I swear this is the most common question most vegans get asked along with ‘and what about calcium?’ So for now we will just focus on protein!
Where do vegans get their protein? The short answer is ‘from their food’ but obviously we need more than that! Protein is found in many different foods and ingredients for example soya, chia,oats,veggies,nuts and meat substitutes like quorn. Of course athletes might also add protein rich powders to their diet for an extra boost.
So lets investigate further …
First a very quick look at what protein actually is… it is the basis of life! literally everything needs protein to get started like viruses, bacteria,jelly fish and human function! [medicalnewstoday] Proteins are long chain amino acids and we need them for every bodily function… haemoglobin is a protein and it carries oxygen in the blood… protein plays a part in regulating blood sugars and metabolising fats,we need protein to build muscle, for our nervous system and for a healthy immune system, we literally can’t survive without it, it is a truly amazing thing!
Its worth knowing that some sources of protein are not considered whole sources, so basically they are missing one or more amino acid … this protein can’t be used by the body until it is completed, whereas a complete source is very bio available and can be used instantly. If you consume a protein that isn’t whole you will store it until the missing pieces show up and then it will become available, our bodies are wonderful like that! This shows us that eating a varied, balanced diet will give us the protein we need.
There are 22 different amino acids that become proteins and your body makes 13 of them [non-essential] so only have 9 [essential] to find!
The RDA for protein is 0.8 per kilogram of weight and its is thought that there are no health benefits to getting more than you need so we actually need alot less protein than we generally think and so although vegans tend to consume less protein than meat eaters its not a problem … protein deficiency is extremely rare!
There are protein rich shakes and supplements for vegan athletes out there but actually, in general, we can get it from our food without supplementation.
Tofu burger anyone? Tofu and soy beans are considered a whole source of protein, which means it contains all the amino acids your body needs. Tofu and soy beans are so versatile and tofu is often used as a meat substitute. We has duck in plum sauce at a restaurant made using tofu which was pressed so the ‘meat’ had the texture of duck! Or use a silken tofu and scramble it to make a scrambled ‘egg’ dish!
Quinoa is also an excellent protein source and is a whole protein so contains all 22 amino acids required by the body to process the protein, its a great alternative to rice or pasta and will ‘take on’ the flavours of the foods it is paired with.
Lentils and pulses are an excellent source and contain lots of other amazing nutrients. Again lentils and pulses are very versatile, lentil burgers, lentil dahl and soups…
Chick peas and beans … hummus, chick pea curry, roasted chickpeas, one pot bean casserole… baked beans are a good source of protein but watch out for added salt and sugar…
Nutritional yeast, this is usually fortified with B12 … bonus… its protein rich and adds flavour to many recipes and foods. It is delicious stirred through pasta giving a lovely creamy cheesy flavour! We use it in risotto we also add peas and broccoli so there is a good amount of protein in there and its truly delicious!
Green peas… who knew the humble garden pea packs protein… add to risotto or have as a side dish … stick them in curries or stews honestly so readily available and tasty whats not to love?
Spirulina … a super food! High in protein and also tons of other nutrients add to smoothies for a quick boost! [Spirulina is a green/blue algae] If you are in training and feel the need for extra protein a smoothie with this added might just do the trick.
Soya milk… high in protein and contains vit D often it is also fortified with B12 can be used in hot drinks, sauces,over cereal … in fact pretty much to replace cows milk.
Oats and oat meal… not a complete protein but a great source of fibre and other nutrients perhaps a overnight oats made with oats, berries and soya yogurt for a easy protein boost!
Brown rice and wild rice are, like oats, a complex carbohydrate but also contain useful amounts of protein and are also a great source of fibre.
Nuts and nut butters, definitely avoid butters with added oils and sugar and as far as possible raw is best! A great addition to your diet containing healthy fats, iron, calcium, magnesium and B vitamins.
Buckwheat is a seed which is high in protein and fibre its gluten free and you can buy it as flour, pasta and flakes so its very versatile.
Fruits and veggies contain protein in smaller amounts but it all adds up to your daily intake and obviously they contain other awesome vitamins and minerals and fibre. Think broccoli, Brussels, spinach, potato, sweet potato, artichokes for the best sources.
So there you have it its pretty easy for vegans to get in their protein. As with any healthy diet variety and balance is key … the typical western diet eaten by meat eaters may be very protein rich but often misses out other vital nutrients. Vegans and carnivores can both consume extremely unhealthy diets but the evidence is there to show that a) the vegan diet can be very protein efficient and b) meat isn’t the healthiest source of protein! Whilst animal protein tends to be a complete protein it lacks fibre and other nutrients and also has been linked to raising cholesterol levels and possible causing cardiovascular disease, Vegan proteins aren’t always complete so vegans need to be careful to consume a balanced diet but their protein sources are full of other nutrients as well and are less taxing on the environment and negate the need for animal cruelty/slaughter.