How To Incorporate Protein Into a Plant Based Diet

by Nicole

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What is a Plant Based Diet

Everyone wants to feel great, look great, and perform great. Take a look at what you are putting into your body, what foods are you consuming, and consider what impact that has on your goals. I came across the plant based way of living about a year ago after watching several Netflix documentaries. If you haven’t watched “Game Changers”, “What the Health”, and “Forks Over Knives”, I would highly suggest them. Although I was aware of the potential benefits of this lifestyle prior to watching these documentaries, the facts provided in all 3 give merit to the plant based lifestyle. 

The standard American diet has largely included animal products and processed food for years, until recently. Thankfully, more people are beginning to understand the profound benefits a plant based diet can have on the body. We all have heard the grueling fact that coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. In America, we tend to treat disease retroactively with medication rather than being proactive and preventative. Let the food choices you make be your medicine. The answer to many of the current health issues lies in the diet choices we make. People who get their protein source from plants reduced their risk of heart disease by 55%. 

My Personal Plant Based Journey

I personally became a proponent of the plant based lifestyle when I found out my cholesterol was on the border of becoming too high. Cholesterol is naturally produced in the body; we do not require more of it through diet. When we consume dietary cholesterol which is only found in meat, eggs, and dairy products, it stays in the bloodstream causing plaque in the artery walls. There is certainly a genetic component involved, but as a 27 year old who eats relatively healthy and exercises nearly daily, I was shocked. I’ll admit, I still have not transitioned to a 100% plant based lifestyle however I have tried to incorporate significantly more plant based meals and less animal products into my weekly routine. I made these changes for both the health and environmental benefits a plant based diet provides.  

Plants Help our Planet

We must not neglect the environmental benefits of a plant based lifestyle. Livestock contributes to the deforestation and overuse of our already limited water supply. The facts are shocking actually. Producing one hamburger uses 600 gallons of water. Three quarters of all the agricultural land in the world is used for livestock production. Agriculture is responsible for 15% of the world’s greenhouse gases. The “Game changers” documentary states that meat, dairy, egg and fish farming use 83% of the world’s farmland but only provide 18% of the world’s calories. 

To read more about how sustainable a plant based life is, click here

Land being used for agriculture

Still Suspicious?

I understand there are a couple arguments against the diet. Like these critics, you may be suspicious as to how you can maintain a healthy diet and still achieve the recommended protein intake, vitamins, and minerals. My own research has shown many of these arguments to be valid although there are some easy solutions which I will explain here.

Firstly, studies show you can be a more successful athlete despite the protein concerns of this diet. Think of the animal products as the middleman; you receive nutrients from the animal because of the nutrients they have consumed. Let’s not forget that cows primarily eat plants and that is how they get protein. By eating the cow, we are consuming the animal protein which originated from plants. Listed below, I will go through 10 of the most popular plant based sources of protein along with recipes that incorporate these foods.

With plant based protein you’re getting more antioxidants. As a result, focusing on a plant based diet can reduce inflammation by 29% in just 3 weeks. A decrease in inflammation is critical to being an exceptional athlete because it leads to faster healing.

Another major argument is that people who do not eat animal products cannot achieve high enough levels of vitamin B12. At one point prior to industrial farming, that was true, but since the evolution of pesticides, antibiotics, and chlorine, which kill vitamin B12, animals can no longer get the vitamin from the soil.  Chickens and farm animals are given supplements to provide them with the necessary vitamin B12. Likewise, if you are concerned about amino acids, be sure to include quinoa and soy products regularly as these foods contain all 9 essential amino acids. You can speak to your health care provider about specific supplements which may assist you in the plant based diet.

Protein Guidelines

Before we get started looking at sources of plant protein, I will outline some guidelines.

For simplistic purposes, the recommended amount of daily protein for active individuals looking to gain muscle is 1g/lb. For every pound you weigh, you should eat 1 gram of protein. For example, if you weigh 150lbs, you need 150 grams of protein.

Conversely, if you are more sedentary, you do not have to worry about getting as much protein. The dietary reference index suggests 0.36 grams per pound. If you are 150lbs and sedentary you only require only 55g of protein. It’s important to remember that your muscles do not suddenly get larger and stronger by simply eating a lot of protein. You need to exercise AND the appropriate amount of protein intake to gain muscle bulk. 

In summary the protein guidelines all come down to 2 factors: how active are you and what are your goals. For those who are active and looking to gain muscle, shoot for 1g/lb of bodyweight.

Plant Based Diet

Sources of Plant Protein

Eating a plant based diet does not mean only eating “greens”. In general there are 5 common sources of plant based proteins. 

