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How do I get enough protein if I’m eating Plant-Based?
What types of plant-foods have the most protein?
Does it matter when I eat protein?
How much protein should I have in each meal?
How do I figure out how much protein my body needs?
I want to lose weight, eat more plant-based, but still get my protein, so where should I start?
These are the most common protein questions people have if they’re starting plant-based eating. If you’re eating mostly or 100% plant foods, like fruits, whole grains, beans, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds, you don’t have to worry in the least😊 Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll feel more assured about getting an adequate amount of protein!
All you have to do is look at the Blue Zones—the populations of people who were (and still are) known for their greatest number of people who lived to age 100 or older (Loma Linda, CA; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece). The Blue Zone Solution book is an incredible read and highly recommended.
The Blue Zone peoples’ diets were about 6% fat, 85% carbohydrates, and ONLY 9% FROM PROTEIN. So, see, no fretting if you can get adequate protein from just plant foods!
….Stop overthinking it!
What I mean is don’t make “getting the correct amount of protein” your sole focus. In fact, you could be overlooking some plant-foods in your diet that you eat and enjoy often, but you had no idea they were protein-rich! So, don’t blow protein out of proportion, it is all I am saying.
This question STILL comes out of meat-lovers’ mouths, and I can’t help but chuckle. The short answer, absolutely YES!
The longer answer to this question isn’t really that long. It’s more about being aware that ALL plant-foods contain Protein, YES, that’s right. ALL PLANT FOODS CONTAIN PROTEIN…even your side tossed salad.
Here’s an incredible fact: At least 14% of the total amount of calories that a plant contains, is made up of protein!
So, the next time you bite into that carrot stick, you’ll know that protein was super important in building that carrot.
So, if you’re 150 pounds, then you need about 54 grams of protein per day.
***NOTE: This Rule of Thumb calculation assumes you’re in overall good health (no major medical conditions)
Let me first point out that we eat protein for more reasons than just for muscles. Protein is used in every cell in our body! To make hormones, enzymes, skin, blood, building cartilage, and most definitely for repairing.
Now our bodies don’t use just whole proteins, so instead our body has to break them down (digest) into smaller structures, called Amino Acids. Our body then uses various types of Amino Acids in different parts of our body (there are 21 different types of Amino Acids).
On the subject of Animal protein vs. Plant-protein: your body does recognize whether it comes from one or the other. It’s because our body can read what type of genetics that animal proteins have and plant-based proteins have. More importantly, lots of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals come “attached” to plant foods.
And yes, If you skip the meat and eggs, and wonder about missing out on Vitamin B12, no worrying. Vitamin B12 is added to so many plant milks now, not to mention it’s a super easy supplement to get over the counter at your grocery store.
Plant foods are so versatile, and their flavors and textures mix really well together. When you combine varieties of fruits, leafy veggies, grains, bean, root veggies, nuts, or seeds, you’ll get a nicer grouping of nutrients, including the protein your body needs!
If you eat a mixture of plant-foods, your body will like this much better and you’ll get a better collection of the amino acids you need.
Let’s check out some protein-rich plant foods. Below is a nice list that I hope you’ll find useful. It’s definitely not all-inclusive but should help you think about some less-commonly talked about protein-rich plant foods.
The list is pretty budget-friendly, with exception of maybe Hemp Seeds, Asparagus, Watercress, Purple Potatoes, and Sprouts. I grouped the foods based on more Delicate Veggies, Fruits, Root Veggies & Squash, Beans/Lentils, Grains, Plant Milks, and Seeds/Nuts. I also listed each of their serving sizes that you’d most likely eat. You’ll probably find the lettuces most surprising!
