I recently attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo to hear about emerging nutrition research and trends in foods. Dozens of vendors promoted plant-based protein products, which came in the form of shakes, bars, powders, pastas, and more. When walking through the massive exhibit hall, it was clear that protein was the trending nutrient!
Protein food sources are either animal-based or plant-based. All animal proteins and some plant proteins, like quinoa and soy, are “complete proteins” and contain all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health. Plant proteins that are missing amino acids can be combined together—like rice and beans, or hummus and pita—to become “complete” and provide all nine essential amino acids.
It’s no surprise that the food industry is responding to consumer’s desires for more protein, especially in plant form. Consumers are eating more plant-based proteins to reduce their carbon footprint and intake of animal foods. Consuming more plant-based foods is linked with longevity and reducing chronic conditions like, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 150-pound woman requires a minimum of 54 grams(about 8 ounces) of protein daily. To calculate your personal protein needs, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 then multiply by 0.8 grams. Pregnant and breastfeeding woman need slightly more protein, at 1.1 or 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram, respectively. Athletes and very active adults also need more protein.
To calculate your RDA for protein, enter your weight into the following equation:
[weight, in pounds] ÷ 2.2 × 0.8 = grams of protein
Many plant-based foods provide high-protein content. Soy products like tofu, take on flavors of the dish it’s prepared in. Edamame is a great snack or addition in stir fry dishes. Lentils add crunch to stews, salads or rice. Chickpeas, the key ingredient in hummus, is a healthy sandwich spread alternative. Peanuts (really a legume) and almonds, two of the “Heart-Healthy 7” nuts, are great additions to salads or trail mixes. Quinoa, an alternative for pasta or rice, is terrific in salads. One tablespoon of chia seeds boosts the protein in smoothies, yogurt, and puddings. Beans eaten separately are incomplete proteins, but become “complete” when eaten with grains.
One of my favorite protein-packed snacks is this recipe for roasted chickpeas. It’s delicious and filling.
Whether you eat a traditional or plant-based diet, most Americans consume enough protein. The key is balancing nutritious choices by including more plant-based, nutrient-rich foods and keeping unhealthy, highly processed foods to a minimum.