The truth about protein

The truth about protein

[ As with all posts the below is for informational purposes only. It is not to be considered as medical advice. Before making any changes in diet or health please check with your Pediatrician or Physician first]

This is one of the most perplexing issues confronting those of us who counsel patients to eat healthier. In our culture we have been programmed to believe the word “protein” is synonymous with animal protein. If we are weak, need to  build muscle, lose weight, gain weight, have a celebration  “ Beef. It”s what’s for dinner”. It’s the food source most people associate with vigorous health. You must need protein ( meat, chicken, turkey)  if you are sick or weak. “Make sure to get your protein”is the first remark regarding nutrition when growing up and old. Even for most people who understand there are other sources of protein from plants still believe that meat protein is a better more substantial form of protein . It’s as though everyone pictures a muscle man eating a steak and sickly little guy eating beans and kale. Real men eat meat. Popular concept, but not based on any facts or science. Plant protein calorie per calorie is a healthier form to receive your protein. It does not come with the baggage of meat protein as recent studies linking meat sources of protein with cancer and heart disease have demonstrated  .

The most common question I get when anyone hears I am Vegan is where do you get your protein?

My goal in this post is not to advocate for vegan eating or against eating animal sources of protein but to get the facts regarding food sources of protein and their relationship to good health. Many people want to know what are the portions of meat that are necessary to get your needed quantity of protein and how to replace the amount of animal protein in order to eat healthier especially if they want their child to attain a healthier weight . The overall amount of meat we eat in order to get protein in in the US is well over the maximum protein amount we need for good health. In fact, many sources believe the excess protein we ingest from animal protein is part of the problem regarding our poor health as a nation. 

Quick takes:

  • Can you get enough protein from plant based foods? Yes
  • Plant based foods source of protein is healthier than animal protein. Plants have no fat, no cholesterol, have phenols, anti-inflammatory, and  high fiber.
  • Nuts , seeds, beans, all have plenty of protein. nuts 18 gm , seeds 30 gm, beans 15 gm-

Compared to a hamburger 16 gm, 3 oz steak 25 gm, 3 oz chicken 15.8 gm.

  • Nut butters, hummus, tofu and tempeh are all high protein high nutrient easy to eat foods that are vegan and add to your health.
  • Bean dishes of all sorts have high protein, high fiber and add to your health. Improving colon health, heart health, lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Grains also have good protein. Even brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa all are healthy source of protein.
  • Do greens have protein? Yes. Broccoli for instance has 16.7 gm per bunch
  • Even some berries have protein . Goji berries have 4.7 gm of protein

In the US the recommended amount of daily protein is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women.

At one year of age approximately 12 grams of protein a day is what is recommended- (see chart below for more details on protein amount and requirements).

Your source of protein is the key to good health – whatever the number or percentage of calories you follow , the majority of the calories from protein should not be animal protein because of the dangerous fat and harmful elements for health. Animal protein should be at most a supplementary source of calories to maximize health. Too much protein is harmful to your liver and kidney and over indulging in animal protein causes damage in all organs.

What is your main source of protein? Is it a healthy source?

You will find that there are more sources of protein than you knew. A good varied diet with an abundance of plant protein sources is easy and healthful.

Scroll down for the answer and to try to match vegetable protein to the below examples of meat protein.

Red meat- hamburger single patty 15.7 gram protein ; 25 % of calories from protein.

                      -3 oz steak  25 gram of protein;   36% of calories from protein

Chicken breast tenders 3 oz   15.8 grams protein ;   22% of calories from protein

Turkey breast    22.2 gram of protein; 74 % of calories from protein

Below is a table comparing average protein content of food groups.


                                                                             Protein avg cup                               % Adult American RDA

Beef   80 grams / 3oz=31 gm 120%/ 60%
Chicken   55 grams / 3 oz = 22 gms 100%/ 45%
Fish   62 grams /. 3oz= 22 gms 100%/ 45%
Dairy/ cheese/milk   9 grams slice/ 8gms cup 16%
Eggs   17 grams 30%
vegetables/greens   4- 5 gram 10%
Nuts  18-20 grams 40%
Seeds   30     grams 55%
Grains    6 – 8 grams 15%
Beans    15    grams 28%

These percentages are based on the American version of the daily protein requirements. But the WHO organization and most healthful guidelines prefer a much lower number of required protein for maximum health especially for kidney and other organ maximum function.

