Snickering at the “But where do you get your protein?!” question is a bit of a shibboleth in vegan circles. It’s a tired question, one that’s inspired lots of great memes. And it has a pretty simple answer: From nearly everything I eat. This quote from the American Heart Association just about sums it up:
“You don’t need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs.” (1)
Still, protein-related myths abound. There’s a notion that plant proteins are inferior to their animal-derived counterparts because they don’t provide all essential amino acids in a single source (and are thus called “incomplete” proteins). There’s a commonly held and oft-mentioned misbelief that you must consume all of your complementary proteins in a single meal to derive the full protein benefit, but that’s been disproven. Instead, as long as you eat a variety of proteins in a single day, your body can take care of combining them. (2)
So—how much protein do you need? Turns out, not as much as lots of people think. Unless you’re very active, 10-35% of your calories should come from protein. The CDC has a basic set of guidelines here, and you can get more tailored recommendations here. I’ve done a few calculations, and I should be getting between 50 and 70 grams per day. What does that mean in real-world food terms? Well, half a block of tofu has around 18 grams, half a cup of tempeh has 15 grams, and half a cup of black beans has 20 grams. And those are just the protein powerhouses! Most of the incidental foods we eat contain at least a little protein, and those grams add up. For example, bagels often contain around 10 grams of protein. A small handful of almonds gives you around 4 grams. And you could get a whole 7 grams just from eating granola. Not just any granola—Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Granola.
Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Granola
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1/3 cup creamy unsalted natural peanut butter
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1/4 cup ground flax seed
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325˚ and line a flat baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, add the coconut oil, peanut butter, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine, heating over low so that the oil and peanut butter soften. Once all four ingredients are well mixed, turn off the heat and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, add all the dried ingredients. Pour the peanut butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a large wooden spoon. Once the dry ingredients are coated with the peanut butter mixture, pour the granola onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the oats are golden, removing from the oven and stirring every ten minutes or so. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least ten minutes before eating.
Let’s be real—you’re probably going to eat this stuff by the handful, grabbing a clump every time you walk by the cooling baking sheet. But you could also serve it in a bowl with some cold almond milk or a dollop of soy yogurt, adding a couple extra grams of protein to your day. Yum.
So, bottom line about protein? Stop worrying about it. Eat a varied, healthy diet and you’ll be just fine. And remember, protein lurks in the most unlikely places—even a bowl of sweet, salty, peanutty granola.
I’m neither a doctor nor a dietitian; please don’t treat my posts as medical advice! Consult a medical practitioner for specific medical or nutritional recommendations.