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Whether you are looking to include more plant based meals into your balanced eating lifestyle or you are looking to switch to an exclusively vegetarian/vegan eating lifestyle, it is important to be knowledgeable on plant based proteins and the best way to ensure you are receiving adequate nutrition. This guest blog post by Michael Murdy, the founder of Robust Kitchen has some fantastic information to ensure you are making informed and healthful decisions when it comes to choosing a plant based lifestyle.

Making the switch to a plant-based diet can be one of the most impactful decisions you make for your health. But making the transition isn’t as simple as replacing animal products with fruits and vegetables. In fact, a diet that only includes these food groups may lead to some major nutritional deficiencies.

The most notorious being…

Protein

Protein is a critical macronutrient of the body. Without it, our bodies would lack the proper building blocks to sustain things like bone, muscle, skin, cartilage and blood health (1).

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight. (So usually somewhere between 43 and 72 grams of protein a day).

The good news is, it’s entirely possible to get your daily recommended protein on a vegetarian diet. Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually pretty easy.

Research has shown that when properly planned, a vegetarian diet can absolutely offer you all the nutrients you need to live a healthy lifestyle. (2) Getting your daily protein while eating a vegetarian diet is completely doable, and it usually only requires some minor dietary changes.   

The goal of this article is to expose the plant/animal protein conundrum for what it is, and to offer you a list of delicious plant-based proteins to ensure you reach optimal nutrition every day.

What is Protein?

Protein is the major building block of the human body. Where carbs and fats provide the fuel, protein supplies the material.

Think of your body as a house…

Where remodels, maintenance, and upgrades are of constant necessity.

Thankfully, you have an endless supply of workers with an endless supply of energy (carbs and fats).

Unfortunately, the workers are not given the proper building materials (protein) to fulfill their job.

What would the workers be good for? Would sections of the house begin to deteriorate and suffer?

You bet they would.

And the body is no different. Deprive your cells of a critical macromolecule for long enough and negative symptoms can accumulate pretty quickly.

Digesting Protein

Proteins are long chains of molecules known as amino acids.

When proteins are consumed, they are broken down into their constituent amino acids. These smaller molecules are then used as the building blocks for the body’s miscellaneous proteins.

Although there are 22 amino acids in total, 9 of them are considered essential. That means in order to give our body the materials it needs, we have to get these amino acids through the diet.

Animal Vs Plant Protein

Two of the most practical ways to get protein in your diet is from animal and plant-based sources. Although both can supply plenty of protein on their own, it’s important to distinguish the differences between the two. 

Animal Proteins:

The majority of animal derived foods contain complete proteins. This means that foods such as red meat, eggs, and animal organs can supply you with all 9 essential amino acids.

Protein deficiencies are far less likely to occur with meat eaters.

Plant Proteins:

Although there are a few exceptions, the majority of plant proteins are incomplete proteins, and therefore are missing at least one of the 9 essential amino acids.

This makes life a little harder for those avoiding the meat aisle. The upside is that vegetarians are consuming plant matter which is filled with vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients.

So don’t be discouraged if you choose to stick to the plant way of life. Getting the proper protein levels can be done, it just takes a little more effort.

10 Plant Based Proteins to Help You Reach Your Optimal Daily Goal

Everyone has their reasons for choosing the vegetarian diet. Whether it be for ethical, religious or nutritional purposes, it can be a very rewarding lifestyle change.

But just like every diet, a balance must be struck. Protein is far less dense in plant foods and thus more care must be taken to get adequate amounts. Take the time to find your favorite protein-packed plant foods. If you need a place to start, I’ve labeled 10 delicious plant-based proteins below.   

I always recommend tracking your diet for those who are less familiar with the nutrition in their food. Cronometer is a great diet tracking app that gives you your amino acid profile with each meal input. This can help uncover amino acid deficiencies in your diet.  

(The free version of the app provides you with everything you need.)

Here are the 10 plant based proteins to help you get the absolute most out of your vegetarian diet.    

1)Quinoa

Finding a complete, plant-based protein is a surprisingly difficult task. Fortunately, there is a delicious seed that fits the bill perfectly…

Quinoa!

Quinoa is the ultimate protein provider. When in doubt, implement some quinoa into your diet to ensure that you’re getting some form of every essential amino acid. One gram of cooked quinoa gives you a whopping eight grams of protein. (3)

Quinoa also contains a good amount of vitamin E which works as a powerful antioxidant in the body. Antioxidants can help neutralize damaging free radicals and promote healthy immune function. (4)

Quinoa Recipe: Quinoa and Roasted Red Pepper Chili

2)Peanuts and Peanut Butter

Peanuts are the perfect on-the-go protein providers. Filled with high quality fats and protein, peanuts can supply you with everything you need to feel nourished and satiated. Peanuts provide roughly 25g of protein per 100 grams, and so can easily help you reach your daily protein goals (5).

Peanut butter is also a great source of high-quality protein. Try and avoid brands that contain partially hydrogenated oils. These peanut butters can be heavy in artificial trans fats which are known to increase chances of heart disease and stroke (6).

But before you go reaching for that two year old peanut butter, do a peanut butter quality test to make sure it’s still worth eating.

3)Tofu

Although quite bland, Tofu is a great source of protein. It also has the ability to bring texture to a dish like not many other plant foods can.

Tofu is another plant-based unicorn that supplies you with all 9 essential amino acids. It also contributes a healthy portion of the amino acid methionine, which can be particularly difficult to get on a vegetarian diet. 

Related Post: Zesty Tofu Scramble

4)Black, Kidney, or Pinto Beans

The veggie burrito is usually a staple in any vegetarian’s diet!

