"Beauty is in the eye of the (protein) holder"...is how the saying should go. Did you know that eating enough protein each day is an easy way to support your natural beauty? Unlike animal proteins, plant proteins contain (not just protein but) a range of other nutrients and protective substances like antioxidants that help to nourish your hair, skin and nails.
Here are 4 ways plant proteins help to unlock your inner beauty:
1. Structural Support
The amino acids in the dietary protein that we eat become the very building blocks of collagen, elastin and keratin. In short, these are the structural materials that help produce healthy hair, skin, nails and more. Collagen and elastin are the main proteins in skin and they support skin's smoothness and stretchiness, while keratin supports its firmness. Keratin is the main protein in hair and nails and supports their strength as well as hair volume.
So if you aren't getting enough protein in your diet, you may be compromising the integrity of these structures and thus the health of your hair, skin and nails.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body as it is a major component of connective tissue like skin, hair, muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Your body makes collagen from the dietary protein it consumes. Collagen production is primarily driven by 3 specific amino acids: glycine, proline and lysine. Only lysine is an essential amino acid out of the three--meaning it needs to be consumed through food as your body can't make this amino acid on its own.
While your body is able to make collagen on its own, production of it decreases as you age. Collagen production can also decrease from excess sun exposure, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and lack of sleep and exercise. When you age, the matrix of fibers within your skin become weak and saggy, leading to wrinkles on the surface.
What foods provide lysine?
Lysine is found richly in beans and legumes, or legume-based proteins like GN pea protein. One scoop of GN pea protein provides 1142 mg lysine per serving.
Do I need to supplement with collagen?
Not necessarily. First and foremost, you can help your body make more collagen by providing it enough dietary protein, especially lysine-rich sources like beans, legumes and/or pea protein powder. You can also provide it with foods rich in vitamin C, zinc and copper, nutrients that also take part in collagen production.
Secondly you can avoid unhealthy behaviors that decrease collagen production like smoking, alcohol, too much sun and others mentioned above.
A few studies on collagen supplements have found that they help improve skin elasticity and joint mobility. However, with human studies still lacking, the use of collagen supplements is not strongly clinically supported.
2. Protection from Harmful Free-Radicals
Free radicals are a type of unstable molecule in the body with an odd number of electrons. Because of this odd number, they can rob other cells in your body of electrons causing what's known as oxidation. An overload of free radicals in the body can then lead to oxidative stress ultimately contributing to many diseases.
Free radicals are produced from normal cell metabolism in your body or they can also come from external sources such as pollution, radiation, UV exposure, cigarette smoke and certain medications.
Antioxidants, as the name implies, help to offset the oxidation caused by free-radicals. This is also why antioxidants are an important part of health.
Antioxidants are uniquely found in plant-based foods, unlike animal-based foods. While they are commonly known to be in colorful plant foods like blueberries, pomegranates and leafy greens, even non-colorful plant foods like beans and grains contain an array of antioxidants.
Some antioxidants can also be made right in your body. For example, glutathione is a potent antioxidant, known for protecting cells from free-radical damage. In the body, glutathione is made by uding the amino acids methionine and cystine, found in protein-rich foods.
What foods provide methionine and cystine?
Most protein foods provide methionine and cystine but grains in particular provide them in rich amounts. Grain-based protein powders like GN rice protein would fall under this category since rice is a grain. GN rice protein provides 765 mg of cystine and methionine combined per serving.
3. Moisture, Smoothness and Thickness
Have you ever noticed times when your skin felt dryer than normal? Or times when your hair was wiry, dry, or thinning out? While many factors may contribute to this, one reason may be due to lack of Omega 3s in your diet. Omega 3s are essential fatty acids needed on daily basis and associated with the health of nearly all body systems--from heart health to brain health, joint health and eye health. For skin and hair, Omega 3s help to provide moisture, smoothness and thickness.
One review of studies from 2020, found that supplementing with omega 3s was beneficial for skin conditions like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, acne and even skin ulcers.
For hair, some test tube and animal studies suggest that omega 3s may help to boost hair growth but human studies have yet to confirm this.
What foods provide omega 3s?
Both animal and plant-based foods can provide omega 3s. Animal sources include fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. For those who don't or can't consume fish, plant sources include nuts and seeds like walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. This would also include protein powder made from those nuts and seeds, though you should check the label to see how much you're getting. Omega 3s can also be found in marine algae or supplements made from any of these sources.
4. Healing and Recovery
When you get a sun burn or a cut, or any other such damage to your skin, amino acids come to the rescue along with some minerals like zinc, iron and copper. Amino acids consumed through protein rich foods are essential for healing and repairing of damaged tissue. In fact, your body may require more protein depending on the extent of skin damage. For example, this is why protein shakes are commonly recommended after having undergone major surgery.
The amino acids arginine and glutamine play a key role in wound healing.
What foods provide arginine and glutamine?
All protein rich foods provide some amount of arginine and glutamine. However when it comes to arginine, certain plant proteins like pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, rice and pea protein appear to be a much richer source than dairy-based proteins. Pumpkin seed proteins are also rich in zinc and legume or bean-based proteins are rich in iron--two of the other nutrients required for the healing process.
The Bottom Line
Plant proteins (whether in whole food or protein powder form) are an easy and worthy addition to your diet as they benefit your overall health along with your hair and skin. They provide not just protein but other nutrients (some not found in animal sources) that nourish you from the inside out.
By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian