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How To Get Enough Protein When Eating a Plant-Based Diet

Plant-based diets are here to stay. Most people recognize that plant-based diets, a way of eating that prioritizes plants and whole foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds, whole...

Plant-based diets are here to stay. Most people recognize that plant-based diets, a way of eating that prioritizes plants and whole foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds, whole grains, etc.), is great for so many health reasons that it’s hard to deny it.

However, when eating a plant-based diet, one of the major concerns is total protein intake. Since most of the major sources of protein come from animal sources (i.e. meat, fish, eggs, dairy) it is a reasonable concern to wonder where the protein is coming from. The good news is that there are plant sources of protein; we just need to be a bit more intentional when we are forgoing animal sources to ensure we get enough in our diets.


Complete vs. Incomplete Protein

You may have heard about complete and incomplete proteins before. If not, let me give you a quick run down. A complete protein includes all the 9 essential amino acids (the building blocks that make up proteins) and incomplete protein is missing at least 1 of those 9.  Essential amino acids are those that our bodies need from our diet, as our body cannot make them. Amino acids and protein help to provide structure, function and regulation of many of the body’s tissues, organs & muscles. So, if you guessed that amino acids are important to your health, then you would be correct.

Most complete proteins are from animal sources and most plant-based proteins are what we would call incomplete proteins. The good news is that if you are getting enough protein in a day, we’ll get to that in a second, you likely will get enough essential amino acids across the day as long as there is variety in your diet (i.e. your not just eating one source of plant based protein). This means that if you are mostly plant based and do not eat animal proteins, you should be a-okay.

Now that we’ve gotten that quick science lesson out of the way, let’s look a little deeper into how much protein we need in a day.


How Much Protein Do You Need in a Day

The current RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for protein is 0.8g/kg/day for adults. However, in my practice as a dietitian I see that many people’s needs may go as high as 2g/kg/day. I also see that many people fall short of this goal. Why? Protein takes preparation. We must plan ahead when eating protein, as we can’t just whip up a tofu stir-fry in the middle of a busy workday. Instead, we have to have it prepared ahead of time and ready to go.

That being said, there are many options when it comes to plant based sources of protein, so it’s helpful to know where to find said protein so you can ensure you are eating enough. Protein not only helps our muscles recover and grow strong, it also helps to stabilize blood sugar and keep us satisfied for a long time. Often when my clients say they’re hungry between meals it’s because their meals and snacks are lacking enough protein. Check out some of the best sources of plant-based protein below and start adding them to your day.


Top 10 Sources of Plant-based Protein

  • Soy beans/ Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Peanuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Almonds
  • Quinoa
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Oats

September 13th was National Peanut Day and as you may have noticed, peanuts are on the list of plant-based protein sources, as are many other nuts and seeds. These delicious legumes (yes that’s right they’re a legume!) pack in 9-10g of protein per ¼ cup or if you prefer eating peanut butter, 8 grams in 2 tablespoons. Add peanuts to your diet by adding peanut butter to your oatmeal, peanuts to a homemade trail mix, peanut powder to your smoothie or grab some Protein Power Balls to snack on.

Prioritizing protein in a plant-based diet will not only help keep you full longer but also it will help bring variety to your diet.  Use our list of plant-based protein sources to add variety & satisfaction to your plant-based diet.


Blog Written By  | @thesassydietitian

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