For vegetarians and vegans the first question you often get asked is… where do you get your protein? Concern over protein intake for plant based diets has been an ongoing topic of conversation among nutritionists, health professionals, and consumers for decades. However, the pendulum is shifting and questions are now being raised over the effects of excess protein intake – which is actually a far more common occurrence in the modern diet.
Discussion on the topic of protein-loading is fueled by advertising campaigns and various research studies released over the years supposedly in support of the concept that humans require large amounts of protein in order to thrive. The issue here being the majority of this research supporting increased protein intakes is, as with any advertising, funded by those who desire to sell more of their product or service, this makes it difficult to cut through the marketing hype and find unbiased information. In particular, consumers are bombarded with protein-orientated messaging from the dairy, egg and meat industries.
The World Health Organisation has voiced its concerns both over the high intake of protein in developed countries, and its ineffectiveness when seeking to create muscle mass. Stating that in fact excessive intake of protein can be toxic to the body.
What Is Protein And Why Is It Important?
Protein is actually a collection of Amino Acids linked together in specific sequences. These protein sequences provide the building blocks for bone, skin, muscle, hormones and enzymes. The human body cannot make these Amino Acids on its own and needs to source them from food.
How Much Protein Do You Actually Need?
The World health Organisation tells us that “Safe levels of protein” are “0.83 g/kg per day of protein with a protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score value of 1.0”. For the average adult weighing in at around 70 – 80 kg this equates to around 60 grams of protein per day.
Interestingly, according to the NZ Ministry of Health ‘Key Findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey’ the median usual daily intake of protein for men was 102 grams per day and women were eating around 71 grams per day.
What Foods Are High In Protein?
Dispute over how much protein can actually be absorbed in one sitting cause’s some confusion when considering protein portions. There is growing support for the concept of eating smaller serves of protein spread throughout the day.
While the exact protein content of foods will vary, as a quick point of reference; a cup of chopped chicken contains around 45 grams of protein, one serving of Greek yoghurt has around 12 grams and a cup of lentils contains about 18 grams.
Many people underestimate the amount of protein they are consuming during the course of the day. A regular sized cinnamon and sugar doughnut, for example, can contain nearly 3 grams of protein, a date scone can contain nearly 10 grams of protein, a cup of chocolate ice cream can contain nearly 5 grams and there is even a small amount of protein in your cup of coffee.
Do you know how much protein you are consuming? Take a look at The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables for a guide as to the protein content of a large range of daily foods.
Plant-Based Protein Source Examples
- Quinoa. 6.4 grams of protein per cup.
- Chickpeas. 1 cup of cooked chickpeas contains 9 grams of protein.
- Legumes. Various types of beans and lentils can contain between 10-20 grams of protein per cup.
- Tofu. Holds around 20 grams of protein per cup.
- Hemp Seed. Contains around 10 grams of protein per two tablespoons.
- Chia Seed. Contains around 4 grams of protein per two tablespoons.
- Buckwheat. 6 grams of protein per cup – cooked.
- Amaranth. Nearly 5 grams of protein per cup.
- Spinach. 5 grams of protein per cup, cooked.
- Peas. 8 grams of protein per cup.
Dried apricots, avocado, berries, bananas, dried dates, kiwifruit and nuts also contain good amounts of protein. Please note; All of the above amounts are given as a guide only please check individual nutritional labels for more precise information.
Spread throughout the day the protein your body extracts from foods all adds up, it is easy to see how meeting the daily requirements can be achieved with little effort on a varied and healthy plant-based diet. It is important to note that pregnant or lactating mothers, the elderly or the immune-compromised will have different protein requirements.
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