Plant Proteins: Are you getting enough?
If you practice vegetarianism or veganism, one of the main questions you can get asked from others or even ask yourself is how you get enough protein without eating meat and/or other animal by-products. Yes, a vegetarian or vegan diet may limit what foods you are consuming thus allowing for the possibility for certain nutrient deficiencies like vitamin B12, iron, or zinc - all of which are predominantly found in animal products. However, there are more delicious, available, and high-protein foods that are plant-based than more people think.
The average recommendation is to consume 20-30 grams of protein per meal. To put this into perspective, a single chicken breast can contain upwards of 40-50 grams of protein. That means consuming a single chicken breast as a protein source during a meal can cover that need easily. However, if you are plant-based, there needs to be more attention to detail on how different plant-based foods can each contain different amounts of protein and can be added up together to satisfy that protein goal.
With that, the individual needs to be educated on plant-based protein sources that will not only provide other nutrients in a meal but will especially satisfy that protein goal of 20-30 grams.
Here is a list of the most common plant-based sources of protein:
- Soy, tofu, tempeh, seitan, vegetable patties
- Beans & legumes:
- Black, pinto, chickpeas, kidney, lentils, peas
- Nuts & seeds:
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts
- Seeds: Chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, flax, edamame
- Certain fruits & vegetables
- Broccoli, sweet potato, spinach, guava, artichoke, kale, mushrooms, seaweed
- Certain whole grains
- Quinoa, brown rice, millet, teff, oats, buckwheat
- Nutritional yeast & spirulina algae
- Milks made from nuts/grains
- Oat, almond, soy, etc.
- Dairy & eggs (vegetarian only)
- Greek & regular yogurt, cottage cheese, other cheeses, milk
An important thing to note is that sometimes to ensure the protein sources you are consuming are providing you with complete proteins (proteins that contain all the amino acids necessary to function in the body), some will need to be consumed together as ‘complementary proteins’. Combinations include 2 plant proteins like:
- Nuts/seeds + whole grains
- Whole grains + beans
- Beans + nuts/seeds.
Examples of combinations for meals & snacks can include:
- Peanut butter toast on whole-grain bread
- Smoothie with soy milk, chia seeds, & fruit
- Oatmeal with hemp seeds
- Whole grain cereal with nuts
- Hummus & pita bread
- Trail mix with nuts, fruit, seeds, & granola
- Greek yogurt with nuts (vegetarian only)
- Whole-grain tortilla chips & bean dip
- Quinoa salad with chickpeas, sunflower seeds, & dark leafy greens
- Brown rice bowl with black beans, salsa, & corn
- Sheet pan bake with kale, sweet potato, & peppers
- Asian bowl with brown rice, edamame, seaweed, & soy sauce
- Pasta with peas & other vegetables
- Bean soup with whole-grain crackers
By trying new plant-based protein sources and experimenting with combinations, you can find what works best for your taste buds and body while still adequately consuming sufficient protein and other nutrients.
*Written by an Libby Siegel, an FLN Intern