A vegan diet eliminates any food source that is made of any animal by-products. Since animal sources and milk-based whey supplements are removed from dietary options, vegans often get bombarded with questions about where their protein comes from.
Whether you choose a vegan diet due to health concerns, to take control of your weight, or because of your moral views, ensuring you are getting enough protein can become a concern. Without consuming meat and other animal products, where can you get added protein? How much is enough? And, is it really something to be concerned about?
The Reality of Protein Sources
It is actually a common misconception that the only way to get protein is by eating meats, fish, and eggs. There are plenty of sources out there that are vegan diet-friendly and if you plan your diet accordingly, it can provide you with all of the nutrition your body needs. Also, the over-concern about needing an abundance of protein is misplaced. It is true, protein is an essential nutrient that is important to the proper functioning of our bodies, but we do not need a ton of it. In fact, we only need about 10% - 12% of our calories to come from protein.
If not from Meat, Then Where?
Just because you need protein to keep your body in shape and healthy, does not mean you have to get it from animal sources. Plant-based diets do contain some protein. However, not all of these proteins contain complete proteins. A complete protein means that the food contains all of the necessary amino acids. Of all the amino acids needed some can be produced by your own body. However, there are 9 amino acids that have to come from your diet. Since animal products contain all of them, they are considered complete.
Still, if you vary your plant-based diet, you can still manage to get your daily recommended value. The following list will give you a few options that are vegan-friendly and nearly complete sources of protein. You can combine them and vary them to ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs.
Natural Food Sources
This crunchy ancient grain has a wonderfully nutty flavor. It is very versatile and can be used in place of rice in most dishes. You can also create porridge for breakfast or grind it to use in place of flour for baking. Most whole grains have little to no lysine (one of those important amino acids). Quinoa does contain lysine as well as the other 8. It also only takes one cup of cooked quinoa to get 8g of protein. Add in the fact that it is gluten-free, naturally low-fat, and all of the additional vitamins and nutrients, and you have a holy grail for vegans.
Seitan is a rich source of protein. It is made from gluten, the main protein found in wheat. When cooked, its texture and look resemble cooked meat. It is a good swap-out for actual animal meats and can be sautéed, fried, and grilled the same way. As far as protein, seitan will provide 20g for every 3oz portion.
Tofu is essentially a soft curd that is made from soy milk made similar to cheese. It is a terrific source of protein giving you 8g for every 3.5oz. Each serving is also low-calorie, low-fat, and full of other nutrients.
Chia are tiny seeds that form a gel when soaked in liquids. This makes them great for jams and desserts. Often you can find them masquerading in the role of an egg in baked goods. You can sprinkle them on cereals, add them to smoothies, or mix them in baked goods.
Love hummus? Need protein? Then you are in luck because chickpeas (the main ingredient in hummus) contain all 9 amino acids and will give you about 60% of your protein needs. Besides hummus, chickpeas can be used in dips, as a condiment, used in soups and sauces, and even in ice cream.
Besides fresh options that take some prep work, special sections in grocery stores, and specialized food stores that make meals easy with prepared foods that take the guesswork out of eating according to your diet. There are also online retailers such as BHU Foods that offer prepared snacks like their vegan protein cookies and that will help supplement your protein intake in a vegan-friendly way.
Incorporating a vegan diet into your lifestyle does not have to be concerning or confusing. Understanding the different protein sources that you can integrate into your meals will help ensure your body is getting enough to remain healthy.
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