It is inevitable that when someone finds out I eat a plant based diet they are immediately concerned about how much protein I get. It's basically a joke in the plant based community, and it would be funnier to me if I wasn't so concerned with how little most Americans know about food and how much of what they know is based on corporate interest.
I've read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries about food, not just vegan/vegetarian food, but in all different contexts. The knowledge I carry with me today is a product of years of research and a quest to improve my health. One can see why constantly being questioned by people who've never done any research can be wearisome!
Most people know that food is made up of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. For some reason, most people don't focus on the other components of food like vitamins, minerals and amino acids. My new response to people who ask about my protein or calcium is to ask them about their vitamin intake and how many different colored foods they ate recently. I could go on forever about this, but in this post I wanted to tackle the P word because it's one of the most misunderstood components of the American diet.
The first misconception many people have is exactly how much protein the average person needs on a daily basis. This site from the State Government of Victoria (Australia) gives a nice overview of protein and daily needs. Adult women need .75g of protein per kg of bodyweight. To find out your weight in kg, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (or type 150 lbs in kg into Google!). For me at 150lbs, I weigh about 68kg. I then take that number and multiply by .75 to get my daily protein need of 51.1 grams.
Men need a bit more protein, and pregnant/breast feeding women need a bit more than that. Current knowledge is that professional athletes need more, however after reading books by plant based authors like Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll, that need may not be as high as currently believed.
To put my 51 g daily need in perspective, I used the nutritional information for food from the USDA to look at the protein found in some common foods (plant based and not):
1 C cooked chicken breast = 43.43 g protein
4 oz. raw yellowfin tuna = 27.67 g protein
3 oz sprouted tofu = 12.1 g protein
1 C cooked black beans = 15.13 g protein
10 Brussels sprouts = 5.36 g protein
1 C cooked quinoa = 8.14g protein
I think this makes it painfully obvious that:
1. It's simple to get enough protein on a plant based diet without using protein powders or supplements
2. Most people eat WAY TOO MUCH protein! If one cup of cooked chicken is 43g, you can safely guess that most Americans who eat meat/dairy at every meal and snack consume double or triple the amount of protein they need on a daily basis
I used to count calories and also obsess over my macronutrient intake. I have tried many combinations and although I don't currently track my food, I know that I am eating a higher carb diet that is still giving me at least 65 g of protein each day. I also make sure not to go crazy with added fats. It works for me. When I first started working out 5-6 days a week I aimed for more protein each day, some days eating around 100g. I lost a bit of weight but then plateaued in weight loss and in size/shape. After lowering my protein and increasing my carb intake (from mostly high fiber plant foods) I lost 5 lbs and have been steadily shrinking out of my clothes.
Every body is different, but it's important to be sustainable and to aim to increase your vitamin and mineral intake from food. I actually recently stopped taking a daily multivitamin because I realized that the combination of plant foods I eat daily was more than exceeding my daily need for these essential micronutrients. The information you need to make better food choices is out there once you dig past the overwhelming amount of money the meat and dairy industries have spent to market/socialize us into the misconceptions many people hold.