It’s a common misconception that anyone eating a plant-based diet is deficient in protein. What’s not so well-known is that there are a plethora of options when it comes to excellent sources of plant-based protein.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein, is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (1) The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. To calculate, multiply your weight in pounds by .36, or use this online protein calculator.
This amount of protein is easily met if you're eating a well-rounded plant-based diet with lots of veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
How Much Protein?
However, how much protein is needed for optimal health, may also depend on your age.
This data comes from a study analyzing self-reported calorie intake that came from protein: high (20% or more), moderate (10-19%), or low (less than 10%) of more than 6,800 U.S. adults, ages 50 and over.
We should be a little cautious about this kind of data because people are reporting their intake and memory can be a tricky and sometimes elusive thing. That said, the findings are very interesting.
If you're 50-65 years old, eating more protein, especially from animal sources, had a "75% increase in overall mortality and were 4 times more likely to die from cancer during the following 18 years than those in the low protein group. The moderate-protein diet was associated with a 3-fold increase in cancer mortality compared to the low-protein diet." (2)
The good news: the associations were only found when the proteins were derived from animal, rather than plant, sources. Another good reason to keep eating a plant-based diet. Not so if you're 65 or older.
Protein Needs if You're 65 or Older
The recommendation for those 65 & older is a little different.
According to an article from the National Institutes for Health, "In participants ages 65 and older, those who consumed high amounts of protein had a 28% lower risk of dying from any cause and a 60% lower risk of dying from cancer. These associations weren’t influenced by whether the protein was derived from animal or plant sources."
What is the sweet spot for protein consumption if you're 65 or older?
It's for 1.2 to 1.5 times your weight in kilograms, as opposed to the typical recommendation of 0.8 per kg listed above. So if you weigh 140 lbs., multiply 140 x .454 to get your weight in kg, which is about 64. Then multiply 64 x 1.2 (and 1.5) to get 76.8 - 96gm of protein per day.
To get a deeper dive into increasing protein intake after age 65, watch Dr. Michael Greger's video, Increasing Protein Intake After Age 65.
If this is you, you may want to increase the amount of protein in your diet by adding more beans and lentils, tofu and tempeh, and seitan which is a gluten source of protein.
Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Below, is a list of vegetables, legumes, seeds, and other foods that, when included regularly in your diet, will help provide you with ample amounts of protein. I’ve listed them from highest to lowest. That being said, the last item on the list, guava, has 4 grams of protein in a single cup! Seitan, not listed in the chart below, has 47 gms of protein per cup and 3 tablespoons.
|Hemp seeds||53||3.3||Pumpkin seeds||12||0.8|
|Dry-roasted soybeans||52||3.3||Squash seeds||12||0.8|
|Miso paste||32||2.0||Whole oats||10||0.6|
|Boiled soybeans||28||1.8||Quinoa (cooked)||8||0.5|
|Nutritional Yeast||24||1.5||Spinach (chopped)||6||0.4|
|Flax seeds||21||1.3||Brussel's sprouts||6||0.4|
|Lentils||18||1.1||Artichoke (whole large)||5||0.3|
How to Cook with Plant-Based Protein
There are so many different ways you can include these foods in your diet every day. Things like hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds can be sprinkled on salads and added to smoothies. Use dry-roasted soybeans, edamame, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and squash seeds in your trail mix!
Learn about cooking with tempeh, seitan, and tofu in these articles. Tempeh, tofu, beans, lentils, quinoa, and oats are included in a lot of my recipes. And, of course, vegetables can be eaten raw, roasted, or steamed, not to mention used in soups, stews, and salads! You can even dehydrate green peas, grind them into a powder, and you’ll have a potent protein powder for your smoothies and soups.
The point is, get creative with your recipes and stock your kitchen with a nice assortment of these protein staple foods, and you won’t have to worry about meeting protein requirements.
Protein-packed trail mix recipe!
High Protein Trail Mix
Makes 12, 1/4 cup servings
- 1/2 cup dry-roasted soybeans
- 1/4 cup pistachios
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1/2 cup freeze-dried cherries
- Dark Chocolate Oat Clusters
- 1/4 cup Enjoy Life Vegan Dark Chocolate Morsels
- 1/2 cup whole oats
- Add the soybeans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and freeze-dried cherries to a bowl.
- Melt chocolate, and stir in oats. Drop small blobs on parchment paper, place in freezer until solid, then add to trail mix.
Per serving: 5g protein, 7g fat, 11g carbs, 107 cals
What are your favorite high-protein snacks? Let me know in the comments below!
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Thanks for this information. I’m now over 60 and have to pay attention to several things to avoid diabetes, heart disease, and now peripheral neuropathy in my feet caused by cholesterol (according to my doc.) I stay in the gym most days and have just converted over to a plant-based diet this past week. Eating habits are hard to change, but I’ve been changing them quite a bit over the last year or so. So far, so good. My research also has suggested that due to my age, that plant-based protein intake is fairly important, and when I keep it within recommended guides, I do feel better.
Again, thank you!
It sounds like you’re doing a fabulous job of staying motivated and committed! You’re right, it can be hard to change your eating habits so congratulations! I hope these changes lead to the healing your seeking. And, you’re right about protein when you’re 65 or older. I wrote about that in my article, “Am I Getting Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Diet.” Good luck with the switch to a plant-based diet and let me know where your having struggles as your insight could be helpful to others.