Where Does Plant-Based Protein Come From?

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Myths, Truths & Where to Get It

“But…where will I get my protein?”

It’s still one of the most common questions asked about plant-based diets. If you’re already plant-based, people want to know where your protein comes from. If you’re considering a plant-based diet, you might be wondering which foods to eat for protein and whether you can get enough after making the switch.

Despite projections that the worldwide plant-based protein market will be valued at over $10 billion by 2020, protein is still largely equated with meat. Most meals contain some kind of animal protein, be it eggs in a breakfast sandwich, chicken on a salad at lunch or a burger for dinner. When you’ve spent the majority of your life eating that way, you don’t think about replacing animal foods with plant proteins — you just picture the eggs, chicken or burger disappearing.

But whole plant foods are far from lacking when it comes to protein. When you exchange meat and other animal products for foods like beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and leafy greens, you get all the protein you need and enjoy the added benefits of the fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found abundantly in plants.

where does plant based protein come fromWhy You Need Protein

Protein sometimes gets downplayed in the plant-based community, perhaps in an effort to dethrone it from its centuries-old pedestal of being the stuff of life. However, some fuss about protein is warranted because of what it does in your body.

When you eat protein from any source, it gets broken down into its component amino acids. These are either used immediately to make the proteins your body needs or broken down further by the liver in a process called deamination. Unused compounds are either excreted or put back together through transamination to form other amino acids. When combined into proteins, amino acids contribute to:

  • Building, growing and repairing the body
    • Muscle, skin, hair, nails, etc.
  • Creating enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and antibodies
  • Maintaining clotting factors in the blood
  • Ligament and tendon health
  • Immune and nervous system function
  • Transporting nutrients

In an emergency, the body can also use protein for fuel. This usually happens during severe caloric restriction when adequate fuel from carbohydrates and fats in unavailable.

Dispelling Plant Protein Myths

Is plant-based protein good for you? You bet! Just like with carbohydrates and fats, protein doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In animal foods, it comes in the company of vitamins and minerals but also brings along high levels of saturated fat, pro-inflammatory compounds, hormones and, in the case of factory-farmed meats, antibiotics and pathogens. Plant protein foods, on the other hand, are generally low in fat (or contain beneficial fats), high in fiber, loaded with antioxidants and devoid of cholesterol.

rice bowl with veggiesOne major myth that persists despite evidence to the contrary is the idea that plant-based protein doesn’t provide all the essential amino acids. These are the amino acids your body can’t make and has to get from food, and there are nine of them:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

The perceived trouble comes from the fact that some plant foods lack adequate amounts of one or more essential amino acids when consumed alone. However, since the process of transamination reconstructs proteins from amino acids found in all the things you eat, your body doesn’t need to get all nine amino acids at once from a single food source or even a single meal. Many plant-based dishes also naturally combine two “complementary” proteins without the need for meticulous dietary planning. In beans and rice, for example, methionine is lacking in the beans but not the rice, and the beans have the lysine that’s low in rice. It’s a natural (and delicious) combination found in just about every cuisine worldwide.

What this all boils down to is one basic truth about plant-based diets: you will get enough protein if you consume adequate calories from a variety of whole plant foods. The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which you can calculate by dividing your weight by 2.2 and then multiplying the resulting number by 0.8. It’s not much at all — for a 2,000-calorie per day diet, it works out to around 10 to 12 percent of calories, which is easy to achieve with plant proteins.

That said, there are some situations in which people require more protein:

  • Older adults with inadequate HCl (stomach acid) to break down proteins
  • Individuals with digestive disorders preventing proper absorption
  • People recovering from surgery or injury
  • Cancer patients expePlant-bvasedriencing muscle wasting

In these cases, it’s important to work with a plant-strong health coach, dietitian or nutritionist who can assess individual protein needs and create an appropriate meal plan.

Plant-Based Protein in Food: Some Examples

Okay, so plants do have protein, and you’re not going to turn into a wilted stalk of celery if you only eat plants. But just like with any lifestyle change, you need to make sure you approach your plant-based journey the smart way. That means knowing your protein sources and making them part of all your meals!

Here’s a quick list of 12 foods you can start eating today (or add to the plant proteins you’re already eating) to meet your daily requirements:

bowl of beans for plant proteinMeasurements are for cooked grains and beans.

  • Chickpea flour — 20.6 grams per cup
  • Lentils — 17.9 grams per cup
  • Split peas — 16.35 grams per cup
  • Tempeh — 15.7 grams per 1/2 cup
  • Black beans — 15.2 grams per cup
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) — 14.5 grams per cup
  • Edamame — 8.5 grams per 1/2 cup
  • Quinoa — 8 grams per cup
  • Green peas — 8 grams per cup
  • Peanut butter — 8 grams in 2 tablespoons
  • Hemp seeds — 5 grams per tablespoon
  • Spinach — 5 grams per cup

Which plant-based protein is best? There’s really no reason to choose just a few and leave the others out. Since you can get all the essential amino acids by eating a variety of plant foods, the best approach is to do just that every day. Try some split peas in your soup. Put tempeh in your sandwich. Whip up a chickpea flour omelet for Sunday brunch. Add beans to everything. And you can never go wrong with leafy greens.

The next time someone asks you where to find plant-based protein in food, you’ll know exactly what to tell them — and maybe have a tasty recipe to share, too!

black beans by Mats HeymanWant more tips on powering up with plant protein? Follow me on Facebook!


Review & Recipe: PureFood Plant-Based Protein

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Anyone who has been plant-based for any length of time has had the “where do you get your protein” question come up more than once or twice. Protein remains a hot topic despite the fact that, unless you’re trying to subsist on salad, it’s not hard to get all the protein that you need on a vegan diet.

The RDA for protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight for the average person with an average activity level, though the Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine adds that athletes and bodybuilders may need anywhere between 1.2g and 1.7g/kg. Still, when you’re more active, you eat more food and get more protein by default. The Vegan RD notes that consuming a plant-based diet that includes adequate amounts of protein-dense foods such as beans should deliver about 9 to 12 percent of calories from protein, more than enough for a healthy adult.

The key word here is “healthy.” There are cases when it’s entirely possible to be consuming enough protein but not utilizing it the right way. Certain digestive conditions including low hydrochloric acid and leaky gut syndrome can cause the body to not break down proteins correctly or to react to them in the same way as allergens. People with malabsorption problems have difficulty getting nutrients in general. I’ve heard it said that you aren’t so much what you eat as what you assimilate, and if you’re not assimilating the proteins you take in, you could wind up with symptoms of protein deficiency.

Even if you are generally healthy, there are times when it’s helpful to have a protein boost. If you’re traveling and can’t eat what you should, for example, or if you’re out doing something seriously active all day and are dying for a nutrient-dense snack. My own case is also a good illustraion. I’m rather underweight for my height but am also extremely active. Some days it can be hard to get all the calories I need to maintain my weight, much less put weight on. That’s where supplemental protein comes in handy. Protein powders give me a way to add calories without adding bulk. Extra protein can also be helpful for people who are recovering from serious illnesses or injuries. It provides the building blocks that their body needs for recovery in a form that’s easy to digest and assimilate. The problem is, so many protein powders out there are either not vegan or are full of junk.

Not so with PureFood Probiotic Plant Protein.

purefood outside

Unlike many other vegan protein powders, PureFood only contains food. I can’t tell you how many times that my taste buds have been sent through the ceiling by a sickeningly sweet protein powder or one with a ton of salt in it. All you’ll find in a bag of PureFood is:

  • Brown rice protein
  • Pea protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Raw cacao powder
  • Mesquite powder protein
  • Coconut powder
  • Whole leaf stevia powder
  • GanedenBC30 probiotic

