Cultivated food

A nutrition expert’s advice on a healthy, animal-free diet


Salon Food spoke with Noah Prassma, MS, RDN, about the most delicious ways to round out a vegan diet

Protein is an often contested element of the suggested daily diet. While for many, the notion of protein automatically conjures images of meats and dairies dancing through your head like sugarplums, there are legions of people who get their protein intake from anything but those items. Furthermore, there are others who intend to transition to an entirely plant-based diet, but may be somewhat hesitant in doing so because of concerns about protein consumption.


For those who don’t consume any animal products whatsoever, what are the best foods to eat to ensure proper protein intake?

To start, it’s important to acknowledge a few myths around protein requirements. The average need is between 45 and 46 grams per day of protein, but most Americans consume much more than that. High-protein diets increase the risk of cancer, kidney malfunction and calcium loss from bones.

There is also some misunderstanding about “complete proteins.” Our bodies need essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) from our diet and for a while it was thought that someone eating a vegetarian or vegan diet needed to carefully choose foods that would complement each other and deliver all the essential amino acids. We now know, however, that there is flexibility when it comes to getting these essential amino acids; a diet that includes a diversity of plant foods will easily give your body what it needs.

When thinking about a diet that meets your protein needs, start by looking at your whole plate. Protein can be found in all four food groups: fruitsvegetableslegumes and whole grains. The obvious one is legumes, which include any type of bean, lentils and peasnuts and seeds are also excellent sources of protein. But protein can be found in the other food groups, too. Whole grains like teff, quinoa and wheat are great sources of protein. Even vegetables and fruit have protein: Blackberries have two grams per cup and a surprising 30% of calories in broccoli comes from protein.

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