Welcome to Day 10 of our Kick Start 2022 Plant-Based Challenge.
I hope by now you’ve had a chance to swap out some dairy with plant-based milk or cheese. If so, did you find it easy or hard to do? Cheese is particularly addictive for many people, so I do encourage you to Google “casomorphins” (the product in cheese) when you have a moment. It’s pretty eye-opening!
Today’s topic is protein!
It’s something of a joke in the plant-based community that as soon as you tell someone you’re vegetarian or vegan, they’ll immediately ask, “But how do you get your protein?” So it’s understandable if you’re a little worried about getting enough, and you may even wonder if you need “high quality” animal protein in your diet.
According to many studies, the truth is that you don’t need meat or dairy to get enough protein. Surprisingly enough, you might be a lot better off if you don’t consume animal protein at all! So, today, we’re going to talk about plant-based protein and the best sources of it.
Protein is an essential nutrient for the building, maintenance, and repair of almost all the tissues in your body (including your bones, muscles, blood, hair, nails, and organs). In addition, protein helps keep your immune system strong (because your immune system is made up of proteins), and eating protein can help keep you feeling full longer.
What we call protein is a compound made up of 21 amino acids. Your body can make 12 of them, but there are 9 that are called the “essential” amino acids because you need to get them directly from your food.
While it’s true that not every food contains all 9, all wholesome foods contain some of these “essentials.” As long as you have a varied and balanced diet with enough total protein, you should get plenty of all 9 of them without worry.
So, how much protein do you actually need?
Most people are advised to get .36–.52 grams of protein per day for every pound of healthy (non-obese) body weight. So, for example, a lean 140-pound woman who isn’t pregnant needs 50–72 grams per day — depending on factors like her activity level and age — while a 175-pound man should ideally consume 63–91 grams. I encourage you to do the math for yourself when you have a moment, to determine your own target. Keep in mind that this is only a guideline and you may feel better with more or less protein depending on your age, activity level, and other factors.
Most people however actually get too much protein.
When you consume more protein than your body needs, it doesn’t store as protein. Instead, it’s converted to fat or eliminated through your kidneys, which contributes to osteoporosis and kidney stones.
And that’s not the only problem too much protein can cause. When the International Scholarly Research Network published a meta-analysis of 31 studies on protein intake and disease, it concluded that overconsumption of protein was associated with higher rates of cancer, osteoporosis, renal disease, disorders of liver function, and coronary artery disease.
Most adults eat more than 100 grams of protein per day — a good deal more than the recommended amount — and more protein isn’t necessarily better (especially when it comes to animal protein).
One study published in the journal Cell Metabolism tracked more than 6,000 adults for 20 years. The researchers concluded that between the ages of 50–65, participants who ate a high-protein diet (defined as 20% or more of calories coming from protein) were four times more likely to die of cancer than those who consumed a low-protein diet (with less than 10% of calories coming from protein). The increase in cancer risk associated with a high-protein diet during these years was on par with smoking 20 cigarettes per day!
Although the meat and dairy industries like to make it sound like animal protein is the prized protein for your body, science doesn’t back up this claim. It turns out that the source of your protein matters and that animal protein may actually be significantly inferior to plant-based protein.
In a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers followed 81,337 participants for six to 12 years. The researchers looked at the percentage of protein that came from animal and plant sources for these participants. What they found was that the risk of cardiovascular deaths steadily climbed with higher consumption of meat protein — but fell steadily with increased consumption of protein from nuts and seeds.
In addition, a 2003 research review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed that diets lower in meat consumption lead to greater longevity.
The researchers also noted that the longer a person’s adherence to a plant-strong diet, the lower their risk of mortality and the higher their life expectancy.
“But where will I get my protein?”
If that question still lingers, I totally get it. Most of us equate protein with meat and worry about getting enough if we follow a plant-based diet. But rest assured! There are plenty of plant-based sources for you:
- and seeds (including nut and seed butters),
- whole grains —
- even potatoes and broccoli are good sources, just to name a few.
Here are the protein levels of some popular foods to help you think about it:
1 cup of black beans — 16 grams
1 cup of cooked oats or oatmeal — 10 grams
2 tablespoons of almond butter — 7 grams
½ cup of tofu — 10 grams
1 cup of tempeh — 31 grams
And remember, every little bit adds up. Simply enjoying a variety of whole plant foods every day should allow you to easily meet your Recommended Daily Intake of protein.
TODAY’S ACTION: Enjoy plant-based protein.
Beans and lentils are a wonderful way to get your protein, but there are also plenty of meat and dairy analogs like tofu or tempeh that are also rich in plant-based protein. You can create your own veggie burgers, meatless chili, tofu stir-fry, veggie tacos, grain bowls, and more. The great news is that these ideas are heart-healthy, low-glycemic, useful in the prevention of cancer, and full of prebiotics and fibre.
Here are some of the delicious options that you can choose from;
1) Organic Tempeh — (1/2 cup): 16 grams of protein
This fermented soy food has loads of protein. Try it as a substitute for bacon on a BLT, chopped up on a tasty salad, or in a stir-fry with some colorful veggies. Tempeh also makes a great addition to chili.