Fill a tortilla with your favorite ingredients as well as your preferred beans to create a savory, protein filled meal. Beans are great sources of protein and calcium. This can be especially helpful for those who are lactose intolerant and can’t get their calcium from milk sources (7).

Black beans: 15.2g protein per cup (7)

Kidney Beans: 16.2g protein per cup (8)

Pinto Beans: 15.4g per cup (8)

Related Post: Hatch Chili Bean and Rice Bowl

5)Hemp seeds

Hemp, Cannabis Seeds, Grains, Healthy, Food, Eat

Hemp seeds are the origin of the well-known psychedelic plant, Cannabis. Don’t be alarmed though. THC is reduced to negligible amounts before legal sale.

At 9.2g of protein per ounce, hemp seeds can make a great addition to salads, smoothies, and burritos (9).

Hemp seeds are also a great source of magnesium which is high on the list of deficiencies in the U.S. One ounce provides you with 75% of your daily RDA (9).

6)Green Peas

green peace

There’s a reason our grandmas put peas in everything. They’re chalk full of polyphenol antioxidants. These special compounds have been known to help rid the body of unwanted free radicals (10). Green peas also contain a pretty remarkable amount of protein and can make a nice addition to salads, soups, and burritos.

At 8 grams per cup, green peas are surprisingly protein-dense (11).

Green peas also contain a healthy dose of vitamin A. Half a cup can get you 34% of your RDA (11).

7)Almonds

brown almond nuts

Almonds are another perfect on-the-go protein source. These little pods are full of healthy fats, vitamin E, and protein to help keep you full and satiated (12). Almonds contain a remarkable 30.5g of protein per cup (dry roasted, salted) (13).

These “pseudo-nuts” are also high in calcium which can be helpful in Maintaining proper bone Health.

Almonds are another food I would highly recommend keeping close-by. You can buy in bulk without worrying about them going bad anytime soon. You’ll be surprised to see how often this snack comes in handy.

8)Edamame

green fruits

Edamame is an immature soy bean most commonly utilized in Asian dishes. Although it is very similar to the soy bean, it tends to be sweeter and therefore more approachable.

Edamame provides approximately 17 grams of protein per cup (14).

Eat one cup of edamame and you’ll also get your full RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of folate (14). Folate is essential for proper cell growth and replication (15). 

9)Ezekiel Bread

Bread, Baker, Craft, Food, Oven, Freshly Baked

It’s easy to go overboard on salads and quinoa with a plant-based diet. Make sure and switch it up with a good sandwich once in a while. Put some of your favorite ingredients between two protein-filled pieces of Ezekiel bread and watch how your taste buds react.

Ezekiel bread contains 4 g of protein per slice and can help you make the final push for your daily protein goal (16). 

10)Spirulina

Spirulina, Alga, Vegetable Proteins, Detox, Nutrition

Sometimes making a nice homemade meal just isn’t in the cards. So fire up the blender and throw some fruit and spirulina in there to give you some protein on the go (17).

One ounce of spirulina contains roughly 16g of protein. It’s also very high in copper, iron and riboflavin, which are all critical molecules for proper thyroid metabolism. (17, 18, 19, 20)

Plant Based Protein Powders 

Nothing compares to getting nutrients through whole foods.

But when you’re struggling to meet your RDAs, protein powders can definitely help bridge the gap. It should be noted…

Not all plant-based protein powders are created equal.

Here are some guidelines to help you find a high quality, plant-based protein powder…

  1. Try and stay away from fillers. These can include sugars, vegetable oils, artificial flavors, and thickeners.
    1. Look at the amino acid composition on the back. See if the amino acids present will help fill a hole in your diet. You can only know this through tracking your diet. Again, I recommend Cronometer (it’s free and shows you your amino acid intake)
    1. If it does not show an amino acid composition chart, it usually indicates a company that isn’t transparent about their ingredients.
    1. If you’re gluten free, make sure the package explicitly states, “Gluten Free”.
    1. Try and go with a non-GMO brand. There is still a lot we don’t know about the effects of GMOs on health. It’s always better to stick to the more natural alternative.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions regarding plant-based proteins…

Is Whey a Plant Based Protein?

Whey is an animal-based protein. Whey is extracted from the milk of animals to make whey protein isolate.  

Is Soy a Plant Based Protein?

Yes, soy comes from soybeans which come from a plant.

What are the 9 Essential Amino Acids?

  1. Histidine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine

What is the Best Plant-Based Protein Powder?

The best vegetarian protein powder is …

  1. A complete protein (has all 9 essential amino acids)
    1. One that has no artificial sweeteners or fillers
    1. One that abides by the criteria of your diet
    1. One that tastes good

Find a protein powder that abides by the first 3 rules above. Then look online for reviews to tell you how people have responded to the flavor.

Conclusion 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of plant-based proteins. It’s just a good reference point for newbies looking for ways to implement protein into their vegetarian diet.

No matter how you go about it, dialing in your plant-based diet will take some time. The real fun comes in trying to make meals that are worth eating a second time. You’ll find yourself finding better and better ways to implement protein dense foods into your recipes.

I hope this article was both educational and practical. If you have any questions or comments, make sure and leave a comment below!

An extra thank you to Michael for writing such a fantastic guest post! I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts, feedback or questions! Additionally, if you are looking for additional nutrition support please visit my website https://denversdancingdietitan.com today for more information about scheduling an appointment!

Wishing you a happy, healthy holiday season!

Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN

Denver’s Dancing Dietitian

A Taste of Health, LLC

“Improving Quality of life one bite at a time”

denversdancingdietitian.com

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Works Cited:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein#1
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27886704
  3. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168917/nutrients
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/278737a0
  5. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2005.00472.x
  6. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat
  7. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4284/2
  8. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4430/2
  9. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/1352377/1
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22916813
  11. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2520/2