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Meatless Protein: It's A Thing!

Whether you're trying to cut meat from your diet or simply trying to get more protein, there are plenty of meatless options – vegans and vegetarians do it every day!

Our guest is Dr. Nancy Van Sloun, an integrative medicine physician at Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing – WestHealth, and will give us rundown of protein 101.
Meatless Protein: It's A Thing!
Featured Speaker:
Nancy Van Sloun, MD – Integrative Medicine
Nancy Van Sloun is an integrative medicine doctor at Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing – WestHealth. Outside the clinic, Dr. Van Sloun tries to follow the advice she gives her patients. She enjoys taking walks with her dog or human companions, finding and cooking new recipes, and spending time with her family on the Gunflint Trail.

Learn more about Nancy Van Sloun

Melanie Cole (Host):  If you’re trying to cut meat from your diet or simply trying to get more protein, there are plenty of meatless options. Vegans and vegetarians do it every day. My guest today is Dr. Nancy Van Sloun. She is an integrative medicine doctor at Penny George Institute for Healthy and Healing - West Health. Welcome to the show, Dr. Van Sloun.  Are there a lot of plant foods that contain protein? Is this true or false?

Dr. Van Sloun (Guest):  That is actually true. I learned something I didn’t know recently which is that all plants contain some protein. My family was having a dinner time conversation and we were wondering how much protein is in vegetables. Although it’s small amounts--it’s not as much as in some other foods; actually, all plant foods contain some protein.

Melanie:  Wow, so people are consuming proteins without even realizing it. Where might they be getting those?

Dr. Van Sloun:   It includes vegetables, which I don’t think we think about. If you are having a sweet potato or broccoli, or cauliflower, there is some protein in those foods. There is also protein in different plant based foods which I think we’re more aware of. Some of the sources that have more protein that are plant-based are going to be things like nuts and seeds, legumes, beans and soy foods. There is also protein in foods that aren’t plant-based and aren’t meat and that includes our dairy products – cheese, milk and yogurt and also eggs.

Melanie:  If you eat meat, does that give you enough protein for your daily diet?

Dr. Van Sloun:   For most people, absolutely it gives them enough protein. Our diet is very meat based as Americans; whereas, in fact, for the healthiest diet, meat should be at the top of the pyramid. A lot of people wonder if they are getting enough protein but when they’ve done dietary surveys, Americans actually probably are consuming more protein than they need with their meat based diet.

Melanie:  Is there a way to get protein and fiber in the same meal, in the same food?

Dr. Van Sloun:   Absolutely and I think that’s where some of our plant-based proteins really are something that can provide us with more nutrition than a meat-based protein because a lot of the plant-based protein sources are high in fiber. So, things like fruits and vegetables that have small amounts of protein are high in fiber but, in addition, our legumes and our beans – like kidney beans, garbanzo beans--are high fiber. They feed our intestinal micro biota and our intestinal bacteria which we are learning more and more how much they play a role in health. Legumes are also high in magnesium which plays a role in a lot of different body processes. If you are adding these sources of plant-based proteins, you are getting things in your diet that are very health promoting that you’re not going to get in a more meat-based diet.  

Melanie:  Is there such a thing as getting too much protein?

Dr. Van Sloun:    People can get too much protein. I don’t think it’s something we think about very often but there are guidelines as far as what is too much and that’s getting over 35% of your calories from protein. People who are using a protein powder where they’re supplementing a lot with that and they don’t pay attention to how much protein is in that powder that might be a situation where people could get too much.  We know that can put more stress on the kidneys. It’s also known that with very meat-based diets that will increase the excretion of calcium in the urine which is something that can lead to lower bone density. If I’m seeing somebody with osteoporosis and low bone density, we talk about a plant based diet versus a meat based diet. It is probably going to be healthier for issues like bone density in addition to a lot of other health issues.

Melanie:   How can people keep track of the protein that they’re eating? Give us some general guidelines for how much you should be getting a day.

