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How to get your protein from plants, not animals

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Plant-based proteins
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With new information coming out all the time about foods and healthy diets, it can feel overwhelming to try to keep up with all the changes on what’s good and what’s bad and how much or how little of something you should or should not have. It’s confusing just thinking about it.

One constant, however, is protein. While animal products are touted for their protein content, almost everything we eat contains protein of some kind. For those who partake in a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, getting enough protein can be a big concern. Thankfully, just by being aware of what you eat and eating a variety of foods, most people consume enough protein without really realizing it.

Sue Lofgren, a registered dietician at Olmsted Medical Center, shares more about protein, what it is, where to find it and has even put together a sample menu of how to get over 60 grams of protein on a vegetarian diet. Pay attention, because some of what she says may surprise you!

How much protein should we consume daily?

The recommended daily allowance for protein is 56 grams per day for adult men and 46 grams per day for adult women. All foods except fruit and fat contain protein. If you eat a variety of foods throughout the day you will likely get enough protein. Athletes (strength, speed and endurance) need more protein; however they can usually get enough protein through diet alone without the use of supplements.

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What are some sources of protein not derived from animals?

Soy products (tempeh and tofu), beans (such as lima, kidney, baked, garbanzo, white, navy, great northern, soybeans), peas, lentils, peanuts, grains, nuts and nut butters (such as cashews, walnuts, pistachios, almonds), seeds and seed butters and vegetables all contain protein.

What should you look for when deciding what types of protein to use?

Plant-based proteins except soybeans and some grains are "incomplete proteins" because they lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids that make up complete protein. Eating a variety of protein sources throughout the day will ensure you get all nine essential amino acids.

How effective/safe are protein powders in your daily diet as a protein supplement?

A balanced diet is the best way to get the nutrients and energy your body needs. Before using a supplement, talk with your healthcare provider. You should get your nutrients from foods first. You will also need adequate sleep and regular exercise to have good energy levels. Dietary supplements are regulated differently than conventional food and drugs so you need to be very careful when choosing supplements if you do choose to use them.

Consuming too much of any one nutrient may be a serious health threat. Consult a registered dietitian who will help you evaluate your current diet before starting any supplement regimen.

So what is the takeaway from all of this? It is incredibly important to pay attention to the foods you eat. By maintaining a varied diet, even one without animal products, you can eat enough protein to keep you healthy, even if you are an athlete.

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If you have concerns that you aren’t consuming enough protein, or any other nutrient for that matter, make an appointment to talk with a dietician. They can help you identify what nutrients you might be lacking and suggest ways to incorporate them into your diet.

Allison Roe is the editor of Radish.

Sue Lofgren has put together a sample menu that will give you over 60 grams of protein just in one day, all from non-animal-derived products.

Breakfast

Fresh fruit

Steel cut oats with walnuts, honey and cinnamon (7g protein)

Soy milk, 8 ounces (6g protein)

Snack

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23 almonds (1 ounce) - (6g protein)

1 slice soy cheese (3g protein)

Wheat Thins (2g protein for 16)

Lunch

2 slices whole wheat bread with 2 Tbsp. peanut butter with filling of choice (banana, honey, raspberry preserves etc.) (14 g protein)

Vegetarian baked beans ½ cup (6g protein) or a vegetarian bean soup (approximately 6-12g protein)

Tossed salad

Evening meal

Veggie stir-fry with soy-based stir fry sauce with 2 ounces tofu, 1+ cup veggies and 1 cup brown rice (19g protein)

Fresh fruit

Snack

Blue corn tortilla chips 1 ounce (2g protein)

Black bean/corn salsa 2 Tbsp (2g protein)

2 ounces avocado (1g protein)

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