And we’ve chatted about paleo and my thoughts [and experience!] with it.
So why we’re at it, let’s gab about protein shall we?
Whenever the topic of plant based, or even vegetarian, gets brought up the first question always asked is, “Well, we’re do you get your protein?”
But it’s a legitimate question if you’ve been eating meat for the majority of your life. And our society as a whole usually equates protein with meat.
I love talking about protein and I love talking about how you can get plenty of protein on a plant based diet. You can even be an athlete or a body builder or a pregnant mama who thrives on plants.
I promise this post isn’t about how we should all turn vegan and get all preachy about plants. Not at all. I’m not 100% vegan or vegetarian because I like some animal in my life once in a while. And for me, the bacon wrapped dates and local carne asada from Mas are bright red tape from absolute veganism.
But what I’m hoping this WIAW post portrays is the truth about protein…how much we really need, the best sources for our bodies and how chock full of this mighty macro plants actually are!
First things first, protein powder. Yes, we can get all the protein we need through whole foods sources and really, protein powders are not a necessarily thing in our diets. But the convenience of them is pretty nice and there are some great ones out there that make smoothies taste amazing.
Enter, Vega One.
I’ve gushed about this protein powder many-a-times, but it really is my favorite. When you’re choosing a protein powder, you don’t want something super highly processed. You want a powder that contains protein in the least processed form possible [we are talking protein powder here so it will be processed to some degree] You want to avoid isolates- that’s code for “we processed the crap out of this natural protein source so we extracted just the protein and then we powderized it.” You want to avoid soy protein isolates, whey, casein, etc etc” I love Vega because it’s a whole food protein source made of pea, hemp, and brown rice protein that together have a complete amino acid profile and are pretty easy to digest. Animal based protein powders are just so heavily processed and acidic that I recommend avoiding them.
You can get all the protein you need from plant based protein sources. Beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds are excellent sources we typically think of. If you do eat soy, always buy organic soy to avoid GMOs and other nasty things and go for tempeh most often- it’s fermented so the phytoestrogen content is much lower and it contains good probiotics! Besides the sources we often think of, dark leafy greens and a lot of vegetables are chock full of protein. Veggies are actually about 40% protein.
So not only are plants full of protein, but that protein is much more digestible and better utilized by the body than animal protein. Animal protein is much more complex than plant protein, therefore, it requires many more steps for it to be completely digested. Plant protein is already in it’s amino acid form and so it’s a “one step” food that digests rather quickly and puts less stress on your digestive track. Animal proteins take much longer [hours longer] and therefore are more energy expending for the body to digest.
So how much protein do we really need? Not a lot!
For women it’s about 0.7 grams per KILOGRAM of body weight. So for a 140 pound woman we’re talking 45 grams of protein per day. For men, it’s about 0.8 grams per KILOGRAM of body weight. That’s as much as a 5 oz chicken breast. That doesn’t include the protein you’re getting from grains, nuts, veggies, and other foods throughout the day so you can see how we get plenty of protein, especially if animal protein is consumed on a daily basis. Athletes might need a bit more, around 0.9-1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight but athletes [or active people in general] need more calories overall, so as you increase calories you’re usually inevitably eating more protein.
Not only do we not need that much protein, but pairing specific plant foods together is a total myth. Most plant foods [except soy and hemp and quinoa and a couple others] are incomplete proteins. So they don’t contain all the essential amino acids. For years it was believed that you had to eat certain plant foods together to form a “complete protein”- so between the two foods you were getting all the essential amino acids. That’s not true though. You don’t have to eat beans with rice or toast and peanut butter to get a “complete protein.” Our bodies are super smart and when a protein is digested, no matter what kind of protein it is, metabolic processes break it down into amino acids. Then when the body needs to make a protein it pulls from its endogenous and exogenous amino acid stores to build the protein. So as long as we are getting a variety of plant protein in our diet over the course of the day [or even week!] you’re good to go. Aim for a protein source at each meal.
Certainly, people have come to me complaining of low energy, lackluster workouts, etc after switching to a plant based diet or cutting out almost all animal products and I totally believe them. More often than not, it’s because they’re not eating enough. When you swap higher calorie animal foods for low calorie + high nutrient plant foods and you don’t increase the volume of food your eating and make an effort to get in plenty of higher calorie healthy fats you end of eating a lot less energy. And whenever our bodies aren’t getting enough energy [aka calories] we don’t feel our best and our bodies aren’t functioning optimally.
So nourish your body well by focusing on plant foods and eating plenty of ’em.
Three cheers for the green stuff!