Dr. Van Sloun:    Protein is a little tricky because we can’t just say half your plate should be protein like we do with fruits and vegetables because different foods have different amounts of proteins. If you’re eating meat, one thing to think about with meat and fish is that a three ounce size is a serving. With meat, that is going to be the size of a standard computer mouse; with fish, that is going to be the size of a check book. For guidelines of how much, that varies by weight. The guideline is sort of a cumbersome calculation of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That means that a 200-pound man is going to need 73 grams of protein a day, whereas a 130-pound woman would need 47 grams. It can vary by body weight. In addition, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you’re not getting any meat-based protein. The requirement goes up to 1 gram of protein per kilogram. That’s because the vegetable-based proteins are less bioavailable or less easily used by the body. So, you need a little more protein if you don’t have any meat in your diet at all.

Melanie:   Give us a little of some of the plant-based foods that are maybe not some of the vegetables that you’ve mentioned that vegetarians typically look to for their proteins.

Dr. Van Sloun:    If somebody is vegetarian, often they’ll eat some soy-based foods. As an example, a half cup of tofu has 10 grams of protein. For a woman, that’s almost a quarter of daily protein needs. They will look at legumes, things like lentils and different kinds of beans. With that, a half a cup is around 8 grams of protein. They will look at nuts, nut butters. If they are not vegan, eggs might be included. Things like cheese and yogurt also have protein, so they can be protein sources for a vegetarian also if they have dairy.

Melanie:  Dr. Van Sloun, what do you tell people when they say, “I want a diet and I’m looking at these very heavy protein diets like the Atkins Diet” which eliminates carbohydrates? What do you tell them?

Dr. Van Sloun:    You really have to individualize that for the person to some degree. For general advice, what I tell people is at each meal, you want to think about having a healthy carbohydrate, a healthy protein and a healthy fat. That healthy carbohydrate really shouldn’t be things like white bread and bagels and things like that but it should be more whole grain. Actually, a whole grain like barley or boiling wheat berries or things like that; or, it can come from the more carbohydrate rich vegetables. It could be a sweet potato or it could be peas or it could be corn. Having some healthy carbohydrate, some healthy fat and some healthy protein at each meal. In general, as a country, when we demonize one of those three macronutrients, we tend to get off on diets that get to be more restrictive and for most people, there is not one of those macronutrients that is so bad that they shouldn’t have any of it.  

Melanie:   What if someone is told they need to cut down on their proteins? Then, what do you advise them to cut back on besides the meat? What are some of the hidden sources?

Dr. Van Sloun:    With people who are getting too much protein, I would think about how much meat is in their diet because that is probably going to be the biggest source for most people. Then, it would be if they are getting food or products that are supplemented with protein, really looking at how much they are getting. If they are putting a protein powder in their smoothie every morning, how much protein is actually in that? How much are they using, to get a better handle on that? In addition, if they are supplementing with other products – bars, or things like that that are billed as having a lot of protein in them. Assessing how much protein is in those sources also.

Melanie:   In just the last few minutes, give us your best advice, sort of a Protein 101, Dr. Van Sloun, about what you want people to know about how much they need every day and where do you recommend the best sources of protein are?

Dr. Van Sloun:    Again, the guidelines for how much they need is going to be weight based but it’s going to be around 45 – 60 grams for the average weight, man or woman--somewhere in there. They can use that 0.8 gram per kilo calculation. From my perspective, I encourage people to think more of the plant-based proteins and work on including those in their diet just because they come along with all of these other things that are so important for health, including healthy fats and fiber and antioxidants. I try to encourage them to think of meat more as an ingredient in a meal instead of the main part of the meal and to explore with having some meals that don’t have any meat. Pick a day where their evening meal is not going to contain any meat. That can be a fun time to try different cuisines, different recipes and different flavors and really start to broaden a person’s diet.

Melanie:  That’s great advice. Thank you so much for being with us.  You’re listening to The WELLcast with Allina Health.  For more information you can go to That’s This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.