Plant Protein Made Easy

I love hunting for a bargain. Outlet stores, by taking out the middleman or removing a step in the manufacturing process, bring down their costs and can pass the savings on to customers.
Food production works in a related way: when you reduce the processes of production and/or distance the food has to travel, there is less strain on the environment and our pocketbooks. But what if we could eliminate another food production middleman—in the way we get our daily intake of iron, calcium and protein? And what if this had other benefits: removing dietary cholesterol and adding cancer-fighting phytochemicals and fiber?
On average, an American consumes 82 pounds of meat a year. A 2006 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations showed it takes three pounds of grain and 4,226 gallons of water for each pound of meat produced. We feed and water a cow with 4,140 pounds of grain in their lifetime, process the cow for human consumption, and receive half the amount of calories in our diet. Put simply: one pound of meat provides us roughly 50 percent fewer calories and nutrition (phytochemicals and fiber) than a pound of grain, and we used three pounds of grain to produce that one pound of meat.
But when we don’t consume the “middle animal” (the cow), we not only save the life of the animal, but also better utilize the resources that would have gone to feed, clean and hydrate the animal.
Let’s think selfishly for a second. Eating meat and drinking milk is an easy way to get protein, calcium and iron—so how do I get my protein, calcium and iron if I am not eating meat or dairy? And how can I make it as simple as eating meat and drinking milk?
The following charts are great resources for plant-based foods and their various nutrients and serving sizes.

Top 5 Plant Protein Sources

Source Amount of protein
in 1 cup serving
Soybeans/Edamame 28 grams
Lentils 18 grams
Garbanzo beans/Chickpeas 14.5 grams
Beans (general) 13-15 grams
Avocado (one whole avocado) 10 grams

Top 5 Plant Calcium Sources
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 1000 mg for 19-50 years of age

Source Amount and serving
Black Strap molasses 2 Tbsp,
400 mg
Collard greens 1 cup cooked,
357 mg
Plant milks and fortified
orange juice
8 ounces,
300-500 mg
(processed with calcium sulfate)
4 ounces,
200-420 mg
Soy yogurt 6 ounces,
300 mg

Top 5 Plant Iron Sources
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 18 mg for women and 8 mg for men from 19-50 years of age

Source Amount and serving
Soybeans/Edamame 1 cup, 9 mg
Black strap molasses 2Tbsp, 7 mg
Lentils 1 cup, 6.5 mg
Tofu 4 ounces, 6 mg
Bagel 1 medium, 6 mg

Ready to experiment with plant proteins? Try this recipe!

Baby Limas with Calcium-Packed Kale

Recipe by Crystal Petrello, MS, RD

1 pound baby lima beans, washed and soaked over-night
2 Tbsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
6 cups vegetable broth
1/8 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1 cube vegetable bouillon
3 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped into chunks
3 ribs of celery, chopped into 3-inch sticks
2 cans stewed tomatoes (14.5 ounces a piece)
1 to 2 bunches fresh kale


  1. Place baby lima beans, sea salt, liquid smoke, maple syrup, vegetable broth, olive oil and black pepper in slow cooker.
  2. Put vegetable bouillon, bay leaves, thyme, yellow onion, carrot and celery into a cheesecloth. Close the cloth and nestle it into the beans.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. Remove cheese cloth and either discard or chop vegetables and add back to cooker. Add chopped kale and tomatoes, and cook on high for 20 minutes.
  5. Enjoy as is or with your starch of choice (I enjoy it with rice).

Nutritional Information
6 servings
406 calories
Total fat: 10g; Saturated fat: 1g; Trans fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg; Carbohydrate: 64g; Fiber: 18g; Protein: 18g

Crystal Petrello on Twitter
Crystal Petrello
Crystal Petrello, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is the founder of Follow her on Twitter.