The dairy industry has propelled the notion of cows’ milk as a quality source of protein for decades. Growing up, most of us have accepted this marketing as fact and feel lost when faced with the idea of going dairy-free. If not cows’ milk, where will we get our protein? Plants.
Plant-based protein offers the same essential amino acids as dairy-based protein—without the side effects. While dairy is associated with chronic inflammation, heart disease, acne and eczema, type 2 diabetes, hormone-dependent cancers, and other alarming health conditions, plant-based foods can nourish and heal the body. In addition to protein, plant foods provide an abundance of micronutrients and antioxidants to support optimum wellness and function.
What is protein and why is it important?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients our body needs to survive. It is found throughout the body—from muscles to bones to skin and tissues. Over 10,000 different proteins exist in the body and are essential to life. This being said, there are endless functions of protein, but at their core, proteins support the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissue and organs.
Proteins are made from 20 different amino acids which can be arranged in virtually an infinite number of ways to create proteins for different functions. Our body can make 11 of these amino acids, but the other nine must come from food. These are commonly referred to as essential amino acids.
How much protein do you need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) calls for 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. (3) This equates to 47 grams for a 130-pound woman and 60 grams for a 165-pound man. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, those who are very active should aim a bit higher—1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
We’ve been told cows’ milk is a good source of protein, but how many of us actually know how much protein is in a single eight-ounce serving? The answer is 8. What also has 8 grams of protein? One serving of soy and pea milk. It’s an easy one-for-one swap.
Are plant-based proteins complete protein?
Dairy is often touted as a “complete” protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids (those our bodies cannot produce on their own). (1) While not all plants are considered complete proteins, a varied diet can provide everything your body needs. The only way to not consume the complete spectrum of amino acids is if one were to eat a very limited diet consisting of just a handful of foods. The benefit of obtaining protein through plants is the variety of options, and a varied diet rich in whole foods is the gold standard in terms of health and longevity. (2) Of course, many plants are considered complete proteins.
Complete Protein Plant Foods:
High-Protein Plant-Based Foods
Every whole food contains protein. The rule is as long as you eat enough calories, you’ll get enough protein. (5) Even if you were to consume 2,000 calories of only broccoli in one day, you’d get a whopping 146 grams of plant-based protein. However, variety of protein sources is truly the key to health. For those looking to increase their protein intake without necessarily increasing their calorie intake, opt for some of the high-protein plant foods below:
High-Protein Plant Foods
- Tempeh (31 grams/cup)
- Lentils (18 grams/cup)
- Edamame (17 grams/cup)
- Hemp seeds (9.5 grams/ 3 tablespoons)
- Tofu—including soy milk (8 grams/cup)
- Pea milk (8 grams/cup)
- Quinoa (8 grams/cup)
- Black Beans (7.6 grams/cup)
- Peanut Butter (7 grams/2 tablespoons)
It is not only possible to obtain all the protein you need from plant-based sources—but it is also convenient and healthier to do so. Click here to learn more about the detrimental effects of dairy and health. For high-protein plant-based recipes, check out this 50-grams of protein smoothie bowl or our chef-driven Around the World GoodBowls.