What is Protein and How Much Do You Need?
Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is part of a balanced diet and is essential for life. Protein plays key roles in building and maintaining muscle, keeping the immune system working, regulating hormones, and healing wounds. Protein is made up of compounds called amino acids. Some amino acids are made by your body, while others come from the food we eat. Amino acids that come from food are called essential amino acids. This is why it’s important to eat protein from a variety of sources, including plants! The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average adult is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. To find out how many grams of protein you need to eat each day, multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36.
Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Protein is found in a number of plant foods. While plants provide quality protein, they typically do not contain all of the essential amino acids. But, if you eat several sources proteins throughout the week, you will have no problem getting all the amino acids and nutrients your body needs. Some plant-based protein, such as beans and legumes, contain carbohydrates, so always check the nutrition facts label for grams of carbohydrate per serving and factor them into your meal or snack.
Some Examples of Plant-Based Protein
- Beans and Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils
- Nuts and Nut Butters: Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts
- Seeds:Chia, flax, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, quinoa
- Soy and Soy Products: Soy milk, edamame, tofu, tempeh
- Meat Substitutes: Veggie burgers and sausages, seitan, faux “chicken” and “burgers”
Benefits of Plant-Based Protein
Most plant-based proteins are naturally low in calories, saturated fat, and sodium; have no cholesterol; and are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. The combination of protein and fiber helps to slow digestion so you feel fuller longer, and raises blood sugar gradually after a meal or snack (avoiding blood sugar spikes). Many plant-based proteins are more environmentally sustainable and affordable than animal sources of protein, too!
Plant proteins can be incorporated into any dietary pattern. Vegetarian and vegan diets are especially high in plant proteins and are also rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The American Diabetes Association recommends plant-based eating patterns because they can help prevent and manage diabetes. Research shows plant-based diets are good at lowering A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index. Studies have also shown that plant-based diets are helpful for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. Including more plant-based meals in your routine, such as by following “Meatless Monday,” is a wonderful way to fuel up on more plant-based protein!
Ideas for adding Plant-Based Protein to Your Meals
- Sprinkle nuts and seeds on oatmeal or yogurt
- Sautee tofu and veggies for a breakfast scramble
- Spread hummus or nut butter on toast
Lunch & Dinner:
- Use beans or lentils to make “meat” sauce
- Add tofu or tempeh to a stir-fry meal or sandwich
- Top salads or grain bowls with beans or edamame
- Vegetable or black bean burger
- Hummus with raw veggie sticks
- Roasted chickpeas or edamame
- Handful of nuts
- Plant-based protein bar