Protein: The Helpful Guide to What We Really Need

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Protein is the first thing that I thought about when I started leaning away from animal products. I didn’t even really know what protein was. But, I became very concerned about getting it. Then I became concerned about getting enough. 

The truth is, I grew up with one understanding of protein. I understood that it came from meat. My childhood plate always included a vegetable, a starch and a protein. The concept of a “veggie” plate, although popular now, was hilarious back then. I could not imagine why someone would want a plate full of vegetables.

So What Exactly is Protein?

First let me tell you that I failed Chemistry in college the first time around. I struggled the second time and rightfully deserved the C on my transcript. But because I’m all grown up now and I have a better sense of what’s what,  here’s what I now understand about protein. 

First, it’s one of three of the macronutrients that help us live our best life. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are the trio that provide us with energy and allow us to thrive. 

A collage of 9 kinds of protein including spinach, broccoli, nuts, legumes, tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas and seaweed
9 Plant-Based Proteins

Protein is made up of a chain of building blocks called amino acids. We need amino acids because they build and repair our muscles. Protein helps to create hormones that regulate our bodies and produces enzymes to aid in digestion. It also helps our red blood cells carry oxygen throughout our body.  In order for everything to work properly, we need twenty amino acids.  Our body makes 11 amino acids naturally. We have to get the rest from food. 

How Much Do We Really Need?

While researching this article, I found that the answer to, “How much protein do we really need?” is not answered easily. That’s because there are different guidelines based on age, weight, height and levels of activity. I used a protein calculator and discovered three different answers. Check out my results below from

  • American Dietetic Association (ADA): at least 80 – 144 grams/day.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): 46 – 162 grams/day (10-35% of daily caloric intake).
  • World Health Organization safe lower limit: 66 grams/day.

You can check out the calculator and talk to your physician to come up with the number that works for you and your body. 

Any Suggestions?

Of course! I am absolutely going to suggest that if you are leaning away from meat, there are plenty of ways to get what you need from plants. The heavy hitters in my plant-based life are below:

  • Quinoa: Gluten free and one of the richest sources of all essential amino acids. Also a great source of fiber and iron.
  • Mushrooms: Mushrooms offer nine amino acids and are a good source of fiber and cancer fighting antioxidants.
  • Legumes/Beans: I’m a huge fan of chickpeas and black beans. Both offer a good amount of protein and fiber which help to keep us feeling satisfied. 
  • Nuts: Nuts contain lysine which is key to helping our body regulate calcium. Calcium is critical for bone, muscle and nerve health. Wanna step up the protein on your plate? Add a few almonds, walnuts or cashews!
A collage of quinoa, chickpeas, walnuts and assorted mushrooms
Some of my faves L to R. Quinoa, Mushrooms, Walnuts and Chickpeas.

LA is a plant-based advocate from the Bronx who is no longer worried about getting enough protein. Feel like going from plant-curious to plant-focused? Take the easy 5 Day Class! Don’t forget to follow on IG and Tik Tok. Subcribe and read the latest issue of Recipes and Random-Ish. And finally! …Sign up below to stay connected.

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