Plant Protein Primer

A cheat sheet for vegans

Plant Protein Primer

Plant-based protein is a subject every vegan needs to understand. Find out more with our plant protein primer.

Are you worried about getting enough protein on a vegan diet? Well, worry no more. Check out this vegan protein cheat sheet for all your plant-based protein questions

Am I getting enough protein?

For most adults, it can be answered with a simple formula: each day, you should consume 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 g of protein per pound). So a 155 lb (70 kg) person should consume about 56 g of protein daily.

What could that look like?

1/3 cup (80 mL) oatmeal + 3 Tbsp (45 mL) hemp hearts = 14 g protein
3/4 cup (180 mL) cooked lentils + 1 cup (250 mL) chopped broccoli = 16 g protein
1 Tbsp (15 mL) almond butter + 1 slice sprouted grain bread = 6 g protein
1/2 cup (125 mL) quinoa + 1/2 cup (125 mL) tofu + 1 cup (250 mL) cooked spinach = 20 g protein
TOTAL protein for the day = 56 g protein

Did you know?

After taking away water, protein accounts for 75 percent of your body weight.

What is protein, anyway?

Unlike carbs and fats, which are primarily used for energy, proteins are structural nutrients. They’re used as fuel only as a last resort. This means that proteins are a part of your muscles, of course, but also a component of your skin and bones.

Proteins are made up of blocks called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, but from a nutritional perspective, nine are considered indispensable (or essential). This means that your body can’t construct them from other blocks that are lying around, so you have to eat them.

Do plant proteins have essential amino acids?

Like animal proteins, soy and quinoa provide every indispensable amino acid (though not in the same quantities as animal proteins). Other plant proteins—such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and even veggies—provide an assortment of indispensable amino acids.

12 top picks for plant-based protein

Veggies (1 cup/250 mL, cooked)
Grains (1 cup/250 mL)
Beans and legumes (1 cup/250 mL)
Nuts and seeds (1 oz)
green peas (9 g) amaranth (9 g) lentils (18 g) hemp hearts (9 g)
spinach (5 g) quinoa (8 g) kidney beans (15 g) pumpkin seeds (7 g)
broccoli (4 g) brown rice (5 g) black beans (15 g) almonds (6 g)

Why is protein so important?

Protein is essential for developing and preserving healthy bone and muscle mass. In adults, eating a meal stimulates muscle creation and inhibits muscle breakdown, with the result of an increase in muscle mass.

Unfortunately, as we get older, there is an imbalance between muscle creation and muscle breakdown during the day, which eventually leads to a net loss of muscle. This shortfall translates to an annual 1 to 2 percent loss of muscle mass for adults over age 50. Muscle strength declines by 3 percent per year after age 60.

For this reason, after age 65, we should aim to eat 1.2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, with at least 25 to 30 g of protein at each meal.

Consider what you eat along with your protein

Added sugars accelerate age-related loss of muscle mass, possibly by disrupting insulin and aggravating the weakening of muscle protein synthesis. In other words, sugar will eat away at your muscle mass.

Up your intake

Athletes and those who simply want to age in a healthy way can turn to protein powders or supplements to add variety or increase intake.

Protein support

hemp helps prevent and treat hypertension; increases endurance; provides essential omega-3 fatty acids
soy provides all indispensable amino acids; may be cancer protective
pea made from yellow split peas; easy to digest; promotes muscle thickness

Better for the environment

Environmental researchers from California studied the impact of farming different protein sources. After considering factors including water use, surface and groundwater pollution, soil contamination, fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions, they concluded that producing legumes is less resource intensive than animal protein farming, and that kidney beans offer the most balanced macronutrient ratio for human requirements.

Kidney beans versus beef
1 kg of protein
18x less land
10x less water
9x less fuel
12x less fertilizer
10x less pesticide

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