With all the buzz around vegetarianism (no meat consumption with multiple variations), veganism (no meat/animal products; focus on animal welfare), flexitarianism (reduced meat/animal product consumption) and so on, it is important to get the facts straight.
How much protein do I need per day?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men over age 19 require 6 -7 oz. of protein per day. Women over age 19 need 5-6 ½ oz. per day.
Can you get enough protein from legumes and other plants?
YES! Yes, you can. Apart from fruits, all foods contain some amount of protein. The benefits of focusing on plant proteins are innumerable and include a higher fiber, vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake, as well as a lower risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes when compared to the typical American diet. Some research suggests if you are consuming only plant proteins increasing your intake 10% above what is recommended may be beneficial.
Which plant foods are the best sources of protein?
Let’s explore, shall we.
Beans and Lentils are cost-effective and come in many forms. They can be purchased canned, frozen or dried. They are good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. For instance, ½ cup of cooked lentils contains 9g of protein, 8g of fiber and is very low in saturated fat. Lentils also contain a good amount of potassium, copper and folate. Black beans have 6 g of protein, 4 g of fiber and similar micronutrients as lentils per ½ cup.
Tofu and Tempeh are both soybean products. They are versatile and will soak up whatever flavors they are cooked with. Tofu (pictured) and tempeh can be stir-fried, made into soups, desserts, quinoa bowls, and many other dishes. Soy has been questioned as having negative health effects, but when consumed in moderation (not as sole source of protein) those negative effects are diminished or even disappear. A ½ cup of tofu contains 12g of protein and is often fortified with calcium. A ½ cup of tempeh offers 15g of protein, 4g of fiber, and a moderate amount of potassium and copper.
Nuts and Seeds are also good sources of protein, fiber, heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, many vitamins and minerals, as well as components that lower cholesterol. Almonds in a 1 oz. portion contain 6g of protein and 3g of fiber. It is important to keep portion sizes in mind when consuming high fat nuts. It would not be wise to eat 3 cups of walnuts per day–stomach ache and you wouldn’t be diversifying your protein intake. Quinoa (yes, it’s a seed ☺ ) offers 4g of protein and 3g of fiber per ½ cup.
A quick note about nut milks…If you love these dairy free milk-like beverages, it is important to point out that although they are made from nuts, they do not naturally contain very much protein. This is due to the processing/the way they are made and applies to most nut milks. Always double check for your own sake. J Nut milks are a wonderful addition or alternative for any diet, just know that they shouldn’t be counted on for their protein content.
Grains, yes grains, naturally contain some protein. Protein can be hidden in unlikely places. For instance, 1 cup of brown rice holds 4g of protein, 3g of fiber and some folate, potassium and magnesium. Whole wheat pasta offers 9g of protein, 7g of fiber and is low in fat per ½ cup.
What are the best ways to maximize my protein intake from plants?
KNOW YOUR PORTION SIZES. You can certainly get enough protein from plant sources if you know what a serving looks like. 4 ounces is 1/2 cup (US) or about the size of a tennis ball. 3 ounces is a deck of cards. 2 ounces is a shot glass. There is no need to stress out and measure all your food. It is wise to become familiar with portion sizes and use them to ensure you are getting enough protein.
If you are going to try veggie burgers, consider finding a recipe and making them yourself. Many ready-to-eat versions are highly processed and are consequently high in salt and saturated fat.
Design your meal around vegetables and work in the protein sources. My favorite things
to make are dinner bowls. I pile on roasted veggies, onions and garlic then add seasoned beans, a bit of rice and top with herbs. Cold beans + veggies + fruit + herbs with vinaigrette dressings are oh so delicious!
Nutritional yeasts are a great addition to any meal if you are just starting to incorporate more plant proteins or are looking for an extra boost of vitamins and minerals. The Red Star Brand is fortified with vitamin B12, B6, folate, protein and fiber. It tastes similar to cheese, and can be shaken atop salads, soups, cooked beans etc…
If beans cause you GI distress, there is hope. You can take a supplement, like Beano, that helps break down the problematic components. Sprouting beans may also help. All you do is soak your dried beans overnight and spread them out on baking sheets for about 12 hours. When sprouts can be seen cracking the shells of the beans in half, they are ready for consumption after about 45 minutes of boiling or until they are at the desired firmness. They can also be stored in the freezer after cooking for easy meal making.
Do you have any plant protein questions??? What are your favorite plant protein recipes?
*DISCLAIMER: I am in no way making any specific recommendations. I encourage you to do research and make decisions for yourself. I do have a bachelor’s degree in dietetics but am not your medical professional. I am just sharing what I have learned and enjoy!
http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/vegetarian-and-special-diets/vegetarian-sources-of-protein https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/#figure-2-3 supertracker.usda.gov