Expert Answer: How can I meet my protein needs through plants?

Oct 15 8:34am | Tara Schmidt, Mayo Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist | @taraschmidt | Comments (12)

Written by Jason S. Ewoldt, M.S., RDN, LD. Jason is a registered dietitian for the Division of Endocrinology and the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. 

When following a plant-based dietary pattern, the focus is primarily on plants and plant foods. This should include minimally processed whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, legumes whole grains and oils. It doesn’t necessarily mean animal products are off limits, but that the foundation of the dietary pattern is plants. If you are following a dietary pattern that reduces or removes animal products, such as a vegan or vegetarian diet, a concern might be getting enough protein. Though by eating a well-planned and balanced plant-based diet getting adequate protein does not have to be a barrier.

The recommended daily allowance for protein is about 0.36 grams per pound. This means a 200-pound adult should be aiming for around 70 grams of protein a day. With a little bit of planning, an individual following a plant-based diet should be able meet this recommendation consistently. Below are some of the top plant-based proteins along with their protein content. What are your favorite plant-based protein sources?

Tofu - 1 cup: 20 grams

Lentils - 1 cup: 18 grams

Beans - 1 cup: 15 grams

Peas -  1 cup: 9 grams

Quinoa - 1 cup: 8-9 grams

Soy milk - 1 cup: 7 grams

Nuts and nut butter - 1 ounce: 5-7 grams

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I'm very interested in learning how to get more of my protein from plants. However, when I read this post, I was frustrated because my IBS will struggle to tolerate many of the plants in the list and I've been told my hypothyroid thyroid should stay away from tofu and soy milk. I already minimize the amount of dairy and sugar in my diet and would like to "eat healthy", but when I see these posts, I realize they are likely written for people without other conditions. Where can I go for "healthy eating" info when I'm working around conditions? The answer isn't see a dietitian – – I did that at Mayo and was told to eat lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. I tried to have the discussion about how best to work around my existing conditions and their answer did not change. I appreciate your post, I do, but it would be greatly helpful to sometimes see comparable posts that address the same point but consider IBS, thryroid, etc.

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I would like to lower my dependance on meat in my diet and increase my vegetables. I think possibly rely on vegetables, fish, poultry might be helpful. Any opinions would be welcome.
John Gallivan

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I think that is a great, healthy plan, John! Do you like beans and nuts too.?

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@mns

I'm very interested in learning how to get more of my protein from plants. However, when I read this post, I was frustrated because my IBS will struggle to tolerate many of the plants in the list and I've been told my hypothyroid thyroid should stay away from tofu and soy milk. I already minimize the amount of dairy and sugar in my diet and would like to "eat healthy", but when I see these posts, I realize they are likely written for people without other conditions. Where can I go for "healthy eating" info when I'm working around conditions? The answer isn't see a dietitian – – I did that at Mayo and was told to eat lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. I tried to have the discussion about how best to work around my existing conditions and their answer did not change. I appreciate your post, I do, but it would be greatly helpful to sometimes see comparable posts that address the same point but consider IBS, thryroid, etc.

Jump to this post

Hi @mns , please keep in mind this Connect page is specifically designed for the topic of weight management, so we cannot always address more specific nutrition concerns. We do have a post coming up about hypothyroidism, however, there is no evidence that your nutrition plan should change based on this type of diagnosis. Generally, it is not necessary to limit soy / dairy if you consume these items in reasonable amounts. Have you figured out which types of whole foods do not exacerbate your IBS or worked with a gastroenterologist on management?

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@mns

I'm very interested in learning how to get more of my protein from plants. However, when I read this post, I was frustrated because my IBS will struggle to tolerate many of the plants in the list and I've been told my hypothyroid thyroid should stay away from tofu and soy milk. I already minimize the amount of dairy and sugar in my diet and would like to "eat healthy", but when I see these posts, I realize they are likely written for people without other conditions. Where can I go for "healthy eating" info when I'm working around conditions? The answer isn't see a dietitian – – I did that at Mayo and was told to eat lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. I tried to have the discussion about how best to work around my existing conditions and their answer did not change. I appreciate your post, I do, but it would be greatly helpful to sometimes see comparable posts that address the same point but consider IBS, thryroid, etc.

Jump to this post

I also have IBS and it’s horrible,
but I can eat eggs which is a great source of protein. Can you eat eggs? I’m sure it’s not part of a vegan nor a vegetarian diet. Just wondering.

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@taraschmidt

Hi @mns , please keep in mind this Connect page is specifically designed for the topic of weight management, so we cannot always address more specific nutrition concerns. We do have a post coming up about hypothyroidism, however, there is no evidence that your nutrition plan should change based on this type of diagnosis. Generally, it is not necessary to limit soy / dairy if you consume these items in reasonable amounts. Have you figured out which types of whole foods do not exacerbate your IBS or worked with a gastroenterologist on management?

Jump to this post

Thanks for your response. Yes I have worked with gastroenterologist, food sensitivity, etc. I've been working on the IBS situation for 20+ years. Only now do I see at the top of the page that this post was categorized under weight management. Thanks again for your response.

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@elderlyman

I would like to lower my dependance on meat in my diet and increase my vegetables. I think possibly rely on vegetables, fish, poultry might be helpful. Any opinions would be welcome.
John Gallivan

Jump to this post

Eat lots of salads. You can put beans in your salads for more protein.

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Do any of those foods above have a complete set of protein amino acids? Don't we have to combine them with corn to get the missing ones? Peggy

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PS: I'm allergic to soybeans. Other beans disagree with me but soy products made me so ill I was taken to the hospital several times until I figured out what was causing the reaction. I don't think I can go vegetarian or vegan entirely. Does cheese have enough protein? Would it make us dreadfully fat if we tried to meet protein needs with cheese? Thank you. Peggy

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@pfbacon

Do any of those foods above have a complete set of protein amino acids? Don't we have to combine them with corn to get the missing ones? Peggy

Jump to this post

Great question, @pfbacon! When considering a vegetarian or vegan diet, variety is key. There is no need to necessarily “pair” proteins at one meal time. There are some nutrients you are at risk of not obtaining enough of when animal products are taken out of the picture, but a well-planned eating pattern can absolutely be done.

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@pfbacon

PS: I'm allergic to soybeans. Other beans disagree with me but soy products made me so ill I was taken to the hospital several times until I figured out what was causing the reaction. I don't think I can go vegetarian or vegan entirely. Does cheese have enough protein? Would it make us dreadfully fat if we tried to meet protein needs with cheese? Thank you. Peggy

Jump to this post

While cheese does have protein, I don’t think it should be used as a person’s main source of protein. Eating it in moderation can absolutely be part of a healthy eating plan, but if you tolerate and enjoy dairy, milk or yogurt (which both contain protein) are likely more healthful choices, as they are less calorie-dense and would have lower amounts of saturated fat most often.

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Thank you! Peggy

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