Plants Have Protein – But How Much?

chardWhen I mention I’m trying to eat vegan, the first question I’m asked is “are you getting enough protein?” So, I was glad to stumble upon No Whey No Cow’s Why Vegan? article, as the author, Amy, gets asked the same question all the time too!

I assume I get enough protein* because I eat legumes and nuts everyday but I was still curious how a typical meal stacked up against my new vegan diet, so I did a mini test (see Random Meal Test below).

Most people seem to think (thanks in large part to dairy and meat lobbyists**) that only dairy and meat have protein and that eating a plant-based diet is suicide by malnutrition. Well, maybe if you ate only iceberg lettuce (.5 grams of protein per cup). But, even a cup of iceberg lettuce has 53% of your daily vitamin A – who would have guessed?

We often get more protein than we need eating a meat-based diet (along with all that animal fat) and can get the protein that we need from vegetables and legumes. WebMD notes that people need about 46-56 grams a day, 15.33 to 18.6 grams per meal. “Most Americans get more than enough protein each day, and may be getting too much of this nutrient from animal sources, like meat, poultry, and eggs.”

Random Meal Test – Salad vs. Sandwich
Let’s compare a random plant-based meal I’m having to a meat-based meal my husband is having. Today I made a salad for lunch while my husband threw together a ham, salami and cheese sandwich. Here’s the protein breakdown:

Cup of broccoli: 2.6 grams
Cup of kale: 2.9 grams
Cup of cabbage: .09 grams
¼ cup of currants .04
¼ cup of pumpkin seeds: 3 grams(!!)
1/8 cup of dressing (mustard (.02 grams per tsp), balsamic vinegar (.01 grams per tsp), lemon (.025 grams per tsp), olive oil (0grams))
2 TBS of peanut butter on celery for dessert: 7 grams
Total protein for my lunch: 15.685 grams

Ham, Salami and Cheese Sandwich
2 slices of Dave’s Killer Bread :12 grams
2 oz Italian Dry Salami: 6 grams
3 slices Applewood Natural Ham: 11.49 grams
2 oz Dietz & Watson Provolone 6 grams
Mustard: .02 tsp
Mayo: 0 grams
Total protein for husband’s lunch: 35.51 grams

Wow. The meat-based meal had twice the protein as my plant-based meal, almost a day’s allotment. OK, I know what you’re thinking – if I hadn’t had a little peanut butter, I would have been slightly under my protein allotment for lunch. I hear ya. If your plant-based meal needs a little protein boost, just check out the options below:

Plant-based Ways to Increase Protein in a Meal

  • BEANS, 12 to 14 g per cup cooked
  • LENTILS, 18 g per cup cooked
  • NUTS, 3 to 7 g per 1/3-cup serving, depending on the type (peanuts and pine nuts have the most)
  • SEEDS, 2 to 5 g per 1/3-cup serving, depending on type
  • QUINOA, 6 g per ½-cup serving

What’s the Carbon Emissions Deal with Meat?

Meat production is not an efficient source of food and creates more than its share of greenhouse gases. It’s not efficient because we feed cattle grain for years until they are slaughtered. Whereas plants go directly to feeding people. Fifty three percent of greenhouse gases from farms are a result of nitrous oxide (mostly cattle pee – eww!), which is 296 time more potent per pound than CO2 as a climate-change gas.

Carbon emissions for a four ounce steak are estimated at 4.4lbs.*** If we look at the census population clock (this is fun – it’s constantly updating) and see that America has roughly 317, 174, 287 people. And, if every American gave up their four ounce steak one night, we’d save 1.395567e+9 lbs of CO2 equivalent emissions in just one DAY. Wonder if we could do a world-wide meat-free day? Just thinking out loud.

I’m not saying give up meat, I’m just saying, do what the Norwegian military does and have one meatless day (or two, if you’re on a roll) a week. If you’re worried about protein throw some beans or lentils into your meal. The military is fighting climate change with meatless Mondays. Is that great or what?! Hey, if they can handle one meatless day a week…can’t the rest of us?

* When I trained for swimming Nationals I augmented my diet with gluten- and dairy-free protein powder and bars to ensure I got 60-80 grams of protein a day.
** Since 1977, under pressure from meat producers, federal dietary advice has evolved from “decrease consumption of meat” to “have two or three (daily) servings.”
*** How Bad are Bananas: The Caron Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee

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