One of the most common questions vegans get asked is: “what about protein?” There are quite a few myths around protein – but you’ll be pleased to know that we don’t need quite as much protein as you might think! It’s also possible to get all of your protein from a plant-based diet.
What is protein and why do we need it?
Put simply, all foods contain a combination of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, these are known as ‘macronutrients’. Our bodies get energy from calories, which come from these macronutrients. All three are vital, but protein is the macronutrient that helps with muscle repair and growth. It keeps your skin, bones, muscles, and organs healthy.
You may hear the term ‘complete protein’ mentioned when discussing the vegan diet. Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids – nine of these can’t be produced by the human body and these are called ‘essential amino acids’. A ‘complete protein’ contains all nine essential amino acids. Meat and eggs are ‘complete’ proteins, but most plants will only have one or a combination of some of the essential amino acids.
What plants contain protein?
All plants contain protein to varying levels, but the below list of foods are known for their high protein content!
- Tofu & tempeh
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Nuts & peanuts
- Brown Rice
- Nutritional Yeast
How much protein do I need?
There’s no clear way to know for sure if you’re getting all the protein your body needs. Even blood tests can’t reliably tell you if your intake is too low. But if you’re protein deficient, you may suffer from:
- chronic fatigue
- high blood sugar or triglyceride levels
- inability to maintain sufficient muscle mass
It’s important if you’re cutting out meat and dairy, you’re replacing this protein with sufficient plant-based proteins instead.
You may have seen recommendations in the UK for 0.75g-1.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. So a person who weighs 60kg should aim for about 45-60g of protein per day. To give a few examples of protein in foods:
100g tofu = 8g protein
80g cooked lentils = 7g protein
80g chickpeas = 6g protein
25g peanut butter = 6g protein
Combining plant proteins
It used to be thought that vegans needed to consume combinations of foods that included complementary amino acids to make up a complete protein at every meal. We now know that eating a variety of protein sources across the day will do the trick, however the following combinations will ensure you are eating a complete protein source in a single meal.
- Hummus & whole wheat pita bread
- Peanut butter on whole grain toast/bagel/English muffin
- Beans or tofu with rice
- Pasta and peas
- Spirulina with grains, oats, nuts or seeds (e.g in a smoothie)
- Bean soup with crackers
- Soups or stews that include legumes and grains
- Bean salad with nuts or seeds
- Tofu stir-fry with whole-grain noodles and peanuts
Complete plant proteins include:
- Soy (tofu, tempeh, soy milk)
If you feel like you aren’t quite getting enough protein from the above sources, or you just want to add a little boost to a smoothie or your oats, you can supplement your protein intake with protein powder. These are often made from isolating the proteins from peas, soy, hemp, brown rice or other plants, and the amount of protein per gram is higher than can be found in the food alone.
MyProtein do a brilliant range of vegan powders in lots of yummy flavours – and you can get a 35% discount with the code STEPH at checkout.
Please note that all of the information given here is general in nature; you should ask your doctor about your specific needs, do your own research and listen to your body!