Nutrition professionals regularly sing the praises of plant foods. This is because they are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, polyphenols, and antioxidants. And some are naturally high in protein, too. Read on to discover why plant foods are so good for you, men and women included, and your muscles.
Research shows that those living in Western countries (particularly men) drop the ball in not eating enough plant foods. That’s disheartening because, according to the EAT-Lancet report published in 2019, “A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
Plant-based foods are the cornerstones of a healthy diet. Studies continually show that a high consumption of these foods leads to better health, a reduced incidence of heart disease and diabetes, and also assists with weight management. An added bonus is that a dietary pattern like this is better for the environment. Nevertheless, we don’t need to cut out meat altogether (if you choose to include it), but again, being more plant-focused has a whole host of positives.
A high intake of red meat, including processed red meat, is associated with an increased risk of mortality, and major chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and colorectal cancer. So it’s interesting to note that American men regularly consume more meat, both unprocessed and processed, than American women.
What’s more, studies show that substituting plant-based foods for red meat effectively reduces rates of coronary heart disease in men. And it appears that nuts, soy, and legumes offer more heart protection than other plant foods and dairy and eggs. This is because plant-based foods are higher in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals than animal-based proteins.
Now, it is true that protein is essential for the growth and maintenance of muscle and to power our immunity. In addition, it’s instrumental in hormone production, and it provides the structure for the body’s connective framework. But protein can be widely found in the food supply; it’s not exclusively found in animal foods. So, you don’t need to worry about getting enough protein or jeopardizing your gym gains—plenty of protein can be found in nutrient-rich plant foods.
Further, a man’s protein requirements are not overly high. As a baseline, the dietary reference intake (DRI) for men is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For an average 70 kg man (around 154 lbs), this equates to 56 grams of protein. However, the DRI for protein does slightly increase depending on activity levels. Men looking to build muscle may need up to 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Here are some protein-rich plant-based foods that men can include in their diet without fear that they’ll be falling short of their protein targets. Your insides, muscles, and the environment will thank you for it.
Beans. Beans are jam-packed full of nutrients such as vitamins B1 and B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, potassium, zinc, and selenium. Plus, they are low in fat, high in complex carbs and fiber, and are a good source of protein.
In addition, studies show that eating beans can help to reduce cholesterol levels due to their soluble fiber content. What’s more, American men (and women) consistently fall well short of their fiber requirements. So, eating more fiber-rich foods that also contain protein should be the order of the day for American males. It’s a win-win.
They are a winner from every angle. Include them with a tomato sauce, and you’ll be getting a good whack of lycopene—an antioxidant found in pink or red-colored fruits and vegetables that has been shown to be protective against prostate cancer.
Lentils. Lentils should be lauded for their versatility and nutritional qualities. They are a rich source of protein, complex carbs, fiber, iron, folate, magnesium, and potassium. Plus, they are made up of more than 25 percent protein; so you get 9 grams of protein in a half cup serving.
There’s so much to like about lentils from a culinary perspective, too. They’re a perfect addition to hearty soups, stews, and salads. They can even be combined with minced meat to make a sauce for Bolognese or lasagne. Lentils are a staple in African and Asian cultures as well as in Mediterranean countries.
Chickpeas. Chickpeas pack a nutritional punch. They are a good source of protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and magnesium. They are also naturally low in fat, sugar, and salt. Studies show that those who eat legumes such as chickpeas regularly can better manage their weight and have less incidence of heart disease. Plus, a half cup serving delivers over 7 grams of protein, similar to that of an egg.
Soy milk. Soy milk is made from dried soybeans that are soaked and crushed with water. Soy milk has a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk in that it’s a rich source of protein, carbohydrates, B12, and riboflavin. Soy milk also contains isoflavones known as phytoestrogens. Research indicates that phytoestrogens can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and there is no evidence that they lower testosterone levels.
Tofu. Not only is soy a fantastic source of protein, but it may also help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, lower cholesterol levels, and it tastes great in a burger or barbecued. It may be that you either love or hate tofu, but at 12 grams of protein per 150-gram serving, it delivers iron, fiber, copper, magnesium, and calcium.
Tempeh. Tempeh and tofu are cousins. Tempeh is also made from soybeans, but they’re fermented and condensed into a firm, dense structure. As a result, tempeh is more robust in texture than its more famous relative. However, it boasts a higher protein content (double, in fact), plus it contains more fiber, iron, and potassium. In fact, including a serving of tofu or tempeh instead of meat will not jeopardize your gym gains.
Nuts. Nuts are nutritional powerhouses and rich sources of fiber, protein, folate, calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants. Despite their high fat content, nuts may help aid weight loss. This may be because of the high fiber, fat, and protein content—all of which help you stay full longer.
Additionally, a meta-analysis and systematic review of over 100 studies spanning 20 years found that consuming nuts regularly is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Nut to mention (pun intended), one study found that eating two ounces of nuts a day was linked to better sexual health in men. This finding may be related to the vitamin E content in nuts that have been shown to be important for male fertility. Add them to stir fries, salads, use them as a topper on your yogurt or morning cereal, or eat them as they are.
Whole grains (to a lesser extent). Whole grains are nutritional gems that boast a good protein and fiber content and contain a raft of essential vitamins and minerals. Research shows that men who consume whole grains regularly as part of their diet have an 18% reduced risk of developing heart disease than men who don’t readily eat whole grains. Plus, the high fiber content of whole grains may also assist with weight management by increasing satiety. Fantastic options that you can find in your local supermarket include brown rice, quinoa, freekeh, teff, whole wheat, rye, sorghum, and oats. Make no missed steak about it. Including more plant-based protein foods will help you to sustain and build on your efforts in the gym. And they may just give you a new lease on life. So let’s start seeing plant foods as the quintessential dude food. Bon appetit, gentlemen.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Joel Feren, The Nutrition Guy, is an Australian-based Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist with a background in biomedical science. He specializes in men's health and is a media spokesperson for Dietitians Australia.