Can you get enough Protein on a Plant-Based diet?
One of the biggest reasons cited for not going on a plant-based diet, or criticisms of a vegetarian/vegan diet is the perceived lack of protein. Protein is found in virtually every part of the body and is necessary for many of the body’s functions, including those that involve muscles, bones, and skin. It is responsible for the enzymes that drive the chemical reactions in the body and is vital for healthy haemoglobin production and distribution.
Protein is constructed of amino acids of which there are twenty. They drive hormone levels that are responsible for the creation of collagen and that help sustain energy throughout the day. Nine of these amino acids are ones which the body can not make itself. These are referred to as Essential Amino Acids. In order for a protein source to be classed as a ‘Complete Protein’, it must contain all nine essential amino acids. This is where the confusion starts. Most people think that they need to eat meat and/or dairy to ensure they get the correct balance of essential amino acids! This is just plain wrong.
Let us clear this up once and for all. You do not have to eat complete proteins. There is no hard rule that says you must get all the essential amino acids from a single food source. Nor is there any rule about having to have all the essential amino acids in one meal. You just have to get sufficient amounts of the essential amino acids throughout the day from your diet. Therefore, you can quite comfortably get enough protein on a Plant-Based Diet . You just have to eat a variety of plant proteins in order to get all the necessary amino acids that your body needs. Eating a variety of different vegetables, etc is actually considered a more healthy way of eating too. How often have you heard the phrase, “eat the rainbow’, meaning eat a variety of different coloured vegetables at every mealtime. So eating a wide variety of plants containing protein enables you to cover the spectrum of nutrients you need, including those amino acids vital for creating new protein in your body.
What are the best plant-based sources of protein?
Tofu is one of the top alternatives to meat for people who are vegetarian or vegan. That’s because it tends to take on the flavours of the foods it’s cooked with, making it an excellent ingredient for stir-fries, soup, and chilli. It can be scrambled to replace eggs or fried to mimic a burger or meat sandwich. Tofu is made from soy beans and contains 8 to 15 grams of protein per serving, which is about 3 ounces.
Peanut butter is a versatile food that contains 7 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons. It can be used for anything from a simple sandwich to a delicious sauce for noodles or a vegetable-based stir-fry. Peanut butter spread on a banana or apple slices is an excellent snack, particularly as fuel before or after a workout. Whole peanuts have similar benefits and are also a healthy snack or to add crunch to a leafy salad.
This is another meat alternative that is made from fermented cooked soy beans and then shaped into patties or loaves. It can be sliced and fried and many vegetarians report that it is more easily digested than tofu. Fried tempeh can be used as a main dish or in sandwiches, soups, or salads, and contains a good dose of protein at 16 grams in every 3-ounce serving.
Lentils & Chick Peas
With 9 grams of protein per 100g serving, lentils make a good contribution to daily protein needs. Lentils are incredibly versatile and can be cooked into a side dish, added to veggie burgers, or made into a dip for vegetables or crackers. Lentils are also a tasty addition to soups and salads.
150g of chick peas delivers 6 grams of protein and they are another versatile legume that can be incorporated into meals in many ways. They can be roasted for a crunchy snack or you can toss them into a veggie salad. They work well in soup recipes and of course, they are most often consumed as houmous.
Perhaps one of the highest protein concentrations in all plant-based foods, cooked edamame offers up an impressive 18 grams per 150g. Steamed edamame is a nutritious side dish or snack, but the beans can also be used in salads, stir-fries, or to make a healthy dip for bread or crudités. Experts recommend choosing organic edamame as the plants are not treated with pesticides or genetically modified. (Soy is one of the world’s most heavily cultivated GMO crops.)
All types of nuts are a source of protein, but almonds are an all-star with 6 grams per 1-ounce serving. The best way to eat almonds is to snack on them whole, but they can also be used to jazz up vegetable side dishes, such as green beans, or tossed in salads for a delightful crunch. Do remember though, as well as being protein-rich, all nuts are high in calorific value, so they should not be consumed in large amounts in a healthy, balanced diet (whether plant-based or not).
Spirulina is a type of algae that is most commonly found in powder or pill supplement form. It can be used as an addition to smoothies or water, but many people enjoy its flavour sprinkled over cooked vegetables or in salads. Each 2-tablespoon serving of spirulina contains about 8 grams of protein.
When it comes to grains, quinoa definitely stands out with 8 grams of protein in each 170g serving. This versatile grain can be used in place of rice in side dishes but can also be tossed into broth-based soup recipes, chilled and mixed into salads, or used as a protein-packed substitute for pasta.
These superpowered little seeds have been the subject of a lot of hype recently, and for good reason. When mixed with liquids, they plump up and create a filling meal or snack that’s heavy on the protein, with 2 grams per tablespoon. In addition to chia pudding, the seeds can be blended into fruit smoothies or sprinkled over a cup of yogurt.
Beans and Rice
Eaten separately, there is insufficient protein in beans and rice, but in combination, they deliver all the necessary amino acids to build new protein in your body. Served as a meal, this duo offers 7 grams of protein per 100g. You might also enjoy wrapping your beans and rice in a tortilla or serving it in a vegetable-based broth as soup or stew.
Made from wheat gluten and spices, seitan is considered a complete protein when cooked with soy sauce and packs a whopping 21 grams of protein per 100g serving. Seitan is most often used as a meat substitute, making it ideal for stir-fry, veggie burgers, or any recipe that calls for ground meat. Seitan is not a safe choice for those with a gluten intolerance, a wheat allergy, or coeliac disease.
Each 3-tablespoon serving of hemp seeds contains 10 grams of protein. They’re best when ground and used in baked goods, but they can also be used as a topping for yoghurt or included in a smoothie. Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids that your body needs to create protein and can easily be incorporated into a plant-based diet.
They might be small, but they pack a protein punch, with 8 grams per 150g. Peas are a tasty side dish option, but they also stand out in salads, vegetable soup, or mashed into a dip for crackers. Peas can be a bit bland, but a bit of salt or mint brings out their delicious sweet flavour. Gently steaming peas preserves most of the nutrients they contain so avoid overcooking them.
Ah, the humble potato. It has a bad rap and is often cited as a “bad food” because of the carbohydrates, but the truth is, a cooked white potato has plenty to bring to the table. In addition to potassium and fibre, an average-sized potato contains around 7 grams of protein. Obviously, you detract from their health benefits by frying them or by mashing them with lashings of butter (or a butter substitute), but a steamed potato is a good way to add to your daily protein intake and makes a nutritious and filling snack or meal when topped with steamed broccoli and soy cheese.
There’s a world of healthy protein filled plant-based foods out there, but if you still worry that you are not getting enough, it pays to investigate the addition of a protein supplement to your diet. You can consider protein powders that you add to water or smoothies, or by adding a vegetarian protein bar to your daily food intake.
In the end, your food choices are yours and it never pays to let society dictate what you eat. If you’ve chosen a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you aren’t in any danger of coming up short on protein if you eat a good variety of foods. Choose the foods you like from this list and add them to your diet and your worries about protein deficiencies won’t warrant any further thought. However, if you specific concerns, a trip to a nutritionist can help you assess where you can add more.