I know it is surprising, but the answer is broccoli. I kid you not.
According to the USDA there are 9.04 grams/in 100 calories of grilled steak and 8.4 grams/in 100 calories broccoli. So if you want to compare serving sizes, 1 cup of chopped broccoli has the same amount of protein as a 6 oz piece of steak.
So how much protein do you really need?
For some reason, probably due to the stellar marketing job of the meat industry and the popularity of the Paleo movement, most people think that protein is the most important food group and that you get it by eating meat, poultry, fish and eggs. But how much do we really need? For an adult, a good number to shoot for is around 8-10% of total calories. If you eat 2000 calories a day that would be 160 calories. For most people that is more than enough. (Another thing to consider is that when we eat animal protein our body increases it’s production of the hormone Insulin Growth Factor–1 (IGF-1) which when elevated may promote the spread of cancer cells.1-4 (It’s kind of like giving the cancer cells steroids. Also there have been several large studies that show that eating more than 12% of your daily calories from animal protein encourages cancer tumor growth.)
So how much does that amount to? And how do you get enough protein eating a whole-food, plant-based diet? As a mostly vegetarian, wannabe plant-based eater, the most common thing people ask me is “How do you get enough protein?” Many people are surprised to hear that if you eat a variety of whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds you will easily get enough protein without eating any animal products. Yes vegetables have protein. Broccoli as I mentioned has a lot of protein. Even asparagus has 3 grams/100 calories. And you don’t have to worry about the old notion of food combining to get a complete protein. Our body is able to receive all the essential amino acids it needs from a varied plant-based diet.
As an example I entered all the food that I ate the other day into supertracker.usda.gov and I exceeded the necessary protein for the day.
Here is what I ate.
Breakfast: Blueberries, Muesli (oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins, flax seeds) Almond milk
Lunch: A big salad with mixed greens, broccoli, green beans, edamame, corn, and avocado, balsamic vinaigrette, sesame crackers
Dinner: Tofu and bok choy with brown rice and eggplant.
Surprising isn’t it? So the next time you think about having a meal without meat you don’t have to worry about getting enough protein.
1. Chitnis MM, Yuen JS, Protheroe AS, et al: The type 1 insulin-like growth factor receptor pathway. Clin Cancer Res 2008;14:6364-6370.
2. Werner H, Bruchim I: The insulin-like growth factor-I receptor as an oncogene. Arch Physiol Biochem 2009;115:58-71.
3. Davies M, Gupta S, Goldspink G, et al: The insulin-like growth factor system and colorectal cancer: clinical and experimental evidence. Int J Colorectal Dis 2006;21:201-208.
4. Sandhu MS, Dunger DB, Giovannucci EL: Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), IGF binding proteins, their biologic interactions, and colorectal cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 2002;94:972-980.