Protein is one of the three types of energy food. Nutritionally necessary for good health, protein is derived from amino acids, including the 10 essential amino acids that cannot be made by the human body. Protein-rich foods are commonly known to be derived from animal products, but vegetable protein is considered by many nutritionists to be just as healthy. As the name implies, whole grain protein is protein that comes from whole grains — grains that have not been refined, or milled and ground down to what is basically a powder. These grains are healthier because they contain more fiber and important vitamins and minerals, and they can be an excellent source of protein.
Whole grain protein contains virtually no fat, especially unhealthy saturated fats, when compared with animal proteins. For example, a broiled, 6-ounce (170-gram) porterhouse steak is rich in protein with 38 grams of protein, but it also contains 44 grams of fat, 16 of which are saturated. An identically sized portion of a whole grain protein might contain only one-third of the protein, but it has less than 1 gram of fat.
Not only does whole grain protein contain the essential amino acids found in proteins, whole grains also are healthier in and of themselves. Whole grains are rich in B and E vitamins, magnesium, iron and fiber. These grains contain the disease-fighting phytochemicals that are found in fruits and vegetables, and they are rich in valuable antioxidants that are not found in even the most nutrition-rich fruits and vegetables. Medical research suggests that the cumulative effect of consuming whole grains results in a significantly lowered risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Whole grains are healthier and have more protein than refined grains because when a grain is not whole, at least 15 key nutrients can be lost in processing, and 25 to 80 percent of a grain’s protein is leached away. There are three parts to whole grain kernels: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Refining generally removes the bran and the germ, but this process also takes away the natural rich, nutty and earthy taste of the whole kernel. The endosperm, which acts as the food supply for the smaller germ, does contain some protein and nutrients, but the endosperm consists mostly of starch. The bran, which is the multi-layered outer skin of the kernel, is important for both its B-vitamins and its fiber, but it is the heart of the kernel — the germ — that is high in vitamins, minerals and especially protein.
Common grains such as corn, rice, oats, wheat and rye can be whole grains. So can barley and the less common but equally nutritious sorghum and spelt. One of the grains that is richest in whole grain protein is quinoa. It is considered a complete protein, which means that is contains all of the essential amino acids.
A 1-cup (237-mL) serving of cooked quinoa provides 18 grams of protein as well as 9 grams of fiber. Quinoa is easily digestible and gluten-free. After it has been rinsed and drained, it can be cooked like pasta or rice. It can be made into a hot breakfast cereal, like oatmeal, incorporated into salads or added to baked goods.