Every ingredient is organic and non-GMO, and the mix is 100 percent vegan as well as being free of soy, gluten and corn. No protein isolates, no artificial anything and no processed sweeteners. Even the stevia is actual ground stevia leaves! PureFood offers an in-depth explanation of each ingredient on their website.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll just touch on the probiotic for a moment. It’s a stable, allergen-free probiotic that’s meant to survive many different kinds of conditions so that it winds up in your digestive tracts where it belongs. Probiotics are great for anyone who has digestive difficulties, people on antibiotics and people recovering from digestive illnesses. They boost good digestive bacteria so that your GI system runs more efficiently and–here’s that word again–you’re better able to assimilate nutrients from the foods that you eat. So when you add a serving of PureFood to a smoothie or a snack, you’re more likely to actually get and use the 21 grams of plant-based protein that it offers.

I first tried PureFood in place of the chocolate chips in a chickpea-based “raw cookie dough” recipe. It was pretty hard to tell that I’d added a protein powder, especially since PureFood has a very light, smooth texture. The sweetness is light as well, which I like. I have a serious aversion to protein powders that taste like milkshake mixes! When used in a smoothie, this powder has a slight chocolate taste but is on the earthy side overall. The only frozen fruit I had to make my smoothie with was berries, which didn’t go very well, but if you blended it up with a banana and some nut butter it would be quite fabulous.

Unfortunately, my digestive system has disliked every single protein shake I’ve ever ingested, so I had to abandon the idea of trying a different smoothie recipe and stick with putting PureFood in regular foods instead. I used it in some baked oat cakes and, as you’ll see below, a post-workout oatmeal bowl, both of which tasted extremely good. The powder is so smooth that it just about disappears into whatever you use it in, making it great for smoothies (if you get along with them), baking or raw desserts.

purefood on the porch
I’d feel comfortable recommending PureFood to a friends and clients, which is saying something considering that I’m very careful about recommending extra protein. However, if I felt that it was necessary for someone to add a protein powder to their diet, this one would definitely be high on my “go-to” list. It’s smooth, it’s tasty and it’s extremely versatile. If you’re looking for something to add to your post-workout shakes or take with you on your next outdoor adventure, I encourage you to give PureFood a try.

PureFood isn’t available just yet–they’re busy hand-mixing the first production run–but you can sign up on the website to be notified when it goes on sale. For every bag you buy, PureFood will donate five meals to needy families through Feeding America.

That’s something I can really get behind. I know that God has blessed me with the financial security to afford the foods that I want to eat, when I want to eat them and has placed me in an area where healthy foods are readily available. For those who don’t have such access, organizations like Feeding America are God’s blessing. Companies like PureFood who give back make it possible for everyone, regardless of where they live or how much money they have, to eat well.

Another great thing about PureFood? When you get your hands on a bag, you can try the recipe for Post-Workout PureFood Oatmeal!

purefood protein oatmeal
As I mentioned, protein shakes and I don’t really get along, so if I want a protein boost after working out, I need another way to incorporate products like PureFood. Protein oatmeal, an idea inspired by a recipe from The Blissful Chef, is a tasty way to do that.

Here I’ve combined the PureFood with almond butter, raisins and chopped apples for a smooth, tasty breakfast that’s quite satisfying after a session of lifting. This makes a rather large bowl of oatmeal–around 500 calories’ worth with everything mixed in–so if it’s too much for you all at once, just decrease the amount of oats or save the leftovers for a snack!

Post-Workout PureFood Oatmeal
Recipe Type: Breakfast
Author: Sam
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1 serving
If protein shakes aren’t your thing, try this delicious way to incorporate PureFood into your day! Makes a great post-workout meal.
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1-2Tbsp raisins
  • 1 medium-sized apple, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp raw almond butter
  • 17g PureFood Probiotic Plant Protein (1/2 serving)
  • ground cinnamon for serving, optional
  1. Place the oats, water, cinnamon stick, raisins and apples in a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
  2. Remove the cover and stir in the almond butter and PureFood. Return to a simmer if necessary and simmer, covered, until the oats and apples are tender, about 5 minutes more.
  3. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve immediately, topped with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon if desired.

Do you use supplemental protein? Why/why not?