Where Do You Get Your Protein?

For those of us enjoying a predominantly plant-based diet, this question is bound to come up at some point, whether it be from a concerned family member, or from a curious friend.

And while eggs, goat cheese, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are all great sources of protein to supplement your diet, it’s easy to forget that plants are actually a great source of protein themselves! Did you know that 51% of the calories in spinach are from protein? Per calorie, that’s more than a steak!

In fact, research has shown that all plants contain protein–> at least 14% of the total calories of every plant are protein. [source]

glass of green juiceAs an example, let’s look at breakfast.

Using Fitday.com as my nutritional calculator, I decided to compare a typical American breakfast of eggs and toast, to my favorite morning green juice.

comparing the nutrition of eggs and toast to green juice[click on image to enlarge]

As you can see above, the breakfast of eggs and toast provides just slightly more protein than the breakfast of green juice, but the green juice provides significantly more nutrition overall. In just one green drink, not only have you already consumed 37% of your protein for the day, you’ve also covered 66% of your daily calcium requirements, 49% of your iron needs, and over 100% of your Vitamins A, C and B-6!

Talk about protein, with an added punch!

Here’s another useful graphic, comparing the nutrition of a few of my favorite green veggies to that of a sirloin steak:

nutrients chart[source]

Granted, these compare 100-calorie portions of veggies to a 100-calorie portion of steak… so volume-wise, you’d have to eat a lot more leafy greens in comparison to a few bites of steak. Since I’m all about eating large portions, I don’t mind this one bit! However, it’s probably a good reason to add some density to your veggies, by topping them with nutrient-rich nuts, seeds, or some shredded raw goat cheese!

And, in case you’re worried about consuming “complete” proteins, such as those found in animal products, there’s no need.

Nutritional research has discovered that plant-based protein from a wide variety of sources adequately supplies all the essential amino acids required for a healthy body. It is not necessary to consume a “complete” protein at every meal. The body’s innate intelligence utilizes the protein from multiple meals to provide the necessary building blocks. [source]

Our bodies are brilliant, and will collect all the amino acids we need to build complete proteins–> regardless of whether we consume them all in one meal, or over several.

Even more reason to eat your veggies!

Reader Feedback: Do you worry about getting enough protein? What are your favorite sources?

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Comments

Izzy @ bitefullofhappiness

Hi! You are so right about the veggies 🙂 my mom and I eat at least a serving or two of veggies or fruit in EVERY meal. I love your blog! You and your recipes are amazing!

Danielle @ Clean Food Creative Fitness

Love this!!! I think comparisons like this are great proof for disbelievers!

Shereen

I’m curious if you have any info on the bioavailability of the nutrients in veggies vs. meat, because I know for instance that although there is a lot of iron in spinach, it is not easily absorbed by the body due to the presence of oxalate in spinach. So, this could mean that you actually are able to absorb more iron from the steak because it is in a more readily available form. Thanks!

    Megan

    I would love to see some good research on this, too! Every study seems biased in one way or another. I’d also love to know more about nutrient absorption from cooked meat vs. raw meat, as I’ve heard that cooking may damage animal protein and make it difficult to assimilate in the body. I know some athletes who swear by only consuming raw animal protein, like raw egg yolks and unpasteurized dairy products.

    I’ll let you know if I find any good info. 🙂

    NAiMA

    What Shereen says is true, but there are some tricks to boost the absorbing process of certain nutrients. in this particular case the winning mix is iron (from vegetable source) and vitamin C. if you add let’s say 250 ml of orange juice to your breakfast that’ll improve the iron absorption remarkably.

Pernille

Love your blog! Even though i live half way round the world, i can still use a lot of your so delicious recipes! They are simply amazing! From time to time, i have problems finding all the ingredients you use, which sucks a lot. I guess that is what you can expect, living so far away..

When in comes to proteins – the hottest ingredient in Denmark is a yoghurt kind-of-ingredient called skyr. I think it’s from Iceland, and has 73% of protein – now that’s a great way to get your proteins! I don’t know if it’s only in Scandinavia you can buy it. I eat for breakfast and it keeps my stomach full for many hours 🙂

Other great protein sources I use is chicken, salmon and tuna, if you’re into that!

Sara

Wow this is just a great post with such good insight! My doctor is always pressuring me to increase my protein through animal products…little does she know! I am curious on how you get your B12 since most vegetarians seems to be lacking this essential nutrient?

Joanna

Ask and ye shall receive! Thank you so much for this info. It’s exactly what I have been wondering about lately.

laura

Oh my gosh, I love this post! I’ve always made this exact argument, though without a chart to back it up, Needless to say my meat-and-potatoes relatives just think I’m making up some crazy story to justify my “weird” eating. More veggies for everyone!

