Can You Get all Your Protein From Plants?

Meeting your daily protein needs doesn't mean you have to eat animal products.


By Lani Muelrath


Protein is found in your muscles, bones, skins, hair - and virtually every body part or tissue. It is an important component of body processes, powering many chemical reactions within your body. Yet, how much protein do we require every day, and can we get all the protein we need from plant foods?

Recommended Protein Requirements

The recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. This comes out to about 46 grams per day for women over 19 years of age, and 56 grams per day for men over 19 years of age.

Do You Have to Eat Animal Products to Get Enough Protein?

Many people are under the impression that it is necessary to eat animal products, such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, or dairy products, to get all the protein you need. However, it is possible to get all of the protein you need to thrive while eating a plant-exclusive diet, a diet that doesn't include any animal products.

What Is Protein Made Of?

What we call “protein” is actually comprised of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids are exactly the same wherever you find them, whether they come from animal products or plants. Once we understand that protein is simply an assembly of these amino acids - the structural components of protein - we can easily understand how this requirement can be easily met with a varied diet that is sufficient in calories. Mixtures of proteins from plant sources can serve as a complete and well-balanced source of amino acids for meeting human health needs.

Meeting Your Protein Requirements With A Plant-Based Diet

Protein requirements can be easily met with a plant-based diet. Worldwide, plant protein sources provide most of the supply of dietary protein, including that provided by legumes, beans, and nuts and seeds, and grains such as wheat, rice, and corn as major sources.

In developed and developing countries, examination of the adequacy of plant-based diets as sources of protein and amino acids has shown that protein quantity is sufficient.

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that varied vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful and nutritionally adequate. A whole foods plant-based diet can meet all of our protein needs, and eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day more than assures us of adequate protein intake. It may also provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concurs, stating, “Consumers do not need to be at all concerned about amino acid imbalances when the dietary amino acid supply is from the plant-food proteins that make up our usual diets. Mixtures of plant proteins can be fully adequate for meeting human requirements.” As a matter of fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that most Americans get more protein than they need.

Sample Protein Profiles From Plant Foods

To give an example of fulfilling protein requirements from plant foods, you could easily meet a daily protein requirement of 46 grams per day with one cup oatmeal (6 grams protein), one cup of cooked lentils (18 grams protein), one cup cooked brown rice (5 grams protein), two cups cooked broccoli (8 grams protein), two tablespoons of almonds (4 grams protein) and one and a half tablespoons peanut butter (6 grams protein).

To get an idea of how you can meet your protein needs without eating animal products, The Vegetarian Resource Group provides several online examples of adequately meeting your protein needs with plant foods such as whole grains, vegetables, beans and legumes, starchy vegetables, and nuts and seeds.

Lani Muelrath, M.A., is an award-winning teacher, author, and top plant-based lifestyle coach. Certified Specialist in Behavior Change and Plant-Based Nutrition, Lani has been featured on CBS TV, ABC TV, Prevention, USA Today, and The Saturday Evening Post. Presenter for Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, Complete Health Improvement Program, and guest lecturer at San Francisco State University, Lani is Associate Faculty at Butte College where her book has been adopted as required text. She is the author of The Plant-Based Journey: A Step-by-Step Guide to Transition to a Healthy Lifestyle and Achieving Your Ideal Weight, recognized by VegNews as Top Media Pick for 2015, and Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Workouts. More from Lani at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

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