• Wed, Jul 27 2011

How To Get Enough Fat-Burning, Health-Boosting Protein (Even If You’re Vegan)

If you think you’re just one of those people who doesn’t need protein, think again: Protein is essential for immunity, maintaining healthy body composition, blood sugar balance, tissue healing and repair, muscle growth and for the production of hormones, chemical messengers and digestive enzymes in the body. Without protein, your body can’t properly make collagen to heal the skin; serotonin, dopamine and melatonin to boost mood and improve sleep, growth hormone for repair of body tissues and to slow down aging, digestive enzymes to prevent bloating and indigestion and antibodies to prevent infection.

In my practice, I often see vegetarians or vegans with signs of insufficient protein because they haven’t made a conscious effort to properly combine proteins or simply have not consumed enough protein to meet their daily requirements. Signs of insufficient protein include poor wound healing, dry skin, hair loss, gas and bloating, poor digestion, frequent colds and flus, prolonged soreness after exercise, mood swings, insomnia and depression.

Protein powders can provide an excellent source of protein in our diets. If you’re a conscious eater attempting to achieve glycemic (blood sugar) balance by consuming healthy carbs, proteins and fats at each meal, you’re probably also aware that finding lean sources of protein can sometimes be challenging. This is especially true if you’re vegan, vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian (consume fish, eggs and dairy).

But it’s not only those with special diets who need to be aware of their protein intake. Before you eat your next all-pasta meal or breakfast of coffee and scones, brush up on the best protein sources and proper food combining with this quick primer:

How Much Protein Should You Eat?
Without getting too technical and avoiding the need to weigh or measure your foods, use these simple guidelines:

  • Include a serving of protein the size of your palm with each meal, three times a day.
  • Include a serving of half of your palm size with each snack, twice a day.
  • If reading labels, the typical male should have 35 grams to 40 grams per meal and 15 grams to 20 grams per snack. Women should consume 25 grams to 30 grams per meal and 15 grams per snack.


Sample of Protein Sources:

Protein-Rich Foods Protein
(in grams)
5 oz steak, cooked 35
5 oz roasted chicken 43
5 oz tuna 43
1 egg 6
1 cup milk 8
2 tbsp peanut butter 9
2 slices of cheese (low-fat is best) 14
2 slices of whole-wheat bread 5
1 cup cooked broccoli 5
1 cup beans (legumes) 15

*Individuals with kidney disease should consult their physician for proper protein requirements.

Protein Powder Options

Since you require protein with every meal and snack, finding readily available sources can be challenging. Protein powders are a useful option. You can choose whey, soy, bean or rice protein powder options. The benefits of these alternatives are outlined on the next page.

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  • Amber

    I don’t eat meat and I can’t have dairy or soy and hemp/rice/bean protein powders taste AWFUL. Ugh.

    • Dianne

      I don’t eat meat either, but I put huge tablespoons of hemp seeds in my shakes for lots of yummy protein. Hemp seeds are delicious, not like hemp protein powder, sprinkle on salads or yogurt too.

    • Arianne

      I’ve been a strict vegan for about 10 years and I weight lift three times a week. I must consume a higher than usual amount of daily protein for muscle recovery and growth. I cook with tempeh daily, as well as with tofu. But I also make my shakes with pure soy milk (no sugar or artificial flavours added, I use stevia only) and vegan protein powders. Hemp is a great source, there is one brand that makes a truly tasty hemp protein powder, sold in iHerb.com
      I also get my protein from seeds and nuts, raw, unsalted or dry roasted nuts (I roast them at home sometimes, no oil added)
      I use a variety of vegan protein powders, not just soy or hemp. There are many brands out there that offer vegan protein powders and often happens that a rice protein powder from one brand tastes not so good, while another brand’s rice protein powder is really yummy. It’s more like trial and error with all the brands and different vegan protein sources out there. It has taken me years to find out what brands and plant-based protein sources I like.
      Good luck.

  • Briana Rognlin

    Hey Amber, can you eat nuts and nut butters? I sometimes add a couple of tablespoons of almond butter to my smoothies – it’s surprisingly good. It pairs well with blueberries, apples, pears, and bananas, or you can add some cocoa powder (yum).

    I hear you though; it’s hard to get enough protein when you’re restricted against so many of the major sources. I also like quinoa and chia seeds for a little extra protein, too. (And I’m not sure if the grain tempeh still contains soy, but maybe you could have that?)

    • Arianne

      Briana, Tempeh will always “contain” soy just because Tempeh is simply and only made of fermented soy beans. It’s delicious and it provides the highest concentration of pure soy protein per gram, compared to tofu, seitan or soy milk.

    • Shirin

      I misread Briana’s comment initially and thought she was saying tempeh was a grain. It turns out, though, that there is tempeh made from only grain instead of soy (The Book of Tempeh even has instructions for making it). But I am not sure it is commercially available.

  • Mo

    This is such a great article. I just tweeted and would LOVE to talk with you about Guest Blogging on my Blog. Please contact me if you’re interested. Thanks and have a MORSELICIOUS Day!