Happy Veganuary! If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to eat healthier foods, it might be time to consider including more plant-based whole foods in your diet. A whole-foods, plant-based diet is the way of eating that most consistently results in improvements in health.
I’ve been mostly vegan for about 10 years. I started researching plant-based diets in 2009 after surviving a heart attack at 31 years old. I wanted to manage my LDL cholesterol naturally, rather than take a statin drug for the rest of my life. It took me some time to transition. I changed my way of eating in stages. First, I tried pescatarian, then moved to lacto-ovo vegetarian, and finally transitioned to vegan. I still consume some dairy, or baked goods that contain eggs, on rare occasions. Usually when I break from 100% plant-based, it's when I’m traveling and can’t find vegan options. But, I’ll be honest, the lapse often involves the Italian dessert tiramisu since it’s a favorite of mine.
When I tell people that I’m vegan, the most common response is “where do you get your protein?”
First, let me assure you that almost no one who lives in developed countries is at risk of protein deficiency. In fact, most people in the United States and Europe eat more protein than they need. Consuming more protein than your body needs can contribute to kidney stones, because the body cannot store excess protein. The extra is converted to fat or eliminated through your kidneys.
While it is true that you need protein in your daily diet, your body can make 12 out of 21 of the amino acids that make up protein. There are nine that are called essential amino acids, because you have to get them from food. As long as you are eating enough total calories that you’re not losing weight, you can get enough overall protein, and meet your needs for those nine amino acids, from eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods.
In the US, the official recommended dietary allowance of protein is 56 grams for adult men and 46 grams for adult women — using average referenced body weights. Your individual needs may vary, however, according to your weight, age, pregnancy or lactation status, and physical activity. The National Institutes of Health suggest 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. That means, at 150 pounds, you’d need about 54 grams of protein per day to meet this target.
If you’re an athlete who is trying to build muscle, if you’re pregnant or lactating, or if you’re under exceptional emotional stress, the recommendation is to get at least 0.45 grams of protein daily per pound of body weight (which means, at 150 pounds, you’d need about 67.5 grams of protein daily).
The Mayo Clinic recommends that anyone over age 65 should get between 0.44 and 0.52 grams of daily protein per pound of body weight. (This means a senior who weighs 150 pounds might need 66–78 grams of protein per day.)
Now that you know how much you need, let’s talk about the best plant-based sources of protein. Beans and legumes are great sources of protein. Other foods that are high in protein are soy (tempeh, tofu, and edamame), nuts and seeds, lentils, quinoa, oats, peas, and green vegetables like spinach and broccoli. I understand that cooking with some of these foods may be unfamiliar to you. If you grew up on a meat and potatoes diet like I did, it can take some time to find plant-based recipes that you like. Whenever you’re cooking with a new ingredient, it can take a bit longer to produce a finished dish.
As someone who has gone through the transition myself, I can help! Check out my Whole Foods for Whole Health coaching program. If you sign up in the next two weeks (by February 6, 2024) you receive 15% off the total program cost. To get started in this program that supports you in incorporating more whole, plant-based foods into your diet complete the online application. Get started today to create a healthy lifestyle that gives you more energy and helps you feel better in your body.