Protein & Plant-Based Diets

Here’s a question from Ask the Nutritionist on the website:

“I am trying to make sense of anti-inflammatory vegetables at the same time as reducing fish and chicken to a minimum so it seems that my ten pound weight gain is linked to the increase in starchy vegs and nuts? I am very active. I don’t eat processed foods, milk product or sugar ….I’m guessing I need to count calories. I am 57.”

Great question! This is a common question and challenge that is faced by individuals reducing the amount of animal protein in their diet. Based on the information in this question, here is what I recommend:

  • Don’t count calories. This usually leads to restrictive eating patterns. Additionally, the common saying of “energy in plus energy out equals body weight” is inaccurate and false.

  • Continue to avoid processed foods, dairy and sugar.

  • Regarding anti-inflammatory veggies, focus on non-starchy colorful veggies. Eat them raw and cooked. Season them nicely with olive oil, herbs and spices so that they are super tasty! Eat at least 1-2 cups with lunch and dinner. Snack on veggies and them to breakfast. Aim for 8-10 servings daily.
  • Eat enough protein. There are tremendous relationships between protein intake, protein digestion and absorption, mental health and weight management. Protein promotes satiety and the formation of lean muscle mass. Additionally, protein is digested into amino acids that are used for neurotransmitter function supporting mood and appetite regulation. Deficiencies in protein lead to increased hunger, loss of lean muscle mass, impaired digestion, and depression.

Plant-based diets and protein
Vegetarian diets, or plant-based diets, are increasingly common, and, unfortunately, protein, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are commonplace in persons following plant-based diets. It is not impossible to consume adequate nutrients on a vegetarian-style diet, but it takes education and focus.

I am an advocate for reducing animal protein and for being conscientious about where animal protein comes from, but we must not lose sight of meeting nutrient needs while on plant-based diets.

To prevent lowered satiety, reduced lean muscle mass and low mood eat protein rich foods three times a day. Good choices are:

  • Organic whole eggs, omega-3 enriched whole eggs

  • Organic chicken or turkey

  • Wild fish

  • Grass-fed beef or organic beef

  • Organic tofu

  • Organic edamame

  • A plant-based protein powder may also be used such as Manitoba Harvest Hemp Protein or Garden of Life RAW Organic Protein Powder. I prefer whole foods, but these are minimally processed products that can be used.

If you aren’t eating these higher protein choices three times a day, consider your choices and consult with a dietitian about your personal nutrient needs.

What about nuts, beans and grains as protein sources?
Be cautious when relying solely on beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, whole grains and/or vegetables for protein. While these do provide protein, it is difficult to meet nutrient needs with these foods as the primary sources of dietary protein. If this is your preference, or required for your unique body, work with a dietitian to be learn how to eat to meet your nutritional needs while eating a vegan diet.

Don’t ignore gas, bloating, abdominal distention and altered bowel habits.
These are signs of maldigestion. If you can’t digest the protein you eat due to a malabsorption condition, such as gluten intolerance, food sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, or intestinal bacterial imbalances, you won’t be able to utilize the protein that you eat. There is also a vicious cycle occurs when protein intake is reduced: protein deficiencies lead to compromised digestive enzyme function, making eating protein more uncomfortable, leading further reductions in protein intake.

If you have questions about your protein intake, contact me!

Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for personalized nutrition or health advice or healthcare. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this website.

2 thoughts on “Protein & Plant-Based Diets

  1. I notice you list dairy with sugar and processed foods to avoid. Does this include Greek yogurt? Can you elaborate more on why dairy should be avoided? Thanks

    • In the Ask the Nutritionist question, she was already avoiding dairy, and that was fine to continue. Dairy contributes inflammatory fats to the diet, due to the feed of the animals. Regarding fat alone, small amounts of dairy are fine. But routine consumption of milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and butter, likely contributes significant amount of inflammation. You may wonder about low fat diary products to lower inflammatory fat content. This is challenging because most of the time sugar is added in place of fat, and, when the fat is removed the hormonal profile of food is unfavorably altered.

      Additionally, the dairy protein is one of the most commonly reactive proteins in our diet. Identifying reactive foods is a big part of lowering inflammation.

      If you do not react to dairy, then pasture raised or grass-fed dairy products are significantly less inflammatory.

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