2) Lentils — (1 cup, cooked): 18 grams of protein
Lentils are a delicious addition to many meals, and at an average of $2.00 per pound, they’re highly affordable, too!
Try red, green, brown, yellow, or black lentils — and add them to a Buddha bowl, make lentil soup, or incorporate them into burritos or tacos.
3) Organic Edamame — (1 cup, cooked): 17 grams of protein
This Asian staple is soy in its most natural state. And it can be quite addictive (in a good way!).
Eat edamame out of the shell, wrapped up in summer rolls, or as a regular in your salad rotation.
4) Chickpeas — (1 cup, cooked): 16 grams of protein
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are highly satiating. They’re also the main ingredient in one of my favorite spreads: hummus.
Try making your own hummus. Or add chickpeas to salads, bowls, or roast them for a crispy, on-the-go treat.
5) Black Beans — (1 cup, cooked): 12 grams of protein
Combine them with whole grains for a protein-packed combo, turn them into a spread, or whip them up into a nourishing soup.
6) Hemp Seeds — (3 Tablespoons): 10 grams of protein
These tiny little seeds pack a powerful dietary punch; they’re rich in protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
Small but mighty, they make a great addition to smoothies, bowls, or sprinkled on salads. Instead of adding protein powder to your smoothies, add a scoop of hemp seeds.
7) Quinoa — (1 cup, cooked): 9 grams of protein
This increasingly popular seed is on menus everywhere these days. (Yes, it’s technically a seed — not a grain, though it cooks and tastes like a grain.)
Try quinoa instead of rice in plant-based sushi with this recipe from Lazy Cat Kitchen, use it as a base for bowls, or even make a Crustless Quinoa Quiche.
8) Organic Extra-Firm Tofu — (3 oz): 9 grams of protein
If you’re not a fan of tofu — you probably just haven’t found your favourite way to eat it. The possibilities are almost endless with this ancient staple.
Try the extra-firm variety in stir-fries, marinate it in your favourite sauce, bake it, or plop it in a soup.
9) Almonds — raw (1/4 cup): 8 grams of protein
A perfect on-the-go snack, almonds are high in healthy fats and other good-for-you ingredients, including fibre, magnesium, and vitamin B2.
Eat almonds on their own or smother almond butter on sandwiches or apples. You can also chop them up and add them as a crunchy addition to your favourite dish.
10) Sunflower Seeds — (1/4 cup, raw): 7 grams of protein
These little seeds have superpowers!
Try them on their own, sprinkled on salads or zoodle dishes, or even made into a Sunflower Seed Butter
11) Oatmeal — (1 cup, cooked): 6 grams of protein
Not just for breakfast anymore, oatmeal can be included in so many recipes (they even make milk with it now!).
Make some overnight oats, or throw some into your smoothie, or make oat waffles.
12) Broccoli — (1 cup, cooked): 6 grams of protein
Broccoli is a healthy cruciferous vegetable — and also a surprisingly good source of protein.
Add it to salads, make it into soup, saute it, or add it to quinoa for a protein-packed dish.
13) Chia Seeds — (2 Tablespoons): 6 grams of protein
These little seeds are now becoming an increasingly popular superfood because of their high protein, fibre, and omega-3 fatty acid content.
Make a chia seed pudding, use chia seeds in smoothies, or add them to salads and oatmeal. And here’s an important tip: Like flaxseed, it’s best to grind your chia seeds to get the most nutrients possible.
14) Pumpkin Seeds — (1 oz, cooked): 4 grams of protein
Eat them as a snack when you travel or throw them on top of salads and bowls. You can also whip pumpkin seeds into hummus.
Todays Recipe: Protein-Packed Energy Bars
- 10 dried dates, pits taken out and simmered in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes
- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
- 1/2 cup almond butter
- 1/2 cup almond slices
- 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- 1 cup coconut flakes
- 1/4 cup dried goji berries
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
After the dates have simmered, discard the water and add the dates to the food processor along with the cooked quinoa and the almond butter. Process these ingredients until you can’t spot any big chunks of dates. If you process them for a solid minute, you should be good to go.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor (almond slices, raw sunflower seeds, raw pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, coconut flakes, goji berries, dried cherries and sea salt).
Pulse all of the ingredients together, stopping intermittently to press the ingredients down. This mixture will be thick and sticky and won’t fully process together. This is okay. As long as the mixture is semi-mixed together it’s fine. We want the final product to have lots of crunchy bits, so processing it to a paste isn’t the goal. You just want to process it enough so that the almond butter is coating most of the mixture.
When you feel you have achieved this, take the mixture out of the food processor and place it in a bowl. With your clean hands, mix everything together so that it comes together in one big ball.
Place the ball on a clean surface and spread it out with your hands until you’ve formed a rectangle or square of your desired thickness. You can make them thick, thin or anything in between. It’s entirely up to you.
Once you have it the way you want it, place a layer of parchment paper on a large plate, transfer the seed block (sexy, I know) to the plate, and cover the whole thing with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for an hour or two to set up.
After an hour or two, take your creation out of the fridge, cut it into pieces and store them in the fridge in a container.
Research by Food Revolution Network
Recipe by Polly Patrick at onegreenplanet.org