We’ve been advising readers for as long as we can remember to cut down on red meat and eat more plant-based foods. The downside to that strategy is that if not done mindfully, it can lead to a protein deficit. Such a deficiency is medically dangerous. According to Healthline:
“Serious protein deficiency can cause swelling, fatty liver, skin degeneration, increase the severity of infections and stunt growth in children. While true deficiency is rare in developed countries, low intake may cause muscle wasting and increase the risk of bone fractures. Some evidence even suggests that getting too little protein may increase appetite and promote overeating and obesity. For optimal health, make sure to include protein-rich foods in every meal.”
What To Do?
Increasing numbers of older individuals – and more than a few youngsters too – are switching away from meat and eating more plants while wondering, can I get enough protein from this veggie stuff?
We’ve even heard anecdotal evidence that some of you who fear that protein from plant food is somehow inferior to that obtained from animal sources. Plus, we’ve come across the occasional beef (no pun intended) that you’ve had it up to here with tofu and lentils – the classic recommended alternatives to non-meat sources of protein. We hear you!
The good news: There are plenty of plant foods – beyond the obvious tofu and lentils – that can shore up your daily protein intake. The protein content of some of these alternatives might surprise you.
A Crash Course on Protein
A recent edition of The Globe and Mail offered the equivalent of a crash course on protein.
- Dietary protein supplies amino acids, building blocks for muscle, bone, skin, hormones, antibodies, neurotransmitters, enzymes and thousands of other bodily compounds.
- Sedentary individuals require 0.8 g of protein per kilogram body weight per day. A 75 kg (165 lb) inactive person, for example, needs 60 g of protein daily.
- Adults 65 and older are advised to consume more protein each day – at least 1.0 to 1.2 g per kilogram body weight – to preserve muscle mass and muscle function.
- Regardless of age, regular exercise increases daily protein requirements to 1.2 to 2 g per kilogram body weight, depending on type of exercise.
Animal vs. Plant Protein
As The Globe and Mail article went on to report: “Plant protein is absorbed less efficiently than animal protein, due, in part, to the indigestible fibre in plant foods. But the difference is thought to be insignificant since the North American diet typically contains more protein than required.”
Getting More Protein from Plants
There’s a great, offbeat website out there called Forks over Knives. While the nutrition advice it offers has a strong vegan orientation, the authors of the material featured (mercifully) don’t take themselves too seriously.
As Drs. Pulde and Lederman write in The Forks Over Knives Plan, “You should not worry about how much protein you’re getting any more than you should worry about the perfect number of breaths you take in a day.”
The 5 categories of protein rich plant foods are as follows:
- Pulses: Beans, lentils and split peas, known collectively as pulses, are staples in many diets around the world – think falafel, Greek fava and dahl. In North America, though, pulses are often overlooked.
- Pastas: Those made from black beans, lentils, chickpeas and edamame are other ways to add satiating plant protein to your diet. Top it off with your favourite sauce.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts (and nut butters) along with seeds are an easy way to add protein to meals and snacks. They all deliver a decent protein hit.
- Whole grains: While not typically considered “plant protein foods,” certain whole grains – such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and oats add a surprising amount of protein to meals.
- Vegetables: Don’t discount vegetables when it comes to protein. Most provide 3 to 4 g of protein per one cup. Green peas deliver 8 g of protein per cup.
Why Not Try It?
The Forks Over Knives Plan was born out of the transformative power that whole-food, plant-based eating can have on health and well-being. It is centred on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plant foods. And yes, you’ll get your daily protein even without the meat!