Want to eat a more plant-based diet? Worried about your protein intake? Confused about whether soy is a friend or foe?
With a little research, I've developed 3 key elements for plant-based eating. Plus, a list of essential proteins to always have on hand while eating plant-based.
3-STEP PROTEIN GUIDE FOR PLANT-BASED EATING
1. FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH PROTEIN YOU NEED
DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound. Using these guidelines, then the average sedentary man needs 56 grams per day-- 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman. However the more active you are, the more your body needs protein to rebuild muscles.
Protein consumption is also important to maintain a healthy metabolism. According to studies comparing protein rich versus poor diets, "protein at around 25-30% of calories has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80 to 100 calories per day, compared to lower protein diets" (healthline.com).
Here's a rough calculation to help you figure out how much protein you need
- Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
- Weight in kg x 0.8-1.8* gm/kg = protein gm.
*Use a lower number if you are in good health and are sedentary (i.e., 0.8). Use a higher number (between 1 and 1.8) if you are under stress, are pregnant, are recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training. Calculation provided by verywell.com
2. MAKE SMALL SHIFTS TO YOUR DIET WITH MORE PROTEIN RICH FOODS
Quinoa doesn't have that much protein, about 8 grams per cup, but it' more than brown rice with 5 grams per cup. In addition, making that switch increases fiber intake and minerals like iron and folate. Be sure to rinse the quinoa. I know, I know-- I thought it was a waste, too, but the rinsing process can actually help better digest the quinoa.
Be conscious that with each meal that you are getting enough protein based on your calculation above. If you need about 45 grams of protein per day, aim for 15 grams per meal. This way, you'll feel fuller longer.
3. BE CONSCIOUS ABOUT SOY INTAKE
To eat soy or not eat soy? That certainly seems to be the question that has been circulating for the past 20 years. While conflicting evidence exists, mostly soy in moderation (like everything else) is perfectly healthy. You won't get man boobs from soy based foods like soy milk, tofu, or soy meats.
However, there is evidence that our soy consumption is increasing. Westerners are eating more soy than ever, especially with processed foods that have soy additives like soybean oils. Soy does contain estrogen-like compounds called isoflavones. Some findings suggest that these compounds "could promote the growth of some cancer cells, impair female fertility, and mess with thyroid function" (mercola.com).
Vary and balance your protein sources. Some days I'll use more beans and legumes for protein, other times I will use soy, and in a pinch I'll reach for eggs or even fish. If you are going to be eating a lot of soy, try to eat it fermented. Tempeh, nato, and fermented tofu are all great options that have little estrogenic effects (alive.com)
ESSENTIAL PROTEIN TO HAVE ON HAND FOR NON-MEAT EATERS
Tofu- It's bland. The texture is an uncomfortable mix of raw meat and flan. And yet, the versatility of this protein is exactly why it's so awesome! Add flour and breadcrumbs to make a tofu-fried chicken. Add Siracha and soy sauce for an asian stir fry. The possibilities are endless!
- Fake meats- The soy meat market is growing, which is awesome for non-meat eaters. We can have "chicken fingers" , "burgers", or "meatballs", and they taste nearly identical to meat products. Win. Fake meats are perfect for when you're in a pinch. They are easy to cook, usually 5 minutes on the stove. My favorite soy products are from Match Meats, a St. Louis company that makes the ultimate burgers and ground meats.
- Tempeh- Even thought you can eat it raw, you'll probably regret it. It's fermented tofu, so use your imagination on the taste. You'll want to bake or fry it up. My favorite Tempeh recipe from Minimalist Baker involves a peanut-sesame marinade. You'll want to use this sauce on everything. In fact, I threw out all my stir fry sauces in exchange for this sauce.
- Beans- If you're digestion aches from the mere word, try soaking uncooked beans beforehand. Beans average 13.4 grams of protein per serving. Try a three-bean chili!
- Nuts & Seeds- This category covers everything from almonds to quinoa (which is surprisingly a seed?).
- Protein Powder- If you just had a delicious veggie filled salad (or just spent the entire day eating just chocolate covered pretzels) and are looking for a protein supplement, just turn to a protein powder. You can find pea protein, hemp protein, or soy protein on the shelves. It's easy to mix up when you're in a hurry.