Where Do You Get Protein? The Simple Truth about Protein Intake

THAT question. “Where do you get your protein?”  You will have heard that one before. 

The modern world is protein-obsessed. If you’d listen to some of the things people are saying about protein, you’d think your mere existence as a vegan is a pure and utter miracle.

It’s time to set the record straight. So feel free to send the following info to all your bewildered friends who just can’t seem to understand how you are not only alive, but actually thriving on a vegan diet.

What is protein?

Protein is a compound made up of amino acids, which are the “building blocks” of major parts of the human body. Amino acids are crucial to the minute-by-minute regulation and maintenance of the body.  Your body makes its own supply of 22 of the amino acids, but there are nine others, called essential amino acids, that you need to get from food.

Protein is in almost all food

Contrary to popular belief – fish, meat, and eggs are not the only sources of protein. Protein is in almost all foods, including plants.

Did you know? There is more than twice as much protein in 100 calories of broccoli as there is in 100 calories of beef!  Broccoli also comes packed with a bevy of vitamins, calcium, and cancer-preventing fiber!  It was once believed that different plant proteins needed to be combined at the same meal, like rice and beans, but that theory has since been disregarded.  It is sufficient to get a wide variety of plant proteins throughout the course of each day. 

How much protein do we need?

The current recommended daily allowance for protein for the average adult is 0.8 – 1.0 grams/kg body weight.  This also includes a safe margin of error.  For most people, a sufficient protein intake will be 10-20% of daily calories.  Athletes in training or people recovering from illness might need more.

1 burrito with rice, beans and vegetables = a whopping 40 grams of protein! In the photo: Vegan Burrito by Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. Click on the photo for the full recipe.

There is virtually no such thing as a protein deficiency in the developed world except in people who are severely restricting their overall total calories (perhaps because of fasting, eating disorders, or illness).  None-the-less, symptoms of protein-deficiency include: sugar and sweet cravings, feeling spacey and jittery, fatigue, weight loss, loss of healthy color on facial area, feeling weak, anemia, change in hair color and texture, and (in severe cases) skin inflammation and pot belly.

Too much protein however, is quite common, especially among low carb dieters.  The symptoms of too much protein include: low energy, constipation, dehydration, lethargy, heavy feeling, weight gain, sweet cravings, feeling “tight” or stiff in the joints, body becomes overly acidic, kidney function declines (due to the stress required to process excess proteins — the kidney faces increased pressure to filter toxins and waste), foul body odor, halitosis, and calcium loss to compensate for acidic status in body.

Getting enough protein

To show you how simple it is to reach your body’s protein needs, let’s take an example of a 75kg person.  It is recommended that this person eat 60-75 grams of protein per day.

Here are some common vegan dishes with their protein amounts:

  • 1 burrito with rice, beans and vegetables = 40 grams protein
  • 1 cup tempeh = 30 grams protein
  • 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich = 20 grams protein
  • 1 bowl of cereal with soy milk = 20 grams protein (depending on brands)
  • 1 large salad with vegetables, sunflower seeds and raisins = 20 grams protein
  • 1 cup tofu = 18 grams protein
  • 1 falafel sandwich with 3 balls, hummus & tahini = 18 grams protein
  • 1 cup cooked lentils = 16 grams protein
  • ½ cup quinoa = 13 grams protein
  • ½ cup cooked split peas = 11 grams protein
  • ½ cup hummus = 10 grams protein
  • 1 bagel = 10 grams protein
  • ½ cup black beans = 9 grams protein
  • 1 cup soymilk = 8 grams protein (depending on brand of soymilk)
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal = 7 grams protein
  • 1 oz soy cheese = 7 grams protein (depending on type of cheese)
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter = 7 grams protein
  • 1 cup cooked pasta = 7 grams protein
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice = 5 grams protein
  • 1 oz cashews or almonds = 5 grams protein
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli = 5 grams protein
  • 1 cup cooked spinach = 5 grams protein
  • 1 whole avocado = 4 grams protein
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread = 3 grams protein
  • 1 Tbsp tahini = 2.6 grams protein
  • 1 falafel ball = 2.5 grams protein

So if our person has 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup soymilk and 1 oz of almonds for breakfast (20 grams protein);  a falafel sandwich and a green salad with sunflower seeds for lunch (38 grams protein); an apple and a spoonful of peanut butter for a snack (4 grams protein); and a tofu-vegetable stir-fry over brown rice for dinner (25 grams protein); he eats approximately 87 grams of protein and easily meets his recommended daily allowance!  See how easy that was?

The next time someone asks you where you get your protein, remember that this question is merely fueled by ignorance and misinformation.  Suppress the urge to scream in frustration and take the opportunity to educate.  And always remember, there was probably a time when you asked this question yourself!

Emily Segal

Writer & Reviewer

Social Media Manager (Pinterest)

Vegan Health & Nutrition Columnist

Emily is a board certified holistic health coach and the founder and owner of Triumph Wellness, an International Nutrition Counseling Practice.
Emily specializes in Plant-Based Nutrition, Sugar Addiction, Emotional Eating and Sports Nutrition.

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