Can I Get Enough Protein on a Vegetarian Diet?

When it comes to dieting and physical training, sufficient protein intake is undoubtedly the most discussed aspect. And why shouldn’t it be? In fact, protein is the basic and most essential component that our bodies thrive on.

Discussing the importance of getting enough protein often leads us to one of the popular myths related to vegetarian and vegan diets, which is about the difficulty in supplying sufficient amounts of protein when eating plant-based foods only.

Many people would argue that it’s difficult to get enough protein without supplying our bodies with animal-derived protein. However, the truth is that plant-based food rich in plant protein can easily meet the demand for one’s protein intake. Getting protein on a vegetarian diet is easy with high-protein plant-based foods that are also rich in valuable vitamins and minerals.

If you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet or simply want to eat less meat or other animal products, you can still get your required protein intake and enjoy a healthy and well-balanced plant-based diet.

What Is Protein?

Protein is a key nutrient that plays a vital role in building muscle, maintaining muscle mass, and repairing tissue. This valuable food component is involved in most cell functions and constitutes our immune systems, enzymes, and most hormones.

In food, there are 20 different amino acids grouped into chains that serve as the building blocks of proteins. As our bodies can only produce 11 of these amino acids, the remaining 9 essential compounds must be acquired from food.

Most common protein sources come from animal-based foods and are mainly found in meat, eggs, and dairy products. These foods contain all 9 essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. However, a wide range of plant-based protein sources is included in certain vegetables, legumes, and nuts, which also meet the demand for protein if consumed in the right amounts.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

As the Dietary Guidelines suggest, the minimum required amount of protein for women is 46 grams, while the recommended protein intake for men is 56 grams. You can easily calculate your individual protein demand using the following calculation: your body weight (in pounds) X 0.36 = your recommended protein intake (in grams).

A crucial aspect to note is that the amount of protein you actually need may vary depending on several factors, including your age or activity level.

Plant-Based Protein Is Healthier Than Animal Protein

Proteins derived from plant-based foods are healthier than those found in animal products due to the presence of other valuable food components.

Plant proteins are accompanied by such digestion-friendly nutrients as fiber, which cannot be acquired from animal-based protein. What’s more, plant-based proteins are packed with phytochemicals that indicate cancer-fighting properties.

Foods rich in plant protein are usually low in fat and cholesterol, which contributes to maintaining healthy body weight and lowering blood pressure. For that reason, many health organizations recommend increasing the amount of plant-based food rich in protein in our diets.

Top Plant-Based Protein-Rich Foods to Include in Your Vegetarian Diet

Plants are a naturally rich source of protein due to their chemical structure. They are made of structural cells, enzymes, and hormones. In fact, their high protein content meets the nutrition needs of the largest animals in the world, like elephants or giraffes. Therefore, plant-based products are an equally nutritious and sufficient source of protein for humans.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular plant-based products that are high in protein. Include them in your diet and increase your healthy protein intake!

Lentils (9 g of protein per ½ cup, cooked)

Lentils are truly a plant protein treasury that can be used for a variety of meals, including soups, stews, or vegetable meatballs. The high amount of protein isn’t the only factor that makes lentils so special – they are also rich in fiber (8 g per ½ cup of cooked lentils), which helps keep you full for longer.

Chia Seeds (3 g of protein per 1 tablespoon)

Chia seeds are a highly nutritious superfood – apart from their protein-rich content, they also deliver valuable fiber and omega-3s. They are perfect for blending with smoothies, making chia-seed jam, or baking.

Quinoa (8 g of protein per cup, cooked)

Quinoa is considered to be one of the most unique plant-based protein sources due to having all nine essential amino acids. It’s rich in several key minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, thiamine, folate, and iron. As quinoa is gluten-free, it’s safe for people with celiac disease or those who are sensitive to gluten.

Beans (9 g of protein per ½ cup)

The various types of beans, including chickpeas, black beans, or green beans, deliver high amounts of plant protein, as well as fiber and iron. They are inexpensive, and a variety of foods you can cook using beans, like soups, salads, or dips, make them one of the top ingredients in a plant-based diet rich in protein.

Almonds (6 g protein per ounce)

Almonds contain high levels of fat, fiber, and protein, which makes them a great vegetarian high-protein snack that keeps hunger at bay. Almonds can be eaten in the form of almond butter, as a salad sprinkle to boost the protein content, or simply in a raw form to fill you up quickly.

Edamame (5 g of protein per ¼ cup, shelled)

Edamame is rich in plant-based protein as well as fiber, folate, and vitamin K.

These green soybeans have a sweet and slightly grassy flavor. The best way to prepare them is to boil or steam them. They can be eaten on their own or added to soups, stir-fries, or salads for an extra crunch.

Tofu (8 g of protein per 100 g)

Tofu is made from bean curds that are pressed together to create cheese-like blocks. It’s a highly nutritious food ingredient rich in calcium and iron.

Although tofu doesn’t have its specific taste, it absorbs the flavors of the ingredients it is prepared with. For that reason, tofu can be used in a wide variety of meals, including burgers, stews, curries, and even desserts.

Nutritional Yeast (8 g of protein per ½ ounce)

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of yeast that comes in the form of a yellow powder of flakes. Due to its slightly cheesy flavor, it is a commonly used ingredient in such dishes as pasta, mashed potatoes, or scrambled tofu.

In its fortified form, this valuable food ingredient is an excellent source of such vitamins and minerals as zinc, magnesium, copper, and all vitamin B, including vitamin B12.

Final Thoughts

Protein is an essential component responsible for building and maintaining our muscle mass and supporting our immune systems, enzymes, and hormones. Sufficient protein intake is, therefore, essential for the appropriate functionality of our bodily structural properties.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are often considered to provide insufficient protein intake due to the lack of animal-based protein. However, numerous plant-based foods that are high in plant protein can easily meet the demand for protein if consumed in the right amounts. The key to getting enough protein from plant sources is to have a well-balanced diet full of various high-protein plant-based foods.

About the Author

, Celebrity Personal Trainer and Fitness & Nutrition Expert headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ. He specializes in helping men and women achieve weight loss, muscle building, toning and other customized fitness & nutrition programs to create a Healthy Lifestyle. James offers private luxury personal training, 12-week custom workout plans, and personalized nutrition meal plans. Follow on Google+.

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