Below is a table of age and protein requirements

Age                                             Female protein req per day               Male Protein req per day

Newborn 10 – 12 grams same
1 -3 yo 13-20 grams same
4-8 yo 19- 25 grams same
9-13 yo 34 gams same
14-18 yo 46 grams 56 grams
Adult 46 grams 56 grams

Protein minimum requirements per age. Generally based on weight and US standards

Sample of “ Healthful foods” and their protein content.


Broccoli – 1 bunch cooked 16.7 gram 47% calories from protein/ 100gm 3.8 gram protein

Spinach cooked 5.3 grams of protein cup cooked , 41% of calories from protein

Kale 100 gram 1.9 gram protein / cup chopped 2.5 gram of protein 23% of calories from protein

Sweet potato 1 medium 2.3 gram of protein 9 % of calories from protein

White potato baked 4.3 gram for medium potato, 10 % of calories from protein

Peas- 5.4 grams of protein /100 gm 7.9 gm cup

Mushrooms 5.6 grams per cup,

Corn 4.7 grams per cup

Brussel sprouts 2 grams per 1/2 cup of protein

Squash 5.1 grams per cup of protein

Cauliflower 2.1 grams per cup of protein


Rye 17.5 grams cup uncooked

Brown rice 5 grams protein cooked per cup

Wild rice 6.5 grams protein cooked per cup

Barley 3.5 grams protein per cooked cup

Couscous 6 of grams of protein per cooked cup

Quinoa 8.1 grams of protein cooked per cup

Oatmeal 5.9 grams of protein cooked per cup

Amaranth 9.3 grams of cooked protein per cup

Whole wheat pasta 7.5 grams of protein cooked per cup


Soybeans roasted 36.8 grams protein per cup

Lentils cooked 18 grams protein per cup

Kidney beans cooked 15.5  grams protein per cup

Baked beans 14 grams protein per cup

Black beans cooked 15.5 grams protein per cup

Split peas cooked 16.3 grams of protein per cup

Pinto beans cooked 15.4 grams of protein per cup

Chickpeas cooked 14.5 grams of protein per cup

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds       6 grams per ounce        20 grams per cup

Cashews      5 grams per oz              21 grams per cup

Walnuts        4.3 grams per oz           18 grams per cup

Macadamia  2.2 grams per oz           11 grams per cup

Pistachio       6 grams per oz             25 grams per cup

Pecans         2.6 grams per oz           13 grams per cup

Chia seeds   4.7 grams per oz           33 grams per cup

Flax seeds    1 tablespoon 1.3 gm     31 grams per cup

Sunflower seeds                                29 grams per cup

Pumpkin seeds                                  12 grams per cup

Sesame seeds                                   26 grams per cup

By looking at the above list you get the idea that if you eat a bountiful meal of grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds you get more than enough protein. This should be motivation along with being healthful to lower the quantity of meat sources of protein without fear of wasting away from protein malnutrition. Look at the amount of  food you could eat to be completely full for about the same calories and same protein. You would get away with less harmful fat by varying your protein sources. In addition, vegetable protein comes with heart protecting  anti inflammatory properties.

Which do you think is a more healthful way to get the same protein?  One burger or a cup of good grains with vegetables, beans and seeds? Which has more fiber? Is filled with more good vitamins? Has a more anti inflammatory effect? Which plate of food will harm your heart and blood vessels less? Help your digestive system more and help prevent colon cancer ? All this and still get enough muscle building protein?

If you know the answer to all these questions you are a step closer to being Healthful

“Vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds is what’s for dinner!”

Warren Krantz MD, FAAP

Future blogs will detail healthy protein rich meals and servings of healthy protein filled foods.