“Where do you get your protein?” is of course one of the most-asked questions about a plant-based diet—largely thanks to the meat industry that for decades has sold us the message that we must eat animals to get the protein we need. (Also thanks to the more recent hype around high-protein diets—which are poorly supported by scientific research.)
While the term ‘complete protein’ is bandied about by health-trendsters everywhere, little do they know that the meat industry has been exploiting this term for decades in their marketing efforts. Yes, meat contains all nine essential amino acids: but you don’t need to consume all your essential amino acids in the same food. And no, you also don’t need to ‘combine’ different foods to form a ‘complete protein’ at each meal (that’s been debunked). It’s totally okay to get different amino acids from different plants sources, over a period of time.
By the way, have you checked out any vintage meat adverts? I can’t decide if they’re hilarious or deeply disturbing. Have a look at this article—an overview of the industry’s advertising tactics over the decades.
We don’t need as much protein as we’ve been taught to think: the average Western diet has us consuming way more protein than we need—resulting in heart disease, kidney disease and more. For most people, if you simply include a variety of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds—you’ll be fine.
All that said… I have noticed too many people on a plant-centred diet neglecting their protein intake: either they’re wanting to get healthy or lose weight, and they just load up on vegetables (very low in protein), or they get distracted by all the wonderful vegan convenience foods, which tend to be highly processed with a high sugar, salt and fat content (and again, low in protein).
Moving to a plant-based diet is not just a case of removing the animal products: you must rethink your whole plate, and make sure that you’re getting a balance of nutrients, both macro and micro. If you don’t get enough protein, you might find yourself over-eating (since carbs are less satiating than protein), suffering hair loss and brittle nails (since these are largely made of proteins), and a loss in muscle mass (although you also need to work those muscles to grow them!).
How much protein do you need? Current research says that the average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram that they weigh. (So if you weigh 70 kg, you’ll need 56 g of protein daily.) If you’re an endurance athlete, you might need 1.2-1.4 g/kg. If you’re a strength athlete, you might need up to 1.8 g/kg. I’d suggest using an app like MyFitnessPal (or Google + a spreadsheet) to track your daily food intake for a few days just to see where you’re at, and adjust from there.
Where should you get your protein? Eat. Your. Beans. There’s a whole rainbow of beans and legumes out there: black beans, kidney beans, soy beans, mung beans, chickpeas, red lentils, adzuki beans… The list is long. Plus, you can make (or buy) an endless repertoire of delicious things from them: burger patties, curries, tofu, sprouts, hummus, dahl…
If your gut is not used to the fibre and special sugars (oligosaccharides) found in beans, have a look at my article on beans and gas: there are some tricks that you can implement. But don’t let the gas stop you from eating your beans: besides being protein powerhouses, they are also a really important source of iron, folate and other micronutrients, and have been shown to help prevent and treat a variety of lifestyle disease.
Hope you found this helpful. Got any other questions about protein? Get in touch, or leave a comment 🙂