It can often be frustrating to a Vegan to be asked the question ' Where do you get your protein from?'. With the majority of us being Omnivores, we are so used to our protein sources being animal-based. As we get used to incorporating more plant-based eating into our lives, we need to learn about alternative protein sources.
It's true that animal protein does in general contain higher amounts of protein in a more consistent manner, so it can be a challenge to find non-animal sources of protein - but certainly far from impossible. In fact, an individual following a well-balanced vegan diet can exceed the daily intake for protein of an Omnivore who is not taking enough care of their own nutrition.
The key is knowledge, and education on nutritious and protein-dense plant foods is essential if you want to thrive. A lack of knowledge can mean a Vegan isn’t meeting their dietary needs for many minerals, vitamins, and macro nutrients (apart from carbohydrates) – and a novice Vegan striving for a more ethical way of eating can easily fall into the rut of carbohydrate comas or tofu every night from mere convenience.
How much protein do we actually need?
Contrary to popular belief, we really do not need that much protein in our diet. The Western diet in general is known for its protein overkill, as the recommended intake is approximately 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, equating to roughly 56g for the average sedentary man, and 46g for the same in women.
Vegan sources of protein are usually packed full of nutrition, making them – at times- even superior to their animal counterpart, so vegan or not, you can reap the benefits of adding these foods into your diet.
- Hemp Seeds
You may have struggled finding these brown little seeds before, but they are definitely becoming the latest health trend now! They are packed full of fibre and essential fatty acids including omega-3s and omega-6, and yes they are from the Cannabis sativa plant but are not psychoactive in any way -containing less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects.
They are also a fantastic source of protein, containing nearly 10g in every 30g (nearly a Tablespoon) and contain all nine essential amino acids – making them a complete protein source. They are also very tasty, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons over salads and stir-frys or whiz up in a smoothie and you’ve met approximately a third of your daily protein requirement!
- Non-Dairy Milk
One cup of either Soy or Almond Milk can pack about 7-9g of protein depending on how much they’ve been fortified, so check the nutrition label. This super versatile food contains more protein than an egg, making it a great source of protein when you consider you could be having approximately 2-3 cups daily if you are drinking lattes or adding it into smoothies.
The things you can do with nut butter could fill a book, from stuffing dates to stirring through coconut yoghurt, adding to smoothies or making delicious vegan cheesecakes – the list is truly endless. A couple of tablespoons provides approximately 8g of protein, making it a fabulously delicious way of getting protein and healthy fats into your diet, along with an array of vitamins and minerals which vary depending on which nut you go for.
Never feel guilty for slathering the Peanut Butter on your toast again! But remember the other delicious types including Almond, Cashew, Macadamia, Brazil etc. that you can find in your local health food store or in the health food aisle at the local supermarket!
Despite being a traditional food of the South Americans for hundreds of years, quinoa is still regarded as somewhat of a trendy health food many trouble to pronounce (if you are still in this camp its phonetically spelt ‘keenwah’). Quinoa is a gluten-free grain with a high amount of protein – approximately 14g per 100g.
And its no wonder it has a health food status, being also high in fibre, magnesium, iron, B vitamins and more. Not to mention being a complete protein by containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s a food EVERYONE should enjoy!
You could call tofu the staple protein source of many vegetarians and vegans, and of course the one protein source every one associates with this diet. But it is a much-maligned ingredient that not only packs 9g of protein per 120g, but can be a very versatile and delicious addition to so many dishes.
The key with tofu is how to use this bean curd in recipes, and to appreciate its ability to soak up other flavours in the dish. This makes it perfect for adding to stir fries, curries, stews, and so much more.
Ok, admittedly Tempeh is a variation of Tofu, but we’ve added it to the list because we consider it almost a completely different ingredient. By going through a natural culturing and fermentation process that binds the soybeans into a type of cake-like form, transforms both its taste and texture – making it firmer, with a stronger, nuttier flavour
One cup provides a whopping 30g of protein, basically as much as a single chicken breast! Like tofu it is also very versatile and can almost be used as a meat substitute, but is delicious on its own dipped in a little tamari with garlic, ginger, chilli and a touch of sesame oil.
Ubiquitous in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, this member of the legume family is used prolifically throughout the world by vegans and non-vegans alike. Its economical, full of fibre, versatile, tasty, and contains an enormous 18g of protein per cup! If you’re eating a cup and a half of dahl or lentil Bolognese for lunch or dinner, why would you need a steak?
Although also part of the legume family, they are regarded as being a little different to lentils. Generally speaking, a cup provides between 13-15g of protein, and of course is a very well-known Vego food being a nutritious blend of carbohydrate and protein.
Beans are once again extremely economical, which probably explains why they are one of the most used ingredients around the world. They also contain high amounts of insoluble fibre - adding bulk to stools and helping to increase bowel regularity. For those who are new to eating beans on a regular basis, this increase in fibre can cause symptoms of excess wind and bloating. The key is to start incorporating them slowly, and in small amounts, where the bacteria in your gut can adjust and become more adept at digesting this increase in fibre!
This blue-green algae is often touted as a super detox food and used as a popular dietary supplement among those looking to cleanse their systems, but it has actually been a source of nutrition for the native people of Central Africa and America for centuries.
Its well-known for its positive effects on many internal systems including the gut and liver, as well as having possible effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But it is also a nutritious food supplement very high in protein, containing 4g per Tablespoon.
- Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional Yeast is a Vegan’s best friend, as this deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae not only has a strong nutty flavour that makes an excellent cheese substitute, but contains around 5g of protein per tablespoon. So use it anywhere you might add Parmesan Cheese, or as a delicious seasoning to popcorn or hot chips!
As you can see, it is in no way more difficult to get adequate protein in your diet as a Vegan, in fact there are many incredibly varied and nutritious ways to reach your protein intake, and it's probably surprising to a lot of people that plant-based foods can actually contain such high amounts! Hopefully this encourages more of us to increase the amount of plant-based foods in our diets for all the health and environmental benefits this entails, whether Vegan, Vego, or Omnivore.