It’s funny that no one really gives protein too much thought until they, or someone they know, decides to go-plant-based. Then the world stops and everyone’s concerned for the new, healthier plant-based eater. “Are you getting enough protein?” is the number one question vegans and even vegetarians can’t escape.
While every plant-based eater knows getting enough protein is completely possible, others aren’t always on board with this idea. To debunk the myth that you can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet, we’ve shown you just how to get enough protein with plants, and now we’re going to show you what to look for to tell if you’re getting enough.
What We All Need to Consider About Protein
This advice isn’t just for plant-based eaters, but for everyone else too. The funny thing is, too much protein (especially from animal protein) actually isn’t beneficial. Animal protein raises insulin in the body which contributes to diabetes and high blood sugar. While it’s necessary to get enough protein, you obtain plenty that your body needs just from eating plant-based foods. Even those that aren’t technically vegan or vegetarian could be eating foods that don’t support their protein needs. Ironically, if someone eats a 100 percent whole foods plant-based diet or even an 80 percent whole foods plant-based diet, they’ll get more quality protein than someone eating the Standard American Diet of cheap processed cereal, junk food cookies, frozen dinners, and fast food.
However, a diet of fruits and veggies alone won’t give you all the protein you need. You do need some type of grains, nuts, seeds, or beans, even if they’re in small amounts. These foods provide more protein, and though leafy greens have plenty, most people (not all) need another source.
Protein is made of amino acids so when you’re lacking in protein, you’re really just lacking in amino acids (not because you don’t down a hamburger or eat eggs and drink milk.) Plants are packed with amino acids that can give you what you need. You should also consider if you’re having trouble absorbing the nutrients from your foods, which could indicate a case of malabsorptio (a problem with absorption of protein and enzyme production within the digestive tract.)
Here’s what to look for to tell if you’re lacking in protein:
Heather Crosby of Yum Universe, vegan nutritional expert and a T. Colin Campbell Foundation Certified Plant-Based Wellness Coach, says to look for the following signs if you’re worried about protein deficiency:
- Anxiety/depression (amino acids fuel the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that prevent depression and anxiety)
- Poor injury recovery (protein fuels muscle recovery and regrowth)
- Hair Loss/Breakage (protein supports collagen production in the hair, skin, and nails)
- Inability to focus (amino acids support brain performance)
- Constant muscle pain (protein helps muscle recovery and aids in repair)
- Brittle/Breaking Nails (protein supports collagen production in the hair, skin, and nails)
- Poor muscle tone, even with exercise (protein builds and maintains lean muscle mass)
- Constantly fatigued (protein is needed for a healthy metabolism)
- Digestive issues (protein aids in digestion)
How Much Do You Need?
Most people only need 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain lean muscle mass, but could eat up to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to gain lean muscle.
Check out this complete list of protein-rich plant-based foods, get an entire day’s worth of meals, The Ultimate Guide to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet, and see how to get enough without eating one bit of animal protein.
Now you can relax: a diet rich in whole foods will give your muscles all the protein you could dream of. Be sure to tell your family and friends that love you that the world can keep turning and then consider sharing some of your delicious food with them!
Lead image source: Fiery Garlic Tofu