Protein receives its fair share of the spotlight in the wellness world, and lately there has been much buzz about the health and environmental benefits of protein from plant sources. From NYC’s hottest restaurants to fast food chains, plant-based protein is making its way into the mainstream, so we thought it time to explore the topic of plant-based protein a little deeper.
At Everipe, we believe in an “all foods fit” mentality. We aren’t here to tell you to ditch the meat entirely, but rather to highlight how plants can help us meet our bodies’ protein needs. We’ll look at how protein works in the body, some of the unique benefits of plant protein, and a rundown of some of our favorite plant-based protein sources to get you started. Let’s dive in:
A Primer on Protein
Proteins are a macronutrient, along with carbohydrates and fats, which are the essential building blocks of our bodies. This macronutrient isn’t just for bodybuilders: we all need protein for healthy muscles, bones and skin. Our bodies use it to build muscle, transport nutrients, and build and repair tissue. It’s important stuff!
The building blocks of protein are organic compounds called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that bond together to form a chain of protein-yes, sort of like the human chain you formed during Red Rover at recess. Of the 20 amino acids, our bodies produce 11. The 9 remaining amino acids, called essential amino acids, we obtain from food. Food is referred to as a “complete protein” source when it contains all 9 essential amino acids.
Sources of complete proteins include:
When a food either is missing certain amino acids or contains all 9 essential amino acids but not in the right amount, they are referred to as incomplete proteins. Sources of incomplete protein include:
- Vegetables (Note: Protein occurs in smaller amounts in vegetables compared to other plant-based protein sources. Some higher protein sources include broccoli, asparagus, corn, and artichokes.)
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
- Whole grains
As you can see from the lists, most sources of complete proteins are from animals, while most sources of incomplete proteins come from plants. Bear in mind, there are *many* nearly-complete proteins from plant sources. According to the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard School of Public Health, the “incomplete” title is no reason to steer away from plant-based proteins. Simply eat a wide variety of plant-based foods to cover all of your essential amino acid needs. For most people, tracking amino acids is not necessary (cue the ‘phew’), but consult your doctor if you have any questions.
Some of the benefits of plant protein include:
- High in fiber
- Lots of vitamins and minerals
- Lower in cholesterol and saturated fats
- Full of antioxidants and phytonutrients
The amount of protein you need in a day depends on your age, weight, and activity level. Functional medicine dietician Rachel Stockle explained to the Cleveland Clinic that the general recommendation is .36 grams per pound of body weight (Harvard suggests 7 grams for every 20 pounds of bodyweight, which is just about the same) but protein needs can vary based on the individual. Are you lifting weights multiple times per week? You might need a little more. The best person to tell you exactly how much protein you need would be a registered dietitian.
Rachel also points out that our bodies can only absorb 25-40 grams of protein in one sitting, so it is important to space out your protein consumption throughout the day.
Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein
If you’re ready to start incorporating more plant-based protein into your diet, here are some of our favorites to get you started:
Chia Seeds: These super seeds contain 4 grams of protein per 2T serving. They also contain 9 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber.
Looking to add more chia seeds to your diet? Good news: chia seeds are featured in each of our smoothie kits!
Nuts: A variety of nuts can add lots of plant-based protein to your diet. There are 7 grams of protein per 2T serving of almond butter (a great smoothie add-in!), which is also a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, and iron. There are 4 grams of protein per 1 oz serving for walnuts, along with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Hemp Hearts: Hemp hearts are like tiny protein powerhouses, with 5g of protein per 2T serving and are high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium. Add them to smoothies, sprinkle on salads, or blend them up with water to make your own plant-based milk.
Goji Berries: If you’re wondering about protein from fruit, goji berries have a higher amount than most. For each 3T serving, you’ll get 2.4g of protein, 2.2g of fiber, and 8mg of vitamin C. They make a great addition to smoothies and smoothie bowls, oatmeal, granola and trail mix. Or eat ‘em straight!
Lentils: Lentils are one of our favorite savory plant protein sources. They’re great in soups, on top of salads, and make a great base for plant-based burgers. One cup of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber!
Quinoa: Quinoa is yummy, versatile, and a great plant source of complete protein. Enjoy it savory or sweet as an alternative to oatmeal. There are 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of healthy fats per 1 cup serving.
Plant protein can be a very healthy part of any diet. Have fun experimenting with these options, and remember: the best food for you is the food that makes you feel your best!