Someone following a plant-based or vegan diet – or considering making the switch – may be concerned about their protein intake.
Although animal proteins are ‘complete’, experts advise that protein quality on a plant-based diet can be as good as an omnivore diet. It just takes a little planning.
Here’s the difference between animal and plant-based protein explained, how much protein a person needs per day and 15 of the best plant-based protein sources.
About plant-based proteins
People need adequate dietary protein for normal growth, development, and functioning. Amino acids in foods are building blocks for protein. We use amino acids for vital processes like the synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones and making muscle and other tissues.
Animal proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, and nutritionists refer to them as ‘complete’ proteins.
However, plant-based proteins provide a range of amino acids, with some amino acids being present in smaller quantities.
When an amino acid is low in plant food, nutritionists refer to it as ‘limiting’, meaning it limits the opportunity to synthesize (or make) a complete protein.
Therefore, people eating a plant-based diet should consume a range of different protein sources to provide the complementary amino acids to make protein.
An example of combining complementary proteins in the same meal is rice with beans or flatbread with lentil dahl.
However, research shows that it is unnecessary to eat complementary proteins at every meal; it is enough to consume it on the same day.
The British Nutrition Foundation advises that if vegetarians and vegans eat a variety of plant proteins in combination, there is no reason why the quality of protein should not be as good as in a diet consisting of meat, milk, fish, eggs or other foods containing animal protein. .
Furthermore, it is worth noting that some plant foods such as quinoa and soy contain all the essential amino acids and are complete proteins.
How much protein do we need?
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, most adults need 0.75 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day (g / kg / d). It is noted that protein needs increase during pregnancy by 6 g per day and for lactation by 8-11 g, depending on the age of the infant.
Dietary guidelines for Americans advise adults to consume 10-35 percent of their daily calories as protein, 46 g for women and 56 g for men.
It is important to note that the amount of protein one seeks may vary depending on their level of activity and the type of exercise they do.
For example, the International Sports Nutrition Association (ISSN) recommends 1.4-2 g / kg / d protein to build and maintain muscle mass. However, they also note that there is evidence that higher-protein intakes above 3 g / kg / d may have positive effects on body composition in people trained to resist.
However, a 2016 study advised that while long-term consumption of 2 g / kg / d protein is safe for healthy adults, long-term intake of more than this may result in digestive, renal, and vascular abnormalities.
Harvard Health also agrees that until experts are convinced of safe amounts, untrained individuals should aim for no more than 2 g / kg / day.
Furthermore, tofu contains isoflavones which some research suggests may be beneficial for hot flashes and improving arterial health in menopause.
People can purchase a firm or silken tofu to use in various ways, including stir-fries, burgers, and scrambled eggs.
Lentils are a popular protein choice for people eating a plant-based diet, with one cup of cooked lentils providing 17.9g of protein.
Additionally, lentils are a source of fiber, B vitamins, and calcium.
People can choose from red, green, and brown lentils and use them to make dahls and curries or add to cooked or raw vegetables. Serving lentils with rice gives the meal a good amino acid profile.
Edamame beans are whole, bright green, immature soybeans. Grocery stores typically sell them frozen for people to steam and add to stir-fries, soups, or salads. People can also make them into a tasty dip.
Chickpeas or garbanzo beans are a versatile and tasty source of plant-based protein. A 253g can of chickpeas contains 17.8g of protein. In addition, chickpeas are a low-fat, high-fiber food providing a good source of calcium and magnesium.
People can incorporate canned chickpeas into salads or use them to make a quick hummus by adding protein-rich tahini. Likewise, serving a chickpea curry or dahl with brown rice provides a wholesome meal rich in amino acids.
Oats are an all-round excellent choice for breakfast.
Additionally, oats are a good source of fiber and beta-glucans, which research indicates may help balance blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and support the immune system.
Manufacturers use high-protein vital wheat gluten to shape and flavor into different foods with a meaty texture. People can also purchase the flour and make seitan themselves.
Containing 76.67g of protein per 100g, seitan can make a good protein source for people on a plant-based diet. However, people should be aware of processed fake meats’ fat, sugar, and salt content. Furthermore, seitan is not suitable for people eating a gluten-free diet.
Hemp seeds are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Three tablespoons of hulled hemp seeds provide 9.48g of protein.
The outer shell of hemp is indigestible, so people can purchase shelled hemp hearts to add to salads, smoothies, and cooked meals. In addition, hemp hearts are a good source of minerals, B vitamins, and fiber.
Additionally, people can consume hemp as a protein powder or oil.
Grains such as wheat and rice provide essential amino acids on a plant-based diet. However, people should choose mainly whole grains to help balance their blood sugar and energy requirements.
Nuts are a healthy addition to a plant-based diet and a good source of protein. For example, protein per 100g of popular types of nuts is as follows:
Furthermore, nuts contain fiber, minerals such as calcium and zinc, and healthy fats. Walnuts, in particular, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition, a 2019 review suggested that consuming nuts reduces the incidence of and mortality from cardiovascular diseases.
Although quinoa is a type of edible seed, people refer to it as a whole grain.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains around 8g of protein and all the essential amino acids, classifying it as a complete protein.
Furthermore, a cup of quinoa contains 5g of fiber and essential nutrients such as magnesium, folate, and vitamin B1.
Someone can make quinoa dishes with various vegetables, herbs, and beans or add it to homemade burger patties.
According to a 2021 review, tempeh in the United States contains around 17g of protein per 84g average portion size. Furthermore, the review notes that tempeh is a source of calcium and B vitamins and may help to improve gut health.
Tempeh has a strong, fermented taste, and it might take a few tries for someone to get used to its flavor!
Although vegetables aren’t the first thing people think of when planning protein into their diets, their protein content contributes to someone’s intake in smaller amounts.
Broccoli, for example, contains 2.38g of protein per 100g, is an excellent source of folate, vitamin C, and calcium. Therefore including vegetables such as broccoli in a meal with other protein sources provides additional nutrients.
Don’t forget to use the stalks too; a medium broccoli stalk contains 4.28g of protein. Therefore someone could use a stalk to make a protein-rich broccoli ‘rice’ by blitzing it in a food processor.
Mushrooms have a meaty texture and are ideal for replacing meat in a plant-based diet. For example, a grilled portabella mushroom makes a good veggie burger in a bun and contains 2.11g of protein per 100g.
Per cup, green peas have an enormous 7.86g of protein. They also provide additional nutrients such as calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
Someone could try adding a cup of green peas to stock, chopped scallions, and fresh mint and blending in a food processor to make a protein-rich tasty pea and mint soup.
Additionally, pea protein powder which manufacturers make from yellow peas, contains a monumental 21g of protein per 27g serving. People can blend this into smoothies or add it to breakfasts or soups.
Tahini is a paste that manufacturers make from sesame seeds. It is a typical ingredient in hummus and makes a healthy dressing for salads and cooked vegetables.