“Where do you get your protein?”
As a plant-eater, I hear this question a lot. I’ve learned that it often opens up an opportunity for conversation. Hopefully I can provide some insight into a topic that is deeply engrained in the minds of so many: Protein = meat.
It’s true that most animal products are high in protein, but are these the most optimal choices for our health? We’re left with many questions. What plant foods are high in protein? How does our body utilize the protein we eat? Will eating more protein help me lose weight? Why do so many food labels boast the protein content?
Over the next 5 weeks, I’ll be answering all these questions with a weekly wellness post on protein.
Let’s start with the basics -- plant protein sources.
Plant-based proteins can meet all of our needs for essential amino acids - the building blocks our body needs to make proteins! We will talk more in depth about amino acids in the weeks to come. To be sure we take in ALL nine essential amino acids, it's important that we vary our protein sources - just like we vary our veggies & fruit to get optimum vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants!
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams per kilogram of (ideal) body weight. On average, this is about 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women. However, a recent national survey showed that the majority of adults are actually consuming 70-110 grams. This is concerning because high protein, specifically animal protein, intake can be a risk factor for heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
The legume family consists primarily of beans, but also includes peanuts (not nuts after all). Soy bean products often get overlooked in this category as well (tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc.).
Beans: Black, Kidney, Garbanzo (chickpeas), White, Navy, Pinto, SOY products, Peanuts, etc.
Lentils: Red, Black, Green
2) Nuts + Seeds
Nuts: Almonds, Cashews, Pistachios, Walnuts, Pecans, Hazelnuts, Pine nuts, Macadamia nuts, etc.
Seeds: Chia Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Flax Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, pumpkin seeds (or pepitas), Poppyseeds, etc.
3) Whole Grains
It's also important to remember that we get protein from vegetables and fruit as well. The content isn't as high per serving size, but that adds up over the course of a day. Leafy greens, potatoes, and corn are all higher protein content veggies! There are nearly 3 grams of protein in 1 cup of broccoli or kale, 2 g in a cup of sweet potatoes, and around 4 g in a cup of corn!
*The protein content listed above is an estimation and may vary based on the specific product you consume. Remember to choose unsalted canned beans, as well as nuts and seeds when possible. There is no short cut for reading your food labels!
Sample "Day in the Life" Vegan menu:
Breakfast: 1 cup oatmeal, 2 TBSP chia seed, fresh fruit = 12 g protein
Lunch: 1 cup cooked quinoa, 1/4 cup tofu, 1 cup broccoli = 13 g protein
Snack: Whole grain bread, peanut butter = 13 g protein
Dinner: Lentil soup w/ seasonal veggies = 18 g protein
Total: 56 grams of protein!