That includes:

  1. Legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas)
  2. Nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts) 
  3. Seeds (pumpkin, hemp, chia)
  4. Grains (quinoa, buckwheat, couscous) 
  5. Soy (tempeh, tofu, edamame) 

Below we will break down these categories into my favorite top 10 sources of plant based proteins. I will also include some of my favorite recipes and let you know how many grams of protein you can achieve from each source.

1. Lentils

13g protein/ 1/4 cup dry

  • High in fiber with a whopping 15g per serving thus making you feel more full
  • Almost no fat <1g per serving 
  • Great source of iron
  • Filled with polyphenols which may help reduce heart disease 
  • Possible meals include:
    1. Tacos – try subbing the ground beef for lentils and add of course incorporate toppings and sauces to improve the flavor
    2. Curry – buy or make a homemade curry sauce filled with lentils rather than chicken 
    3. Lentil soup – I made this the last time I was sick instead of chicken noodle and it was just as soothing and delicious

2. Beans & Chickpeas

8g protein/ 1/2 cup

  • Very low cost!
  • Versatile
  • Possible dinners include:
    1. Black bean burgers –  my favorite meal on the grill in the Summer & pairs great with my homemade hummus recipe
    2. Vegetarian chili – a hearty dish which uses kidney beans 
    3. Buffalo Chickpea Wraps – use your favorite chicken recipe and sub chickpeas

3. Quinoa

5g protein/ 1/4 cup dry

  • Contains all 9 amino acids which are needed for hair and bone growth as well as muscle gains
  • Healthy, clean source of carbs (slow carbohydrate) 
  • Possible dinners include:
    1. Veggie Stir Fry –  put that wok to use 
    2. Quinoa burgers – a hearty dish which uses kidney beans 
    3. Use as a side dish – substitute for rice 

4. Almonds

6g protein/ 1/4 cup

  • Excellent source of healthy fat with 14.2 g/ 1/4 cup 
  • Easy snack that contains vitamin E, calcium, phosphorous, iron and magnesium
  • Possible ways to incorporate it more often include:
    1. Have one handful per day as a snack  
    2. Almond butter – delicious on sprouted whole grain bread for breakfast
    3. Top your oatmeal with some shaved almonds. Click here for oatmeal ideas.

5. Peanut Butter

8g protein/ 2 TBSP

  • I personally enjoy powdered peanut butter as it’s much lower in saturated fat
  • Perfect snack
  • Possible ways to incorporate it more often include:
    1. Add to your smoothies
    2. Vegetarian Massaman Curry for dinner 
    3. Peanut butter, banana, cinnamon toast (on sprouted whole grain bread) for breakfast

6. Sprouted Whole Grain Bread

4g protein/ slice

  • Low on the glycemic index which prevents blood sugar spikes and improves your mood
  • Easy to digest 
  • Possible ways to incorporate it more often include:
    1. Toast with peanut butter
    2. Add avocado, a healthy source of fat 
    3. Make a hummus sandwich for lunch

7. Oats

5g protein/ 1/2 cup dry

8. Edamame

17g protein/ 1 cup cooked

  • Rich in vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin K and folate)  
  • Lots of fiber
  • Possible ways to incorporate it more often include:
    1. Salad –  This is such a refreshing recipe. You can even add black beans to this salad recipe
    2. Quinoa Edamame bowl – I add corn and red peppers to this as well and top with Trader Joe’s Goddess dressing 
    3. Snack on them lightly salted 

9. Cauliflower

5g protein/ 1/2 medium head

  • Good source of antioxidants (sulforaphane)
  • High in choline which synthesizes DNA and supports metabolism 
  • Versatile and relatively inexpensive 
  • Possible ways to incorporate it more often include:
    1. Mac n cheese – I often puree the cauliflower and use that instead of the flour and butter. I also  add nutritional yeast and use a lot less cheese
    2. Cauliflower Pizza – buy the crust to save you some time and aggravation and use toppings high in protein  
    3. Can be “riced” and used as a side dish 

10. Protein Powder

10-20g protein/ scoop (varies)

  • Definitely the easiest way to get a large sum of protein at once
  • Many different types out there – if you are trying to go completely plant based the most popular type is pea protein. Orgain makes a good vegan protein powder.  
  • My favorite protein is actually the Amazon brand because it’s affordable and does not have a chalky taste. It is not plant based however the protein does come from grass fed cows and it is made with higher quality ingredients. That can be purchased here
  • Possible ways to incorporate it more often include:
    1. Add to your smoothies
    2. Try my protein waffles 
    3. Drink mixed with water or your favorite non-dairy milk

You may not have realized there are so many ways to get protein in a plant based diet. There are so many health benefits of a plant based diet too! Remember that adjusting protein intake from animal products to plant products does not have to be sudden, nor should it. For the past year, I have slowly incorporated more plant based foods into my diet, and so can you! If you have any questions on making the switch, please feel free to contact me



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