The Truth About Plant-Based Protein

If you’ve ever adopted a vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diet, you’ve heard the question: “How do you eat enough protein?”people eating outside at a table

In the minds of many, protein comes primarily—if not exclusively—from meat and dairy products. Eating “enough” protein is the foundation of a healthy diet, and conventional wisdom seems to hold that there’s really no such thing as too much protein.

While it’s true that protein is an essential nutrient that your body needs to carry out crucial functions, including building and repairing muscle tissue, it’s entirely possible to meet your protein requirements while eating a plant-based diet. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s just as possible to eat too much protein as it is to eat too little.

Too Little Protein? More Like Too Much!

According to a Physicians Committee report, people who eat a traditional Western diet often consume twice the necessary quantity of protein. Excessive protein consumption can have serious health consequences. Studies have linked it to conditions including…

  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer
  • Impaired kidney function
  • Heart disease

If your primary sources of protein and meat and dairy products, you’re also likely consuming an excess amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. Fortunately, eating a varied, plant-based diet can help you to easily meet your optimal protein intake.

Why We Really Need to Eat Protein

When we talk about our bodies needing protein, what we actually mean is that our bodies require certain amino acids found in protein. Eleven of those can be produced by our bodies, but the remaining nine—known as essential amino acids—must come from the foods we eat. Those nine essential acids are…

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine
baskets of vibrant colored produce

Despite the strong association between protein and animal and dairy products, those nine essential amino acids are only found in those products because animals eat plants that contain them.

How Much Protein Do You Need to Eat?

So, how much protein do you actually need? The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. That means someone who weighs 150 pounds should try to eat 54 grams of protein per day.

Here’s How to Know Your Protein Needs

To find your exact RDA for protein, you can use the following formula: your body weight (in pounds) times 0.36.

Once you know your accurate benchmark for protein intake, you’ll find that by eating an array of veggies and fruits, you can meet your protein needs. Just one stalk of broccoli contains 4 grams of protein! There’s no need to seek out vegan protein powders or supplements. If your focus is on eating a healthy, balanced diet, odds are you’ll get an adequate supply of protein without thinking about it.

In this world of contradictory and deeply biased messages about what “healthy” means, determining whether or not your diet meets the criteria can be confusing. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of some major food groups that are chock full of plant-based protein:

  • Legumes
  • Grains, pseudograins, and seeds
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Veggies and fruits.

The variety of options within those four categories is incredible – there are over 20,000 species of legumes alone! Some especially nutrient-dense plan-based protein options to consider including in your diet are…

  • Lentils
  • Split peas
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Hemp
  • Pomegranate seeds

If you’re curious about your average protein intake, you can use online databases to look up the protein content of the foods you typically eat.

Protein draws a lot of fanfare, but it’s only one element of eating a balanced, healthy diet. Chances are, you’re eating plenty!