with all its ferocity, despite those in denial.

The new concept of the flexitarian diet is a huge step in the right direction. It is for those who are determined to eat less red meat but are unwilling to become vegans.

In short, eating less beef in particular and filling the gap with more peas and beans.

It is flexible, and not going the whole hog and becoming vegetarians; red meat might be enjoyed once or twice a week. For the rest the adherents get their amino acids from minimally processed plant protein.

Those making the change have realised that the loss of well-being of both ourselves and the planet is reversible, and are determined to be part of the process. They have no desire to succumb to the pain, disease and disability they see all around them, and are willing to ring in the changes.

Minimally processed plant protein

Minimally processed plant protein sources are not only good for the planet, but also for us and are the only way to sustain the unprecedented population growth.

Food industry

The food industry of course has noted this change of attitude and, looking to make a fast buck whilst providing solutions, has come up with what are known as 'plant based meat alternatives.'

It has its merits, but also some inherent dangers.

They are providing plant-based alternatives but they are anything but minimally processed.

These plant based meat alternatives use 99% less water and generate 90% less greenhouse gases, it is claimed.

Whilst these claims have yet to be tested, what is certain is that these PBMAs use highly processed plant proteins that have been extracted and cannot be considered whole foods.

The effect of these processed and refined plant proteins on human health have yet to be assessed. Whilst they are lower in cholesterol than meat obviously, they in fact are higher in saturated fat than whole foods like lentils, peas and fava beans; they also have much higher added salt.

Served with a plateful of chips on a refined white bun and a cola they can hardly be described as wholesome, yet the concept is not without merit; it just needs further investigation. Do they contribute to lower cardiovascular disease and obesity, and do they actually mean folk eat less red meat?


Heme from a soy based chemical that is high in iron is being added to some of these PBMAs to increase their meaty flavour; researchers reporting in the journal BMC Medicine found that after a large meta-analysis found that a daily increase of just 1 mg of heme iron was significantly associated with T2DM.2

They conclude that, whilst iron is an essential nutrient, in excessive amounts it produces reactive oxygen species to which the beta cells in the pancreas are particularly susceptible, raising the risk of diabetes. Even moderate increases in heme were strongly associated with raised blood glucose and insulin levels.

Non-heme iron from plant sources does not appear to have this risk.

Plant protein and all-cause mortality

Researchers following 70 thousand Japanese adults for 18 years found that substituting plant protein for animal protein, mainly for red and processed meat, was strongly correlated with a lower all-cause of death from tumours and cardiovascular disease4.

"Plant protein intake was significantly inversely associated with the risk of overall mortality."

Take home

The take home from this is that both minimally processed plant protein, and plant-based meat alternatives may both be beneficial for the planet, but the same cannot be said for our own health. There are numerous questions that need to be answered first before PBMAs can be recommended.

Guidelines continue to recommending eating less red meat in favour of peas and beans, such as favas and limas, lentils and other legumes.

Nitrogen fixation bacteria

Legumes also contribute to the fertility of the soil from nitrogen fixation bacteria that exist in their roots.

Plant your own fava beans

Favas are not difficult to grow3. Also known as broad beans, they need a strong central stake and have to be supported with twine. They are the very best zero processed plant protein.

Enjoyed from breakfast, oddly, in eggs Hilton they are our perfect solution to the 11 o'clock blues; hunger bangs that have us reaching for a cola or candy bar. In nutritional terms they give us satiety.


1. Can Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Be Part of a Healthy and Sustainable Diet?

2. Bao et al. A systematic review and analysis of dietary iron intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

3. How to plant broad beans

4. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality

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