We’re proud to showcase the opinions and expertise of our NAA members. This post, on the hot topic of plant-based protein, comes from Jennifer Masson, MA, RD, LE, a dual-licensed holistic aesthetic nutrition expert with 20+ years of experience.  Holding a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science, Jennifer has empowered women to bring out their best selves at any age-naturally, through diet and lifestyle change. Jennifer currently lives in Florida with her husband Dr. John Masson and her two teenage sons and you can find her online at jenmassonnutrition.com.

Plant-Based Protein

— Jennifer Masson, MA, RD, LE

Attention all vegetarians-you must read this!

Thinking about going meat free? There are a ton of good reasons to skip the meat. Think longevity, good health, personal beliefs, and the environment! But no matter what the reason one thing is sure: you have to make sure you’re getting enough protein so your body can work properly.

Did you ever wonder why we need protein?  It’s essential for us to get enough protein in order to maintain and build lean muscle (translates into energy burning and stability as we get older), repair tissue (like after a hard workout and you have torn muscle fibers and want to increase the amount of muscle mass), immune function (ability to fight infection), and carry nutrients to all your cells (like oxygen and iron) so they can do their job of keeping us alive.

Proteins are made of chains of amino acids linked together. There are nine essential amino acids we can’t make and must get from food.  The rest our body can make on its own.

The thing with plant protein is that there aren’t too many sources that have all 9 essential amino acids, which are required by our body. Most plant foods lack only one amino acid, lysine.

That’s why it used to be thought that you had to combine the right foods to get the amino acids needed to make protein.  Things have changed now, so instead of eating different sources of protein at the same meal we still need to eat a variety throughout the whole day. Your body can store them in your liver for the day, ready to use when they’re needed.

The best sources of protein from plants are from soy: tempeh, tofu, and edamame. Legumes like lentils also have a good amount and come pretty close to soy in their amino acid make up.  Legumes (ex. lentils, peanuts) lack the amino acid methionine.

One thing to consider is the actual digestion and absorption of nutrients. A vegetarian may need to eat more (plant-based) protein vs a meat eater because plant protein isn’t digested as well. Your body isn’t getting as much protein from the same amount that it would from a meat or dairy source.

If you really want to know about the quality of protein you are getting from plants, you can look up the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). The highest  score is 1.0 which is given to eggs and casein, the protein in milk.  Beef scores a close second with 0.92. Not to worry though,  if you eat a variety throughout the day you can bump it up, for example rice and beans each have a score 0.6 but combined they score 0.8.

The best thing to do if you’re vegan is to make sure you get variety, and make sure you get a high quality plant protein at every meal. If you’re a vegetarian, pescatarian, or lacto-ovo vegetarian,  you’re most likely getting enough of the right mix of amino acids during the day.

Remember not to go overboard with the ‘frankenfoods’— processed and ‘junk’ food that can be labeled organic, vegan, vegetarian or have some other health food label to get you to buy it. Eat real food, not from a box, with healthy fats, protein, and fiber and you won’t go wrong!

Here’s my list of the 8 top ways to get more plant protein in your diet:

  •      Sprinkle nuts and seeds on your salad
  •      Snack on edamame
  •      Make a smoothie with pea or hemp protein as the base
  •      Drink a latte made with soymilk
  •      Try an almond butter and fruit sandwich
  •      Use tofu in recipes that call for dairy
  •      Substitute quinoa instead of rice
  •      Spread hummus on your wrap




The opinions shared in our Member Perspective posts are those of our members, and do not necessarily represent those of the Nutritional Aesthetics Alliance.

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