How to Get Enough Protein on a Plant Based Diet

Protein is made up of amino acids. There are twenty amino acids required for our body to function properly. Our body can make eleven of these proteins independently, but the other nine must be acquired from specific food. They are called “Essential Amino Acids.

A complete protein is a food or combination of food containing all 20 amino acids including those nine essential amino acids our bodies cannot make independently. The eleven amino acids our bodies do make on their own are called nonessential amino acids.

Our bodies are naturally designed to combine the essential and nonessential amino acids to form structural components and functional processes in our body. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fungi provide us with all of our vitamin and mineral requirements. Plants are the best source of protein because they do not typically adversely affect our body or cause disease. The protein, fat, and nutrient content is perfectly designed and balanced to actually fight disease.

On a whole food plant based diet, it is not necessary to think about combining food to make complete proteins with every meal because our bodies are smart enough to keep a supply of essential amino acids on standby for days to match up to nonessential amino acids.

Food Combinations That Please Our Palate Naturally Happen to be Complete Proteins:

  • Whole Grain Pitas or Chips with Hummus
  • Peanut Butter on Whole Grain Bread
  • Rice and Beans
  • Bean Chili with Whole Grain Bread
  • Whole Grain Noodles or Rice with Peanut Sauce or seeds
  • Beans with Corn
  • Whole Grains with Lentils
  • Fruit Jam on Whole Grain Bread
  • Peanut Butter and Banana

Examples of Independent Complete Proteins

Examples of complete protein food include soybeans, tempeh, nutritional yeast, farro, flaxseed, hemp seeds, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, soba, and chia seed. Soy is a complete protein source and comes in the form of edamame (young soybeans), tempeh (fermented soybeans), miso, tofu (soy curd), and soy milk.

Interestingly, tofu is partially processed, reducing some of its nutrient content but it is still rich in protein, retaining about 40% of its original nutrient quality.

Eating a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day provides the body with a complete amino acid pool from which it can make protein for all body functions and processes.

How to Calculate Your Protein Needs

To calculate recommendations of protein for the average 150-pound adult: 150 divided by 2.2 (kg) x 0.8 = 54.5 rounds to 55 grams of protein per day. And for the average 90-pound child, 39 grams of protein per day is recommended.

Any more than that is overkill and can cumulatively cause disease, early disability, and eventually death. An 8 oz steak contains about 37 grams of protein and a quarter-pound cheeseburger contains about 33 grams.

As you will see below, adequate amounts of protein are easily met with just one to two plant-based meals or snacks containing nothing but healthy, disease-reversing food without even worrying about it.

Many online sources recommend calculating protein needs based on half of your body weight, but this method doesn’t work very well for those who are overweight. And athletes will need to bump it up a bit, based on the additional protein used, but consuming too much of the wrong protein can cause health problems including serious damage to the kidneys.

Now, let’s look at the total protein you can consume on any given day from a whole food plant-based diet. You can easily meet your protein needs if you stick to the basic rules of a plant-based diet.

Protein in an Average Whole Food Plant Based Day

Complete Protein example
Complete Protein example
Complete Protein example
Complete Protein example

These meals are all based on single servings for the average person. Many men will double their portions, and as you can see, it is effortless to get plenty of protein.

To further help you determine what constitutes a single serving size, refer to the American Heart Association’s recommendations below:

Grains: 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal; 1-ounce dry pasta or rice; 1 slice bread; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes

Vegetables: 1 cup raw vegetable or vegetable juice, 2 cups leafy salad greens

Fruit: 1 cup equivalent is 1 cup fruit or 1/2 cup of pure fruit juice

Beans, Nuts, and Seeds: 1/4 cup cooked beans; 1 tbsp peanut butter; 1/2-ounce unsalted nuts/seeds

Milk and Yogurt: 1 cup milk or yogurt

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