Lentils –> ½ cup (cooked) = 12 grams Protein
Shelled Edamame –> ½ cup = 9 grams Protein
Tempeh –> ½ cup = 15.5 grams Protein
Tofu –> ½ cup (raw) = 10.1 grams Protein
Chia Seeds –> ¼ cup = 7 grams Protein
Hemp Seeds –> ¼ cup 15 grams Protein
Pearled Barley –> 1 cup (cooked) = 6 grams Protein
Buckwheat –> 1 cup (cooked) = 5.9 grams Protein
Bulgur –> 1 cup (cooked) 2.3 grams Protein
Wild Rice –> 1 cup (cooked) = 6.5 grams Protein
Soba Noodles –> 1 cup (cooked) 5.8 grams Protein
Kamut –> 1 cup (cooked) = 9.8 grams Protein
Millet –>1 cup (cooked) = 6.1 grams Protein
Couscous –> 1 cup (cooked) = 6 grams Protein
Teff –> 1 cup (cooked) = 9.8 grams Protein
Avocado –> ½ cup = 2 grams Protein
Kiwi –> 1 cup = 2 grams Protein
Grapefruit –> 1 cup = 2 grams Protein
Blackberries –> 1 cup = 2.1 grams Protein
Apricots –> 1 cup = 2.2 grams Protein
Oranges –> 1 cup = 1.7 grams Protein
Raspberries –> 1 cup = 1.6 grams Protein
Broccoli –> 1 cup (raw) = 2.6 grams Protein
Asparagus –> 1 cup (raw) = 2.9 grams Protein
Alfalfa Sprouts –> 1 cup (raw) = 1.3 grams Protein
Brussels Sprouts –> 1 cup (raw) = 3 grams Protein
Cauliflower –> 1 cup (raw) = 2 grams Protein
Watercress –> 2 cups (raw) = 1.6 grams Protein
Butter (Bibb) Lettuce –> 2 cups (raw) = 2 grams Protein
Red Leaf Lettuce –> 2 cups (raw) = 1.6 grams Protein
Frisee Lettuce –> 2 cups (raw) = 3 grams Protein
Summer (Batavian) Crisp Lettuce –> 2 cups (raw) = 3.2 grams Protein
Green Leaf Lettuce –> 2 cups (raw) = 5 grams Protein
Purple Potatoes –> ½ cup (raw) = 1.4 grams Protein
Butternut Squash –> 1 cup (cubed, cooked) = 1.8 grams Protein
Soy Milk –> 8 fl oz cup = 7 grams Protein
Oat Milk –> 8 fl oz cup = 4 grams Protein
Hemp Milk –> 8 fl oz cup = 3 grams Protein
If you’re first getting started eating plant-based or maybe you’ve been at it for a little while, there’s a simple “formula” I suggest to help you reach your protein needs.
Keep in mind that it’s okay if you don’t eat the exact amount of grams per meal. Some meals and some days maybe a little more or less protein. This is just a guide.
¾ cup Oatmeal (cooked)
1/2 cup Oat Milk
½ cup Blackberries
1 Tbsp Hemp Seeds
Breakfast TOTAL Protein = About 12 grams
2 Tbsp White Bean Dip
1/2 cup Broccoli
1 small Whole Grain Pita Pocket
Snack TOTAL Protein = About 7 grams
½ cup Tempeh “Chicken” Salad
1/3 cup sliced Purple Grapes
1/8 cup sliced Avocado
1 Tbsp Chopped Pecans
Lunch TOTAL Protein = About 18 grams
¾ cup Dijon Vinaigrette Potato Salad
1 cup Green Leaf Lettuce
Snack TOTAL Protein = About 5 grams
½ cup cooked Lentil Sloppy Joe
½ Whole Wheat Bun
¾ cup Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Snack TOTAL Protein = About 17 grams
TOTAL Daily Protein = 59 grams
Salads are another fresh, colorful, and crunchy way to get your protein. I highly recommend downloading the Step By Step Guide to Building a Salad That’s Actually a Meal. The Guide will keep you in check so that you get an awesome variety of veggies, as well as ensure you feel full and energized after the meal! Along with the Guide, I do recommend having a simple, but nice Mandoline on hand. My husband bought one for me a few years ago and I use it several times per week. Cuts down on the monotony and time of chopping and slicing veggies!
The above formula and sample meal plan will also help to address your question regarding how much protein to have in each meal.
Keep in mind, the amount of protein in each meal is not what’s so important. The key is that you spread out your protein throughout the day.
At the end of the day, your body will be much more efficient at absorbing protein if it’s not all lumped together.
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