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How to get more plant-based proteins into your diet

Posted on Mar. 20, 2019 ( comments)

Protein is essential to our bodies, but you need less than you may think.

The average American consumes 111 grams of protein per day, but the recommended daily amount is 46 grams per day for women and 58 grams per day for men.

Where does all this excess protein come from? It could be from red meat, since Americans eat an average of three burgers per week (or 50 billion a year). Americans also consume three times as much meat as the global average, with half of that consumption being red meat.

A higher intake of red meat, irrespective of its total fat content, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes when compared to poultry, fish, eggs, nuts or legumes.

A new report in British medical journal The Lancet recommends cutting global consumption of red meat in half, while doubling consumption of fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes. The report says “increased consumption of plant-based diets could reduce emissions by up to 80% [by 2050].”

So reducing the red meat in our diets can help both our own health as well as the planet’s. But how do you do it?

Consider “the protein flip” — in other words, getting protein from a variety of sources and sometimes changing the role of meat from primary to secondary.

This doesn’t mean going fully vegan or even vegetarian; rather, it means reducing your consumption of red meat while also substituting plant proteins such as legumes, nuts and soy foods.

Plant sources of protein account for only 15 percent of all protein consumed by Americans. We’re missing out on a whole world — beans, peas, other legumes, nuts and nut butters, seeds and soy foods. Many whole grains, vegetables and fruits can also help us meet our daily protein needs.

Here are some tips for “flipping” your view of protein and consuming more plant proteins:

  1. Try incorporating plant-based proteins and meat substitutes in dishes you’d normally serve with meat. From lentils and beans to meat alternatives such as the Impossible Burger, you have a wide variety to choose from.
  2. Research recipes from world cuisines, such as Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian — countries where plant-based proteins are embraced. Oldways is full of recipes.
  3. Try pairing eggs with whole grains, vegetables and legumes rather than limiting them to breakfast. For example, make a brown rice bowl with lentils, caramelized onions and a poached egg, or an omelet with quinoa, tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese.
More tips

About The Author

Bev Utt, MS, MPH, RD
Bev Utt, MS, MPH, RD, is a wellness nutritionist and health educator with MultiCare's Center for Healthy Living. More stories by this author
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