But where’s the protein? Eating plant-based (even in pregnancy)

by Jessica on September 17, 2013

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“But where do you get your protein?”

If only I had a $1 for each time I was asked that question, especially during pregnancy  I would be a rich woman.

Most of you are probably not pregnant, so why is this of interest?

Protein requirements rise during pregnancy and lactation.  I am often asked about protein deficiency for non-pregnant people.  If I could easily meet and exceed protein requirements during pregnancy, you can surely do this in other lifecycle phases.

Let’s look at foods from a wider perspective.  We can think of periods of metabolic functioning by growth, maintenance and lightening.  For example, children are growing quickly and need the extra calories and protein to support this growth.  Pregnant women are supporting the growth of their fetus and need the extra protein.  During the growth phase there should be an emphasis on high-quality protein sources.  This does not mean only animal sources.  In its position paper on Vegetarian Diets, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that “Well-planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation.”

During phases of maintenance we are maintaining our body size.  Once we have finished our growth spurts in adolescence, adults do not typically grow.  We need enough protein to maintain the constant recycling and replacement of our body tissues.  This is not a mega-dose of protein and can be satisfied easily with a vegetarian diet.  The typical adult needs .6-.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.  This is around 40 grams for women.  During pregnancy the protein requirement rises to around 71 grams (1.1g/kg of body weight).

If we are trying to lose weight we still need protein, but we do not need excessive amounts.  Protein and fat will help to build us up, and if we are trying to lose weight we should focus on foods that are easily burned like carbohydrate sources from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  We should maintain a stable protein intake without exceeding what we need.

What are advantages to eating a plant-based diet?

Plant-based diets tend to be lower in fat, especially saturated fat.

Plant-based diets help with blood pressure control.

Plant-based diets help with weight maintenance.

I did not experience any of the pregnancy problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and constipation.  I gained around 22lbs during my pregnancy, which I’ve already completely lost less than three weeks after giving birth.  I’m almost certain that the easy weight loss can be attributed to my diet.  Although I was active during pregnancy, the first weeks after birth I was not doing any significant physical activity.

What would a typical day look like?

Breakfast

Bowl of oatmeal (1/2 cup dry) with 1/2 apple, 1/2 peach, 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed, almond milk and cinnamon

Home-made soy latte with 1/2 decaf and 1/2 caffeinated

Lunch

Around 1-1 1/2 cups of vegetables – maybe steamed, maybe in a salad with some type of low-oil dressing

One of these Protein sources:  1/2 cup of tempeh, 3/4-1 cup of beans or hummus, 1/2 cup of tofu

Grains:  Quinoa, Rice, Sprouted Whole Wheat Wrap, Occasionally bread

Often I have some dark chocolate after lunch

Afternoon Snack (not always, only when hungry)

Soy yoghurt + granola

Fruit

Handful of nuts

Dinner

Similar to lunch

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The above diet would easily satisfy the protein requirements of 70g of protein.  Just having 1/2 cup of tempeh or tofu two times a day gives me 40 grams of protein.  Combined with beans, vegetables, quinoa – I easily get more than enough protein.

I hope that his helps you to understand how we can easily get more than enough protein from a diet based on plants.  I feel that there are so many added benefits to eating this way, I could never return to eating a “meat and potatoes” Standard American Diet.  Just to name a few of the benefits:

– Easy weight control

– Blood pressure control

– Low cholesterol

– High energy

– Nice skin tone – think of that healthy glow

– Lowered risks of developing many types of cancer

Do you have any questions or concerns about eating a plant-based diet?

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