Plant-based Protein [Visuals]

Plant-based protein [Visuals] | ecogreenlove

A healthy plant-based diet can benefit both our health and the planet. Transitioning to a more plant-based diet should focus on increasing healthy plant foods and worry less about reducing animal products.

You may have heard that plant-based diets fall short on protein, yet you might get surprised at the variety of plant foods that can help you meet your protein needs. If you still turn up your nose at the idea of swapping meat for pulses – or if you’d like to include more plant-based meals in your diet but just don’t know where to start – these sources might help you take a step further.

The amount of protein we need daily depends on our weight. On average, a healthy adult should eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. As an example, if someone weights 60 kg, this means they should aim for a minimum of 48 g of protein a day (60 kg x 0.8 g = 48 g).

A plant-based diet can provide enough protein; however, it might take some planning. In current European food cultures, meat and animal products are often the main protein sources in the diet, so when choosing to replace them, you need to ensure you pick protein-rich plants and not just any vegetable or a simple salad.

Getting enough quality protein from plants is possible and there are plenty of options to include in our diet. The key is to make sure to combine and vary different sources throughout the day.

Green house gas emissions (GHGe) of protein rich foods

Plant-based protein • Green house gas emissions (GHGe) of protein rich foods | ecogreenlove

soy drink
other pulses
Lowest 5% describes that 5% of production systems for that particular food emit that amount or less.
Highest 5% means the top 5% of production systems for that particular food emit that amount or more.

Simple food swaps to eat a healthy plant-based diet

Plant-based protein • Swaps for a more plant-based diet | ecogreenlove

sugar-sweetened cereal with full fat milk → unsweetened whole grain cereal with fortified soya drink, topped with berries & seeds

cream of chicken soup with white roll and butter → lentil soup with whole grain bread & unsaturated fat spread

bolognese using 20% fat mince with white spaghetti → bolognese using half 5% fat mince & half lentils with whole wheat spaghetti & side salad
Like all diets, the key to adopting a healthy plant-based diet is about finding foods and meals you enjoy and can stick to long-term.

Just because a food is made from a plant does not automatically make it healthy. Eating a healthy plant-based diet is about eating more healthy plant foods and limiting unhealthy plant foods. To help those looking to eat a plant-based diet here are some helpful tips:

  • Swap or reduce portions of meat by choosing plant-based proteins like beans, pulses and tofu
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, aim for at least 1-2 servings at every meal
  • Limit foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt, such as crisps, sodas, chocolate, sweets, cakes and other desserts
  • Choose whole grains over refined grains
  • Choose unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Use plant oils rich in unsaturated fat such as olive oil or rapeseed oil
  • If replacing or reducing dairy products, use fortified alternatives like fortified soy drinks
  • If replacing or reducing meat with plant-based meat alternatives, always check the nutrition label and choose varieties low in salt.

Below are a few examples of how much protein you can get from 100 grams of plant-based foods:

Plant-based protein • Protein in soy products | ecogreenlove

soy beans (boiled)
edamame beans (boiled)
soy yogurt
soy drink, unsweetened fortified
Protein content in soy products: tempeh, soy beans (boiled), edamame beans (boiled), tofu, soy yogurt and soy drink, unsweetened, fortified.
Plant-based protein • Protein in cereals & whole grains | ecogreenlove

bran flakes (fortified)
wholemeal bread
pasta, white boiled from dry
brown rice, boiled
Protein content in cereals & whole grains: seitan, bran flakes, wholemeal bread, white pasta (boiled) and brown rice (boiled).
Plant-based protein • Protein in cereals & whole grains | ecogreenlove

rolled oats
Protein content in cereals & whole grains: rolled oats, buckwheat, quinoa, spelt and amaranth.
Plant-based protein • Protein in pulses | ecogreenlove

black eyed beans
kidney beans
mung beans
white beans
peas (frozen)
Protein content in pulses: lupin, black eyed beans, kidney beans, mung beans, white beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas (frozen).
Plant-based protein • Protein in nuts | ecogreenlove

Protein content in nuts: peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia.
Plant-based protein • Protein in seeds | ecogreenlove

hemp seeds
pumpkin seeds
flax seeds
sunflower seeds
sesame seeds
chia seeds
Protein content in seeds: hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, linen seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds.

5 simple tips to make the most out of your plant proteins

  1. If you use dry pulses, soak them prior to cooking for a few hours. 
    This will help improve their digestibility. However, avoid using the same water to boil or cook them.
  2. Include both cereals and legumes regularly:
    they complement each other in the essential amino acids they provide.
  3. Pair your plant-based meals with vitamin-C rich foods. 
    This will help increase your iron absorption from pulses, whole grains and other vegetable sources.
  4. Look for fortified products (such as plant-based alternatives to milk and dairy or cereal-based products) 
    to help increase your intake of B-vitamins, iron, vitamin B12 and calcium.
  5. Include nuts and seeds in smaller portions.
    Even if they’re good sources of protein, they’re still relatively high in energy and fats.

How much plant-protein should be in your plate?

Vegan versions of the “healthy plate” model do exist and may help you visualise how much plant proteins you should include in your plate and guide you on how to balance the different food groups in a vegan diet. Keep in mind that recommendations may vary depending on your country’s guidelines, so always make sure to check the advice from your local authorities first.

General guidelines suggest a balanced vegan plate should look like:

Plant-based protein • Balanced Vegan Plate | ecogreenlove

1/2 vegetables & fruit + unsaturated fat
1/4 starchy food or whole grains
1/4 plant-based protein
½ of fruits & vegetables (ideally, different types and colours)
¼ of plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts, seeds, soy-based products)
¼ of wholegrain cereals (pasta, rice, wholegrain bread, etc.)

Changing to a vegetarian diet may increase your risk of lacking certain nutrients (such as iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, zinc and some omega-3 fatty acids) which are significantly provided by fish, meat, dairy and eggs.

As so, depending on the type of diet you follow and to which extent you exclude animal products, your needs regarding plant proteins and other nutrients may look differently. For example, people that regularly include dairy and eggs on their diets may be at lower risk of lacking critical nutrients such as vitamin B12 and calcium, compared to those that fully exclude animal products.

Well-planned vegetarian diets containing a variety of whole plant foods can prevent nutritional deficiencies. At times supplementation may be needed. So, if you’re planning to significantly reduce – or completely exclude – meat and animal products from your diet, do seek professional advice from a registered nutritionist/dietitian to make sure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs.

Check out the EUFIC guide on “Cooking plant-based: How to get enough protein” for more (opens PDF).

Plant-based protein: all you need to know to get enough of it
What is a plant-based diet and does it have any benefits?

Follow The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) on:

Eat Good, Feel Good! | ecogreenlove
Ko-fi Tip | ecogreenlove

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