Anna

I’m curious to know more about how you calculated the nutrition for these. I calculated the nutrition for both on my own (I tried tap&track and my fitness pal) and the total protein came to about 14 grams. 14 grams seems low to be 37% of daily protein especially if you want to maintain lean muscle mass (by my calculations that means only about 38-40 grams/day).
When I looked at the eggs and toast meal it came to about 24 grams (depending on the bread). This still only comes to about 50 grams/day.

It was my understanding that as an active person, you should eat about 0.8 grams of protein for each pound you weigh. I really enjoy your blog since you promote a very healthy and active lifestyle and I am sure you are well aware of the importance of building and sustaining lean muscle. That is why I was surprised to read a post that recommends such a low protein diet. Nutritionists that I have spoken with in the past have always stressed that the “R” in RDA is RECOMMENDED and therefore I should only use it as a general guideline when evaluating my personal dietary needs.

I would like to add that I do agree with the basic concept behind this post-by eating whole grains, nuts and vegetables it is very very easy to obtain protein without relying on animal sources. I am mostly curious about your views on how much protein one should actually eat daily and how you feel about RDA and Daily Values in general.

    Megan

    According to my calculations on Fitday.com, the green juice contained 17.1 grams of protein, and the 2 eggs and 2 slices of 100% whole wheat toast totaled 20 grams of protein.

    Depending on which experts you ask, protein recommendations can vary widely! According to the Center for Disease Control, adult women should consume roughly 46 grams of protein each day, while adult men should consume closer to 56 grams– but they generally recommend 10-35% of daily calories should be protein. Since calories should increase if you’re highly active, naturally your protein intake would increase with that, as well.

    One of the experts I love looking to on this type of subject is Nora Gedgaudas, as she usually has non-corporate funded studies to reference. According to her research, we are better off consuming less protein than the typical RDA, which many people find surprising given her “Paleo” approach! You can read more on her reasoning here: http://www.primalbody-primalmind.com/?p=295

    Personally, I have a hard time relying on any generalized recommendations, so I skip the calorie and protein counting, and simply eat a varied diet that’s full of whole foods. Hard to go wrong with that approach! 🙂

Alexis

Megan, I find your site very informative, but am confused as to where to get B12 without consuming meat products. Is it necessary to take a B12 supplement? I have tried many of your recipes and they are fabulous! Many thanks!

    Megan

    Hi Alexis! B12 can be found in eggs, cheese and dairy products, so unless you are following a vegan diet, it’s pretty easy to meet those requirements. Vegan sources include sea vegetables and nutritional yeast, but personally, I would also probably take a complex B vitamin if I were following a vegan diet.

Michelle

I am new to this juicing thing so please bear with me. I have protein anemia and was told that juicing may help me with better absorption. With this recipe for the “Green Juice” do you drink the whole thing or do you divide it in to more than one serving??

    Megan

    I usually drink that amount of green juice as one serving.

Jordan

Confession time: I am one of those who believed animal protein was the main source of protein and the amount in veggies was negligible. Boy was I wrong! (Something I usually don’t like to admit) Question. Do you actually juice the veggies or just use a high powered blender? I was curious since then the fiber would be gone and I didn’t know if some protein would be left in the pulp. Great blog by the way 🙂

    Margie

    Using my VitaMix I put all of the veggie/greens in most of the time. When spinach is made into a green drink, the cell walls are broken and the nutrients are more available to your body for absorption. You get the benefit of the water in the greens/veggies as well.

Irene

What’s the recipe for your morning green juice?
Thanks

April

Your juice recipe above sounds totally delish! I think I’ll try making it tomorrow!

Jezebel DeAndrade

Hi Megan! Thank you for this blog. I’ve also just ordered your book. My question is probably redundant… but I’m a vegetarian and I respond poorly to beans (sigh) but I eat them everyday anyways because I feel desperate for protein. I read somewhere else that the carbs in beans were hard for our body’s to digest so we are supposed to consider them a protein. This information totally changes depending on what fad diet I’m reading about. LOL. I guess my question is, how do I stop eating so many beans and “fake meat” for protein and still feel light and clean?

Katie Murphy

This is a very encouraging site! I am trying to go completely plant-based but I am afraid to because of this issue. I know that plant based foods give enough protien, but while breastfeeding I am hesitant to take the plunge. Your site has inspired me not to give up! Right now I am striving for %90 of my calories from whole, plant-based foods. (Almond milk just doesn’t cut it for my coffee and I am afraid it would be rude to be picky about being served something with chicken broth or cheese at a relative’s house or something.) So thanks!

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