We need protein to build and repair muscle (among other things!), but when you first transition to a plant-based lifestyle you may worry you can’t get enough of this macronutrient. So what’s the deal with protein -- how much do we need, can you get enough from plant-based diets, and is there such a thing as too much protein? We get to the bottom of it all.
There are few nutrients that enjoy as much time in the spotlight as protein. And for good reason. Proteins are the building blocks of cellular life. From the hair on the top of your head to the tips of your toenails, and everything in between, all cells in your body come from protein. Protein doesn’t just build and repair your living tissue, it also makes enzymes, hormones, and more. There’s just no way around it; we need protein.
Ok, but this doesn’t answer the question, How much protein do I need?
Not to mention, with some of the most well-known sources of protein often coming from animal products (meat, dairy, eggs), can you get enough protein with a plant-based diet?
We’re here to put your mind at ease! Here’s the skinny on all things protein, recommended dietary protein intake, and how to ensure that you’re getting enough of it:
Dubbed “the building blocks of life,” protein, like carbohydrates and fat, is a macronutrient. Macronutrients give the body energy (by way of calories). Your body needs lots of macronutrients to keep this train going. Chemically speaking, protein is composed of the amino acids: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen or sulfur.
We use protein to build muscle mass, but that’s not all we use it for. Your body puts protein to work in nine essential ways: to grow and repair tissue, to aid important biochemical reactions, to facilitate communication between cells, to act as a structural framework within your cells, to regulate proper pH balances within your blood, to maintain your body’s fluid balance, to transport and store nutrients, to form antibodies to fight infection, and (last but not least) to give your body energy. Protein has also been linked to weight loss through improved metabolism and reduced appetite.
There’s a big concern for many plant-based beginners that a vegan diet just doesn’t cut it on the protein front. But here’s the deal: animals aren’t the only source of protein! Contrary to popular belief, plant-based protein is not inferior to the protein found in meat, eggs, and dairy; it’s comprised of the exact same amino acids as animal protein and the body uses it in the exact same way.
So plant-based eaters do indeed get all the protein they need, without having to worry about protein combining. That’s right -- the whole theory of protein complementation was thoroughly debunked.
So are animal protein and plant protein equal? Turns out, animal protein is less healthy than plant protein. If you have a lot of animal protein in your diet you may be cutting back on your life expectancy, with a mortality risk factor comparable to smoking. Animal protein is linked to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other serious chronic diseases.
The good news: a plant-based diet has plenty of delicious No BS (Bad Stuff) protein sources.
Tempeh has 34 grams of protein per cup, soybeans have 31 grams per cup, lentils have 18 grams… and that’s only the tip of the beanstalk. Various nuts, leafy greens, and whole grains all provide high amounts of protein for healthy eating.
Getting protein from plant sources isn’t difficult at all.
Did you know plant-based dieters (vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, WFPB dieters, etc.) get about 70% more daily protein than their bodies need? This is roughly the same daily protein intake consumed by those with traditional omnivorous diets.
That’s right. Whether or not you eat animal products, you’re probably getting more than enough protein in your diet. As long as you’re eating a good range of plant foods, you really don’t need to be tracking your protein intake or combing over nutrition labels.
Your protein needs depend on your activity level, age, and other factors, but a good rule of thumb to calculate recommended daily protein allowance is to take your body weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 0.36. This will give you approximately how much protein you need(in grams).
Still wondering “How much protein do I need a day?” Let’s do some quick math:
If you weigh 165 lbs, your protein requirement would be 165 x 0.36 = 59.4 grams of protein per day. Or just 2 cups of edamame. That’s it!
So if you’ve got a well-rounded plant-based diet, protein deficiency is hard to come by. But is it unhealthy to eat too much protein?
Some studies show those with diets extremely high in protein are five times more likely to die from cancer and 23 times more likely to die from diabetes. And the culprit? Animal protein. If you’re getting all of your protein from plant sources, then it’s probably not something you need to be concerned about. And considering the high fiber content in most protein-rich plant foods, you’d be uncomfortably full before you ever got close to dangerous levels of protein intake.
Eat your plant-based protein (but don’t lose sleep over it). And remember, not all protein is created equal!
In the end, by eating a variety of plant-based foods, you’ll get more than enough protein without overdoing it. Better yet? Meet all your protein needs with plant-based meal delivery from MamaSezz.
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Your nutrition questions answered. What about Carbohydrates? Is it O.K. to eat avocados? Why do I crave sweet and salty snacks?