What to Know About Protein Intake with Plant-Based Diets
Have you been thinking about switching to a plant-based or more plant-forward diet? Many people who consider starting a new plant-based diet have concerns about their protein intake. If this sounds like you, then this blog post can help clear up some of the confusion surrounding a plant-based diet when it comes to protein!
The average person needs 0.8-1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, and this amount increases with physical activity. Protein intake should be somewhat evenly distributed between meals and snacks to help curb hunger levels throughout the day. Most people meet their protein needs with ease when they are consuming animal products with their meals but meeting your protein needs while increasing your plant intake may require you to put more thought into your meal structure.
Sources of Plant-Based Proteins You Should Know
Legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all plant-based foods that are rich in protein. We’ve broken down each of these food items below to give you more information about using these in your meals for more protein intake.
Legumes are a great source of both protein and fiber, making them a nutritious and filling addition to most meals and snacks. Some examples of legumes include chickpeas, lentils, peas, and beans (navy, cannellini, black beans, red kidney, black-eyed and soybeans). Legumes have many health benefits that often get overlooked. Most dark beans are nutrition powerhouses because they are also great sources of antioxidants. An increase in bean intake has been associated with decreased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease.
Here are some examples of the amount of protein in different legumes:
- Soybeans (1/2 C) – 14g
- Chickpeas (1/2 C) – 20g
- Lentils (1/2 C) – 9g
- Navy beans (1/2 C) – 8g
- Peas (1 C) – 8g
Helpful tips for adding more legumes to your diet:
- Try a lentil pasta in place of your grain pasta
- Snack on dry-roasted edamame or chickpeas
- Add black beans to your taco meat
Grains naturally provide protein in their whole form, but unfortunately, much of this protein is removed when a product is processed into a refined or enriched grain. Choosing whole-grain bread over white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole wheat pasta over white pasta are all ways to optimize your protein intake from whole grains. Whole grains are also a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorous, and iron.
Here are some examples of the amount of protein in different whole grains:
- Sprouted grain bread (1 slice) – 4-6g
- Quinoa (1/4 C dry) - 6g
- Steel-cut oats (1/4 C dry) – 5g
- Wild rice (1/4 C dry) – 6g
- Whole wheat pasta (2oz dry) – 7g
Tips for adding more whole grains to your diet:
- Audit your grain intake (bread, rice, crackers, pasta) and make sure at least half of these are whole grains
- Try making “savory oats” for breakfast using steel cut oats, an egg, and your favorite vegetables
- Sprinkle quinoa in your salad
Nuts and Seeds
In addition to providing protein, nuts and seeds are also sources of healthy fat, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and many other nutrients. They can be used to add flavor and texture to smoothies, salads, and baked goods. Nuts are also a great grab-and-go snack that you can keep on hand for busier weeks.
Here are some examples of the amount of protein in different nuts and seeds:
- Chia seeds (2 Tbsp) – 6g
- Pumpkin seeds (1/4 C) – 11g
- Flaxseeds (3 Tbsp) – 6g
- Hemp hearts (3 Tbsp) – 10g
- Peanut butter (2 Tbsp) – 8g
- Almonds (1/4 C) – 7g
Tips for adding more nuts and seeds to your diet:
- Sprinkle hemp hearts on top of your avocado toast
- Add chia seeds and flaxseeds to your smoothies
- Snack on a handful of nuts
Final Thoughts on Plant-Based Proteins
It’s a myth that you have to consume animal products in order to meet your daily protein needs, but there are a few things that you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about decreasing animal protein in favor of plants. First, you may need to include several different plant-based proteins in one meal in order to meet your protein needs. While just a single serving of meat may provide all of your necessary protein for that meal, it may take combining more than one protein-rich plant food in order to deliver that same amount of protein.
Something else to keep in mind is that if you are transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet, then it’s even more important to include protein with all meals and snacks. This will ensure that you meet your total daily protein needs with your new diet.
Lastly, you may notice from the information above that many plant-based proteins are also a source of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our bodies’ most efficient source of energy. If you suffer from a medical condition that is affected by carbohydrate intake, then we recommend consulting with a medical professional or registered dietitian for individualized advice about how to best increase your plant-based proteins.
*The information above is not intended to be medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or registered dietitian before changing your eating habits.*