This post discusses how to figure out how much protein you need every day, and a list of vegetarian - friendly proteins.
Welcome to month #2 of the Monthly Vegetarian Challenge. Each month I'll post tips around specific themes for anyone wanting to add more vegetarian meals to their weekly menus. Additionally, we'll tackle 1 - 3 seasonal recipes tied to the theme that month, with a contest.
This month's theme is PROTEIN.
This post covers how to figure out how much protein you need on a daily basis, and provides a list of vegetarian - friendly proteins you can use. Insufficient protein is one of the leading reasons for vegetarian fatigue, so this is a big deal.
In a couple of days I'll provide a post offering the recipes you can choose to cook from this month. Tips will be provided on how to add additional protein - using the below list of vegetarian - friendly proteins, should you need to, as well as how to adjust them for the omnivores at your table. Lastly, the winner of January's contest will be announced, and February's contest will begin for another $50 Amazon gift card!
So let's get started.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
This is a common question, and the answer is "it depends". Don't you just hate that? I used to think I just needed to scrounge up 46 grams of protein per day, because that was the recommendation I commonly read for women. And yet when I dug a little deeper, I found that my daily minimum protein requirement is closer to 65 - a 41% increase!!
First of all, protein is a core building block for our bones, muscles, organs, and so much more. Our bodies use protein to build and repair tissues, and we use protein to make enzymes and hormones. Unfortunately, we can't store it, like fat, and need a lot of it. If we don't get enough, our bodies suffer.
For meat and fish eaters, they get more than enough protein. But if you want to go more plant-based with your diet, more planning is required. And this might be the most important planning you do.
So, how do you figure out how much YOU need? There are a few factors to look at:
- Activity level
- Weight and Body Fat Percentage
Men generally have more muscle mass, and require more protein than women. But that can be skewed a bit if a woman is breast feeding and / or doing athletic training. Sometimes her protein needs can approach that of a sedentary man.
Bottom line, the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This equates to the common recommendation of 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man, and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
Athletes have known for decades to increase their protein if they want to add muscle mass and strength. If you regularly pursue endurance activities such as hiking, swimming, weight training, and team sports, your body requires more protein to maintain and build muscle. Power athletes, because it's all about building muscle, need even more.
Bottom line, if you're physically active, or recovering from an injury, you need more protein. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes. This equates to 0.54 - 0.90 grams of protein per pound of weight.
Older adults progressively lose muscle as they age, once they pass 50, and their physiology typically resists building new muscle. This can be largely mitigated with muscle building exercises, and by increasing your protein intake as you age. As further good news, increased protein intake by older adults may help prevent osteoporosis.
Bottom line, if you're over 50, you should begin to increase the protein content of your diet, and most people over 65 should consume about 1 g to 1.2 g of protein/kg of body weight per day to both gain and maintain muscle mass and function.
(If you live in the States, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 and multiply that number by 1 to 1.2 grams to get your protein requirement.)
Weight and Body Fat Percentage
The most common protein requirement calculations go off your total weight. However, if you're significantly overweight, use your Lean Mass to calculate your protein needs, since that's what determines your protein need. Lean body mass is all of the muscles, organs, bones, tissues and water in the body excluding fat.
I've used several calculators to figure this number out, but this is the one I like because it takes your measurements to 2 decimal points.
Bottom line, most studies suggest that 0.7–1 grams per pound of lean mass (1.6–2.2 grams per kg) are sufficient.
What Does This Mean For You?
Since each of these calculations will yield a slightly different protein requirement, I recommend taking the average of the categories that apply to your life, and use that number.
For me, that's 63 grams of protein per day, or a little more than 20 grams per meal.
List of Vegetarian-Friendly Proteins
New vegetarian - friendly protein products seem to come onto the shelves every month. In fact, the global plant - based protein market is expected to top $40 billion by 2026. This is good news for people wanting to add more vegetarian meals to their weekly menus, as it provides us with more choices than every before for getting our protein.
This list is in no way meant to be inclusive of every protein option you can choose from. But these are some of the more popular and commonly found products in most areas of the country. I've arranged the list roughly in order of highest protein content to least, in terms of a typical serving size.
For example, 1 cup of nutritional yeast packs 32 grams of protein, compared to 31 grams for tempeh. But I placed it at the bottom because it's more likely you'll be adding 2 tablespoons of it to a dish than 1 cup.
- Tempeh (1 cup) = 31 grams of protein
- Tofu (1 cup) = 20 grams of protein
- Shelled edamame beans (1 cup) = 17 grams of protein
- Soy milk (1 cup) = 8 grams
Nuts and Nut Butters
- Peanuts (1 cup) = 38 grams of protein
- Almonds (1 cup) = 29 grams of protein
- Cashews or pistachios (1 cup) = 24 - 25 grams of protein
- Peanut butter (¼ cup) = 14 grams of protein
- Almond butter (¼ cup) = 13 grams of protein
- Cashew butter (¼ cup) = 8 grams of protein
Plant-Based Meat Replacements
I use the Beyond Beef and MorningStar Farms products in soups, chili, scrambled eggs, tacos, burritos, and many other dishes that call for ground beef.
- Seitan (3 oz) = approximately 20 grams of protein
- Beyond Beef® Crumbles (½ cup) = 13 grams of protein
- Veggie burger (1 store-bought pattie) = generally around 9 - 11 grams of protein
- MorningStar Farms Veggie Meal Starters® (½ cup) = 9 grams of protein
I stir protein powder into my morning yogurt for some additional protein, and blend it into my smoothies with excellent success.
- Most protein powders (1 scoop) = 25 grams of protein (scoop is provided in the packet)
- Whey protein powder (2 scoops) = 22 grams of protein (scoop is provided in the can)
Greek and strained yogurts offer more protein than regular yogurt.
- Fage Greek yogurt (200g / 7 oz container) = 20 grams of protein
- Siggi's strained yogurt (150g / 5.3 oz container) = 15 grams of protein
- Shredded cheese (¼ cup) = 7 - 8 grams of protein
Don't restrict your legume use just to whole beans. Look for pastas made from beans too.
- Cooked lentils (1 cup) = 18 grams of protein
- Cooked chickpeas, and black, white, Navy, Cannelini beans (1 cup) = 15 - 17 grams of protein
I have a half dozen hard boiled eggs in my refrigerator almost all the time. This makes them easy to add to avocado toasts, salads, or all by themselves when I'm on the go.
- 1 large chicken egg = 6 grams of protein
Roasted and seasoned pumpkin seeds make a fantastic snack, as well as toppings for casseroles. And I add hemp seed hearts, and ground flaxseed to soups, stews and hearty vegetable dishes. Chia seeds are perfect in yogurt and smoothies. For quick meals, I have a stash of pre-cooked quinoa in the refrigerator or a store-bought package of frozen quinoa.
- Pumpkin seeds (1 cup) = 12 grams of protein
- Hemp seed hearts (3 tablespoons) = 10 grams of protein
- Chia seeds (2 tablespoons) = 4.7 grams of protein
- Flax seeds (2 tablespoons) = 3.8 grams of protein
- Cooked quinoa (1 cup) = 8 grams of protein
My favorite use for nutritional yeast is as a popcorn topping, but it's also great added to soups and stews.
- Nutritional yeast (2 tablespoons) = 4 grams of protein
Disclaimer: I'm not a physician, although my husband is. And I'm not a trained nutritionist. No information here should be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.