Pile More Plant-Based Foods on Your Plate!

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…And Get the Protein You Need

With a turkey-filled Thanksgiving behind us, many of us are on animal protein overload. Not to worry! I am here to fill you in on how to pile more plant-based proteins on your plate and still get the nutrition you need.

Have you ever enjoyed a hard-boiled egg (sustainable 1, of course) with a turn of cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt? With a biological value of 100 and a one on the PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score… phew!), egg whites are considered the “perfect protein.”

The biological value measures how easily our bodies can absorb protein and turn into body tissue, while the PDCAAS measures both digestibility and the quality of the molecules that make up the protein. 2 The egg has the perfect composition of 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential amino acids (the molecules that make up proteins) that our body requires. Health experts call these amino acids “essential” because they don’t come ready-made in our bodies–we have to eat them to function well.


The 9 essential amino acids are:

1. Histidine
2. Isoleucine
3. Leucine
4. Lysine
5. Methionine
6. Phenylalanine
7. Threonine
8. Tryptophan
9. Valine

Protein does a lot of good for our bodies. Our muscles and tissues are made up of proteins, and among hundreds of functions, we need protein to fight infection, balance our fluids, and produce hormones. However, the protein in animal-based foods, including eggs, tends to also come with fat. Fat is also essential to our health, but because fat is high in calories, too much of it can cause us to lose energy balance and therefore gain weight. Plant-based foods, on the other hand, do not contain as much fat, and have additional nutrients like fiber (which makes us feel fuller for longer). So, it is important to eat a lot of plant-based foods. 3


When they stand alone, most plant-based foods do not contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. That said, if you are thoughtful to eat a variety of plant-based foods each day, you can get all protein you need. For example, the protein components missing in black beans (methionine and tryptophan) is not missing in brown rice. And, the essential acid missing in brown rice (lysine) can be found in black beans 4. When you eat nuts, vegetables, grains, and beans over the course of the day, you can get all the essential components needed for a complete protein. 5


Traditional meals from many countries naturally pair vegetarian and vegan protein foods together to complete the protein. The following traditional foods create a perfect combination of proteins:
• Taco with whole grain corn tortilla and black beans
• Minestrone with cannellini beans, whole grain pasta, & veggies
• Mujadarra with lentils and brown rice
• Hummus and whole grain pita
• Peanut butter sandwich served on whole wheat bread
• Pad Thai with brown rice noodles, veggies, and peanuts
• Stir Fried vegetables and edamame
• Dirty Rice with kidney beans and brown rice
• Oatmeal with walnuts and pumpkin puree

So, what now? To get the plant-based protein you need, fill your plate with vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts. And remember — a balanced diet includes other foods as well. Check out the post Setting the Table to learn more about my nutrition philosophy


What plant-based foods do you eat to get the protein you need?

Let me know by commenting here!

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  1. I choose meat, eggs, and dairy from sustainable farms for nutritional, political, environmental, and social reasons. To me, “sustainable farms” as those farms that do not use antibiotics when the animal is not sick, never use hormones, and feed their livestock what they are born to eat (grass for cows, and a variety of plants and invertebrates for pigs and chicken).
  2. Wardlaw, GM, and JS Hampl. Perspectives in Nutrition. McGraw Hill: 2007.
  3. Wardlaw, GM, and JS Hampl. Perspectives in Nutrition. McGraw Hill: 2007.
  4. Wardlaw, GM, and JS Hampl. Perspectives in Nutrition. McGraw Hill: 2007.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Protein.” October 2012: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html
  • Anne

    In the past eggs got a bad rap due to their cholesterol content but using egg whites in stir fry with veggies or rice is a great solution.

    • What a great recommendation to incorporate more veggies at dinner time, Anne. Last night, we stir fried edamame, brown rice, mixed frozen vegetables, and sprinkled peanuts on top. It was filling, even without meat. I’ll have to try egg whites in the future. Thanks for sharing!