Can I Get Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Diet?

When you decided to try a plant-based diet were you concerned about getting enough protein?  I was too busy being sick and wanting to be healthy, so this was not really a concern for me, but it was for my husband.

It’s normal to wonder if you can make such a big change and see the results you want. Maybe you were blown away by the support of friends and family…

Or maybe not.

Can I get enough protein on a plant-based diet? YES!

I’m willing to bet that when you were eating burgers and pizza from your local fast food establishments no one had anything to say about your food choices.

Many of us who have adopted a plant-based diet quickly realize that everyone around us is concerned about our protein intake.

Can I get enough protein on a plant-based diet?

That is a great question but first let’s talk about protein deficiency.

There are two terms that describe protein deficiency and neither come up in casual conversation, which is good because I probably can’t pronounce them.

  • Marasmus – This type of protein deficiency is often seen in third world countries with starving populations where they aren’t receiving enough calories in any form. Without adequate treatment, i.e. more food, sufferers will die from starvation. This type is even rarer than kwashiorkor.
  • Kwashiorkor – This type of protein deficiency can occur rarely, in individuals who are ingesting enough calories but aren’t getting enough protein. This type was often seen in the depression era where people often had to eat only bread and gravy. The solution for this sector is to eat more nutritionally dense calories.

Most people haven’t heard of either of these terms because, at least in the modern world it is very rare. There are illnesses than can cause the body not to be able to process protein, and illnesses like anorexia that can lead to it. There are also problems world-wide with human starvation that also leads to these issues. But in first world countries this really isn’t an issue.

The main cause of protein deficiency is malnutrition.

People who eat an abundant, whole-food, plant-based diet containing the right caloric amounts for their body size and weight will not suffer from any sort of protein deficiency. The reason is simple. All plant foods have protein. In fact, it’s super hard not to get enough protein if you’re eating enough food, plain and simple.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

There is some disagreement in the community about how much protein a body needs. Let’s assume every one’s body is different in terms of how much protein they need depending on what stage they are in life, what sex they are, how much they exercise, and what they’re trying to achieve. Many plant-based doctors like Dr. McDougall, Dr. Esselstyn both believe (and research supports) as low as 5 percent of your daily caloric intake needs come from protein.

The RDA recommends that you need 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has their own recommendations, as does the American Dietetic Association. But in general it’s accepted by these organizations that between 10 and 35 percent of your daily caloric intake needs, should be from protein. For a moderately active 130 pound female that translates into 50 to 176 grams of protein per day. Getting this amount from a plant-based diet is not only easy it’s practically impossible not to do it.

Plant Foods Rich in Protein

  • Lentils – Packing 9 grams of protein per half cup serving, lentils are also rich in fiber and are a naturally low fat food. They provide most of your iron and magnesium for the day too. Plus they are simply delicious, especially as Lentil Tacos.
  • Black Beans – One of my favorites, black beans are great in soups, bean burgers, salads and more. They have 8 grams of protein per half cup serving, healthy antioxidants, and potassium. They’re also a good source of calcium and an outstanding source of iron.
  • Quinoa – A fabulous source of protein, at 8 grams per cup, you also fill your body with magnesium, fiber and cancer fighting antioxidants. It’s also a good source of iron, copper, thiamin and vitamin B6 and more. Try it in this wrap or for breakfast.
  • Green Peas – You probably didn’t know that green peas are full of protein and fiber. Plus they taste so good in soups and salads. They’re good in the pod and out of the pod and have 8 grams of protein per cup. What’s more they have an amino acid called leucine which helps with weight loss.
  • Artichokes – Want a high protein addition to your vegan pizza? Instead of high calorie fake meat add this delightful veggie for 8 grams of protein per cup and less than 100 calories. Plus it has potassium, calcium, iron, B-6 and magnesium. You can also try them in this Spinach Artichoke Dip.
  • Hemp Seeds – This seed packs a punch with more than 4 grams of protein per tablespoon. Add to smoothies, salad, and make hemp milk to pour over delicious steel cut oats for a protein packed breakfast of champions. I regularly sprinkle them on toast as well.
  • Oatmeal — Many people don’t realize how much protein a cup of steal cut oats has, but it’s chock full with 28 grams and who doesn’t like big bowl of oats on a cold day with some nuts, fruit and hemp milk? Check out my Ultimate Oatmeal Guide for inspiration.

Really, this list could go on and on, but you get the picture. It’s easy to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. What’s more, the protein comes packed with other nutritional benefits in a lower calorie package allowing you to eat even more while maintaining a healthy weight.

Finally, let’s get something clear about complete proteins. That idea is a myth that has been debunked many times. You can read about it in many places including Forks Over Knives. But what you need to know is that there is no such thing and if you eat an adequate amount of calories for your needs you will naturally get enough protein. Eating a plant-based diet you’ll also get enough of all the other nutrients as well.

Plant-Based Diet Starter Guide

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  1. Great article and so very true! Most people concerned about protein cannot state how much they really need or how much they actually consume. It’s amazing how society can focus on one nutrient, thanks to misinformation and media sensationalism.

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