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A lot of buzz is circulating about plant-based protein diets these days. But consuming a plant-based eating pattern does not mean you have to be vegetarian or vegan and can never consume meat or dairy. Rather, you are choosing more of your foods from plant sources like fruits and vegetables. Including things like nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
Eating plant-based means that your meals are more centered around plant foods and are less reliant on animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and seafood. It doesn’t mean you have removed them completely, just that you shift the emphasis of meals from animal products to plants. Animal products become a smaller focus in regular meals as opposed to the main dish that we often see on American plates.
Whey protein is one of the main proteins found in cow’s milk. Plant proteins on the other hand come from a variety of different plant sources. It is possible to consume adequate amounts of all essential amino acids from plant-based protein sources. But it is a habit that does require more diligence and mindfulness compared to simply consuming animal protein. Educating yourself about the various sources of both complete and incomplete proteins in the plant kingdom will help you make the healthiest choices.
Plant protein has a higher nutrient density and is more environmentally friendly than whey. For this fact alone, plant protein is believed to have an edge over whey. However, those aiming for muscle gain may find whey protein to be more beneficial. Protein quality is one of the biggest differences between the two sources but is not the only factor. Each protein has its unique nutrients so do your research. When making any change to your diet you must think about what fits best with your lifestyle.
Like most recommendations, they can vary from person to person depending on conditions and goals. Protein is essential to good health. The Greek origin of the word means ‘first’ reflecting its important status in nutrition. It is required to make hair, blood, tissue, antibodies, enzymes, and more. Athletes are best known to consume extra protein to bulk up. But for the average adult, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements.
For a well-balanced meal, aim for half a plate of veggies, ¼ plate of carbs, and ¼ plate of protein. All those sections can be filled by plants, even the ¼ plate of protein. Focus on consuming less meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs depending on your preferences.
Beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame, seitan, nuts, seeds, nut butter, soy milk, greens
Your choice of favorites like broccoli, leafy greens, spinach, peppers, etc.
Avocado, Nuts, chia seeds, coconut, extra virgin olive oil
Quinoa, steel-cut oats, beans, lentils, whole grain rice, fruits, veggies
Again, the recommendations vary. For some people, there may be benefits to higher daily protein intake for muscle mass and strength. It is important to focus on the quality and timing of consumption as that may also influence the effectiveness. Public health messages recently have shifted their emphasis on the importance of choosing healthier protein-rich foods rather than concentrating on specific daily amounts. But as with any change to your diet, it is recommended to consult your physician or dietitian for more guidance.
American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/plant-based-protein-infographic