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How to Know If You're Getting Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Diet

From 12-ounce steaks to gigantic tubs of whey powder, North Americans are obsessed with protein. But can a plant-based diet serve up enough protein? The answer might surprise you.

The moment you tell anyone you’re a vegan—or a vegetarian, for that matter—the question arises.

Are you getting enough protein?!

While the worry may be born out of legitimate concern for your wellbeing, having to reassure every other person that your nutritional needs are being met gets old quick. But in our meat-obsessed culture, the sheer frequency of this question might cause you to wonder if there actually is reason for concern.

The truth is that distress over getting enough protein is misguided, at least according to nutritionists. It’s actually pretty easy for vegans and vegetarians alike to meet dietary protein needs—without the aid of supplements. If you’re consciously working protein sources into each and every meal, taking in enough calories, and eating a variety of things, you’re unlikely to be low on protein.

But how can you be sure? The following guidelines can help you to calculate your day-to-day protein intake.

According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound. Dr. Reed Mangels, a registered dietitian, recommends getting a minimum of 0.41 grams per pound to account for differences in the way that animal- and plant-based proteins are absorbed by the body. For athletes, protein needs are higher, up to 0.86 grams per pound. But even that is doable on a vegan diet.

It’s easy to calculate your own daily protein needs. Simply multiply your weight in pounds by 0.41. A male vegan who weighs 175 pounds should get approximately 72 grams (0.41 x 175 = 71.75) of protein per day. A female vegan who weighs 135 pounds should get approximately 55 grams (0.41 x 135 = 55.35) of protein per day.

When calculating your daily intake, keep in mind that many types of foods contain protein—not just those listed as protein sources on the food guide. In addition to nuts, legumes, and soy products, fruits, vegetables, and grains all serve up a dose of protein. One cup of cooked broccoli, for example, has about four grams.

You can find out how much protein any food item contains by searching for it in this list provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.

While it’s true that on average, omnivores tend to take in more protein than herbivores, there’s no known advantage to a high-protein diet. In this case, more isn’t necessarily better. In fact, high-protein, low-carb diets have well-documented risks, such as kidney disease and osteoporosis.

The next time someone asks you if you’re getting enough protein, try turning the worry around.

[Image via Getty]

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