Tag: protein

Plant-Based Protein 101: How to Get Your Fix Without Meat

One of the biggest questions I get when someone finds out I’m vegan is always the same: how do I get my protein? Honestly, it wasn’t that long ago that I only thought of protein as meat, eggs, fish, and other animal products, too—it’s how the majority of us are raised. The reality, though, is that while meat is the norm, it’s certainly not the best option and you can get everything you need from plants.

What’s the Problem with Animal Protein?

First thing’s first: animal protein might just be the worst way to get your protein fix. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meat is pumped with hormones—including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone—which has one purpose: helping animals grow bigger and faster, enabling the meat industry to produce more products and make more money. Since you already have hormones in your own body, taking in excess quantities through your diet, too, isn’t great for your health. Studies have shown it can increase your risk of cancer and even lead to heart attacks, heart failure, or sudden death.

In addition to hormones, the antibiotics in meat are also a problem. Animals are raised in filthy, overcrowded environments, and to ensure they stay alive until slaughter, the meat industry uses 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States. Because of the high amount of antibiotics given to these animals, they become resistant to certain drugs, which potentially lets dangerous strains of bacteria into your body. The foodborne illnesses that result are serious business: Salmonella alone causes 1.2 million illnesses, as well as hundreds of deaths, in the U.S. every year.

Even with the hormones and antibiotics aside, eating animal protein can also lead to some serious health issues. Consuming meat has been found to greatly increase your risk of many different kinds of cancer, including breast cancer and colon cancer—two of the top killers of women and men. On top of that, it’s also been shown to negatively affect your gut health, increase your risk of having a stroke, and shorten your lifespan. And that’s just the short list. Plant-based protein, on the other hand, does quite the opposite, giving your body the fuel it needs without the consequences.

Busting the Plant-Based Protein Myth

One of the oldest myths about the vegan diet that’s still making the rounds is that it’s not possible to get all the essential amino acids you need from plants. (Something your body can’t make itself, so you have to get them through your diet.) Because of that, you’ve probably heard you have to combine two incomplete proteins (like beans and rice) to get a complete protein. The truth, though, is that the idea—which originated from the book Diet for a Small Planet written in 1971 by sociologist Frances Moore Lappé—has long been disproven.

Want to find out which plants are high in protein?
First read: The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

In reality, if you’re eating a well-rounded diet, you’ll get all the protein you need—and you don’t have to eat animals to do it. According to the American Heart Association, “whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids”—and as long as you eat a variety and eat enough calories for your body every day, you’ll be A-OK. In fact, Dr. Michael Greger, MD, author of How Not to Die, says you’ll have more than enough, saying those who eat plant-based diets typically have twice the average daily protein requirements. If that wasn’t the case, how would some of the best plant-based athletes—including Tom Brady, who’s still going strong on the football field at 41 years old—be able to stay at the top of their game?

How Much Protein You Actually Need

To figure out your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein, just use a simple formula: take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36. For someone who’s 140 pounds, that would mean they should be aiming for around 50 grams of protein per day. If you want to factor in your needs based on your activity level, there’s a handy calculator for that, too.

It might seem like 50 or so grams is hard to reach, but not if you choose your sources wisely. In fact, if you wanted to, all you’d have to do is eat one cup of lentils. Seriously—one. That legume is just one of the many plants you can pick up at the supermarket to stay strong and healthy, though. For an entire list of other options, head on over to The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources.

The Best Plant-Based Protein Sources

The days of depending on meat for protein are long gone. In fact, meat is actually causing more harm than good—not just from what it goes through before getting on your plate, but also because of what it’s doing to your body after you eat it.

Research has shown just how detrimental animal protein can be to human health, whether that’s putting you at risk of breast cancer or a shortened lifespan. While the belief used to be that it’s impossible to get all the essential amino acids you need from plants (something your body can’t make itself), the myth has been disproven for years. In reality, you can get more than enough protein from a well-rounded diet of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. And get this: those who get their fix from plants actually tend to take in twice the average daily protein requirements. No big deal, right?

Want more background info on plant vs. animal protein?
First read: Plant-Based Protein 101: How to Get Your Fix Without Meat

If you’re looking to add more plant-based protein into your diet and kick the meat off your plate once and for all, these are some of the best options to start with. Considering a 140-pound person’s Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is around 50 grams and one measley cup of lentils is exactly that, it’s safe to say you’ll be just fine. (To figure out how much protein you need in a day, use this simple formula: take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36.)

1. Tofu

Photo: Yummy Beet

Amount: 20 grams of protein per cup

How to Use It: Bake it and add it into stir-fries, blend it into creamy sauces (like Alfredo!), scramble it, bake it and slather it with BBQ sauce for vegan wings, or blend it to use it as a dessert.

Recipe to Try: Vegan Penne Alfredo

2. Lentils

Amount: 50 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Add them into your soups and stews, toss some in your pasta sauce (like Bolognese!), or make a lentil salad.

Recipe to Try: Vegan Sloppy Joes

3. Chia Seeds

Amount: 4.4 grams of protein per two Tbsp

How to Use Them: Put them in your smoothies, make pudding, or use them as an egg substitute.

Recipe to Try: Basic Chia Seed Pudding

4. Chickpeas

Amount: 39 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Roast them in the oven for a snack, turn them into a homemade hummus, or use them in sandwiches and salads.

Recipe to Try: Chickpea Salad Sandwich

5. Black Beans

Photo: Minimalist Baker

Amount: 39 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Put them in your tacos and burritos, toss some in your chili, or make burger patties.

Recipe to Try: Smoky BBQ Black Bean Veggie Burger

6. Edamame

Amount: 17 grams per cup

How to Use Them: Add them into your salads, boil them in their pods with sea salt, or purée them for a dip.

Recipe to Try: Edamame Hummus

7. Nutritional Yeast

vegan cheesy pasta

Amount: 9 grams of protein per two Tbsp

How to Use It: Sprinkle it on roasted veggies, add it into your smoothies, sprikle it on popcorn, or use it in “cheesy” vegan pasta dishes.

Recipe to Try: 4-Ingredient Vegan Mac and Cheese

8. Tempeh

Photo: Making Thyme for Health

Amount: 31 grams of protein per cup

How to Use It: Make a tempeh sandwich, turn it into bacon, put it in your stir-fries, or use it in your tacos.

Recipe to Try: Tempeh Bacon

9. Almonds

Amount: 20 grams of protein per cup

How to Use Them: Eat them plain as a snack, turn them into nut butter, roast them, or use them as a healthier crust for your desserts.

Recipe to Try: Chipotle Roasted Almonds

10. Broccoli

The best high protein plant foods

Amount: 17 grams per bunch

How to Use It: Bake it, add it into pasta dishes, make a salad, steam it, or purée it into soup.

Recipe to Try: Apple Broccoli Salad

Other MVPs

  • Mushrooms: 3 grams per cup
  • Jackfruit: 2.8 grams per cup
  • Cauliflower: 11 grams per medium head
  • Peas: 8 grams per cup
  • Quinoa: 8 grams per cup
  • Artichokes: 4.5 grams per medium artichoke

Yep, as you can see, no meat is needed up in here.