As the interest in plant-based diets increases, I have been getting more and more questions about plant-based protein sources. Questions about the quality of plant-based proteins, how to get adequate protein eating plant-based, and what are good sources of plant-based proteins are among the most frequently asked. To answer these questions, I think it is important to understand the difference between plant-based protein and animal proteins, and then explain how to meet your protein needs through plant-based foods.

Whatever your reason for wanting to go plant-based: health benefits, sustainability, environmental, religious, or ethical reasons, you can consume adequate amounts of protein through a plant-based diet. Research links plant-based diets with lower risks of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers. This is most likely due to plant-based foods being higher in vitamins and minerals and being lower in saturated fats.

What is protein?

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids. Some are made by the body (non-essential), while others are not made by the body (essential). Proteins in animal foods and soy products are considered complete proteins because they contain all nine essential amino acids. Other plant-based proteins are considered incomplete proteins because they have a lower percentage of at least one of the essential amino acids.

It used to be thought that incomplete plant-proteins must be paired together at a meal to create a complete protein, but that is no longer recommended. As long as multiple different plant-based protein sources are consumed throughout the day a person is able to consume adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.

Adequate amounts of protein

While it may be more difficult for certain individuals to consume adequate amounts of protein through plant-based diets, like athletes, aging individuals, and specific diseases that require higher protein intakes, it is still possible to do so. The digestibility of proteins also impacts the ability to consume adequate protein through plant-based diets. Individuals following a vegan diet are impacted more by digestibility, which requires higher intakes of a variety of plant-based protein foods.

Plant-Based Food Sources
Almonds Peanut Butter
Black Bean Peanuts
Brazil Nuts Pecans
Cashews Pine Nuts
Chia Seeds Pinto Beans
Chickpeas Pistachios
Flax Seeds Pumpkin Seeds
Hazelnuts Sesame Seeds
Hemp Seeds Soybeans
Kidney Beans Tofu
Lentils Walnuts
White Beans Macadamia Nuts

While I am not saying that everyone should be a vegetarian or vegan. I do think that eating more plant-based foods can do your body, and the planet good. If cutting back on animal proteins sounds difficult, start by trying to add more plant-based foods into your day, or having one meatless meal a week. You do not have to get rid of animal proteins completely to gain the benefits of consuming more plant-based proteins.

Not sure where to start with plant-based meals? Here are some of my favorite places to get plant-based recipes:

Dietitian Debbie Dishes

Fannetastic Food

The Real Food Dietitians

The Conscious Dietitian

Eleat Sports Nutrition

The Plant-Powdered Dietitian


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