The first thing your friends will tell you when you mention becoming vegan or vegetarian is, “You won’t be able to get enough protein if you don’t eat meat!” But we’re here to tell you that’s not the case at all. Many plants contain protein, too!
Whether you’re wanting to go plant-based or just cut back on your meat consumption, there’s no reason to worry about getting enough protein. Even better, a whole-food, plant-based diet may help you live a longer life and feel better overall.
It’s entirely possible to score all the protein you need from plants alone! Let’s take a look at the benefits of plant protein, how much protein you really need, and the plants that will get you where you need to be.
The Benefits of Switching to Plant Protein
Making the switch to plant-based proteins comes with a lot of perks.
- Weight loss. Studies show that following a whole-food, plant-based diet can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight for the long haul.
- Help the planet. Getting your protein from plants instead of animals is better for the environment and reduces your carbon footprint.
- Improved heart health. Choosing plant-based proteins over red meat reduces your risk of heart disease and lowers your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Vegans and vegetarians often have lower blood pressure numbers than omnivores, too.
- Longer life. Swapping out meat for plant-based proteins can help you live a longer life by reducing your risk of chronic disease and improving your health overall.
How much protein do you really need?
Protein needs can vary a bit from person to person based on lifestyle. But, on average men need around 56 grams and women need about 46 grams of protein per day. When you consider that just one 1-cup of chopped chicken breast contains 43 grams of protein, it’s easy to see how most omnivores far exceed that number every day.
And if you’re overdoing it on animal protein, you’re probably not eating enough of the fruits and vegetables you really need for good health. Your protein intake should only be between 10 and 35 percent of your total daily calorie intake, but for most omnivores, protein makes up the main portion of every meal.
The best strategy is to include moderate amounts of high-quality protein into your snacks and meals throughout the day. For example, add some hemp seeds to your breakfast smoothie, toss some chickpeas into your salad at lunch, and then have some marinated, grilled tofu at dinner.
The best plant-based proteins for vegans and vegetarians
Are you ready to explore the possibilities of plant proteins? Here are the best plant-based proteins to incorporate into your vegan or vegetarian diet.
Soy is a staple in the vegan or vegetarian diet for good reason. It’s one of the few plants that are a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs for a variety of essential body functions, including muscle repair and immune function. Soy is also rich in iron and potassium, as well as phytonutrients, which may have anticancer properties.
Soy used to get a bad rap, but it turns out that the claims about soy having a negative influence on hormone levels in men and women are outdated and have been disproven by science. Soy is a great addition to a healthy diet and may actually help to reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.
There are lots of ways to incorporate soy into your diet. Try edamame, miso, tempeh, soy milk, and of course, tofu. Soy meal replacement drinks are an easy and convenient way to get your protein when you’re on the go, too.
Lentils offer a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to protein and nutrition on a plant-based diet. They’re loaded with fiber, beneficial phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. And you’ll get around 9 grams of protein in a ½ cup serving.
Another amazing thing vegans and vegetarians should know about lentils is that they’re a great source of antioxidant-rich polyphenols. Polyphenols have anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-obesity properties.
If you need some ideas for how to incorporate lentils into your diet, try a lentil and veggie soup or turn them into a delicious and satisfying veggie burger.
3. Chickpeas aka Garbanzo beans
Chickpeas are another legume with lots of beneficial nutrients, including 7-grams of protein per ½ cup serving. They’re full of fiber, folate, phosphorous, and healthy fatty acids. And they’re very versatile! Use them to make hummus, roast them for snacking, or toss them into soups, salads, and pasta dishes.
Many people refer to quinoa as a whole grain, but it’s technically a seed that’s often used in place of grains like rice in a variety of dishes. Quinoa contains about 8-grams of protein per cup and it’s a great sour of fiber, as well as all nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa can be eaten like a cooked cereal at breakfast, added to a salad at lunch, or take the place of rice or pasta at dinner.
5. Hemp seeds
Hemps seeds are another plant-based protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. They pack an impressive 10-grams of protein in just three tablespoons, too. Their crunchy, nutty flavor makes them fantastic for sprinkling on salads, soups, and yogurt, or toss them into your breakfast smoothie.
There are so many delicious nuts to choose from, and most of them are a great source of protein. You can expect to get around five or six grams of protein in ¼ cup of nuts, and most are also fantastic sources of heart-healthy fats and other vitamins and minerals, too.
Of course, you can simply snack on pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and almonds. But you will also love them chopped and sprinkled over salads, yogurt, and steamed veggies, or tossed into a smoothie, too.
7. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast packs 8-grams of protein in just a quarter cup. It’s also rich in energy-producing B-vitamins and the powerful antioxidant, glutathione. It’s also gluten-free and all-natural. Nutritional yeast has a yummy cheese-like flavor that makes it ideal for sprinkling over everything from popcorn and pasta to veggies and soups.
Wrapping things up
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of plant-based proteins. You can also get your protein fix on a vegan or vegetarian diet from nut butter, black beans, green peas, whole grains, chia seeds, and much more. In fact, most fruits and vegetables contain some protein.
At the end of the day, protein deficiencies on a whole-food, plant-based diet are nothing to worry about. Just be sure to include some protein-rich plant foods, like the ones mentioned above, in your meals and snacks throughout the day and you’ll be good to go.