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Dear Chef Linda: Where's the protein?

Dear Chef Linda...

I'm interested in switching to a plant-based diet to improve my health but where will I get my protein?

Good question and one that comes up frequently when people think about eliminating animal protein from their diets.

Protein is made from amino acids, and amino acids are found in most plant foods, not just animal-based foods. Our bodies make some of the amino acids that we need, and the rest, we need to get from a food source. These are called essential amino acids – they are essential to get from our food since we don’t produce them ourselves. Animals, and foods that come from them like eggs and dairy, contain all of the essential amino acids. That’s why people think you need to eat animals to get enough protein, but that’s just not true.

Amino acids are found in plant foods, as well as animal foods, in varying amounts. You can eat a well-balanced, plant-based diet and get the amino acids to make all the protein you need.

The recommended daily allowance for women is 46 grams per day and for men, it’s about 56 grams. That equates to roughly 10-35% of your daily caloric intake, so you can see, that protein is not supposed to make up the bulk of your calories.

Some of the plant-based protein powerhouses include; quinoa, healthy soy foods (like tempeh, tofu, and edamame), lentils, beans, peas, seeds, nuts, seitan, grains, and even sea vegetables. And most vegetables contain varying amounts of protein (and lots of other important nutrients), so be sure to eat a wide variety of whole foods and you'll easily cover your protein needs.

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