Whether it’s on our food labels, cosmetics, or cleaning products, the term “plant-based” is everywhere. When it comes to our food system, this ever-growing movement has consumers and manufacturers changing the way we think about food. Here’s why: consuming more plants and fewer animal byproducts can help to reduce our carbon footprint (think: lowering harmful greenhouse gas emissions and preventing further climate change) while also improving our health.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING PLANT-BASED
Aside from the positive environmental impact eating more plant-derived sources of protein has, there are many health benefits too. Research shows a diet high in animal protein can increase risk for type 2 diabetes, while reducing daily consumption can decrease that risk. Additionally, one study found high protein intake, specifically from plant protein, lowered risk for all-cause and cardiovascular-related deaths. Similarly, another recent study, specifically in women, showed that higher plant protein intake in substitution of animal protein also lowered all-cause, cardiovascular, and dementia related mortality.
Yet still, many doubt the ability for plant-based foods to serve as good sources of protein in their diet. Thinking about swapping beef for beans? Read on to maximize your nutrition.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED?
Daily protein needs vary depending on what kind and how much physical activity you do, your age, gender, and certain medical conditions. Generally speaking, for healthy adults, aiming to eat anywhere between 4-8 oz of protein at most meals is a good benchmark.
Here’s how some of our favorite plant proteins line up when compared to 1 oz of meat (which is roughly ~7 g protein):
- ¼ cup lentils
- ⅔ cup cooked lentil pasta
- ½ cup chickpeas
- ½ cup edamame
- 2.5 oz tofu
- 1.5 oz tempeh
- 2 tbsp hemp seeds
- 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
- 8 oz soy milk
- ¾ cup cooked quinoa
- 2 slices sprouted whole wheat bread
- 2 tbsp nut butter
It’s important to note that in order to meet your daily protein requirements, especially with plants, you’ve gotta eat! Sadly, one meal per day likely won’t cut it. So, you’ll want to make sure you thoughtfully include a source of plant protein at every meal and most snacks. Moreover, in order to utilize it effectively, it’s always best to spread protein intake (from plants or animals) evenly throughout the day instead of saving it all for one meal. (We can’t store protein, so any leftover that we don’t need, can put strain on the kidneys and/or get stored as fat.)
TIPS FOR EATING MORE PLANT-BASED PROTEINS
The final aspect of optimizing your nutrition with plant protein is by shopping smart. Unfortunately, “plant-based” is now a term marketers use everywhere. And they can often dupe the consumer into assuming any product is healthy (sound familiar, “gluten free” ?). Chips, crackers, candy, frozen meals, and ice cream can all be plant based nowadays. The problem? Many of these products still contain high amounts of sodium, saturated fat, added sugar, and other processed additives even if they contain no animal byproducts. So, be sure to pay attention to the ingredients (ideally a pronounceable, rather short list) and nutrition facts label (avoid added sugar and excess sodium).
Still unsure? Starting small is helpful when making any form of dietary change, so baby steps are key if plant protein is new to you. Even including one source of plant protein in place of animal protein per week is a great start to diversifying your diet. Try swapping half the animal protein in any given recipe or meal for a plant based option. For example, swap quinoa for half the amount of ground meat in a bolognese sauce or sub beans for less chicken on the next taco Tuesday. Or, experiment with unsweetened soy milk in place of cow’s milk in your morning smoothie. The best part? Plant-protein typically contains more fiber than animal protein, so your meal is sure to be extra filling.