Switching out meat and eggs in your refrigerator with fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to set you back at the gym. Putting the age-old protein debate to rest – here’s a quick guide to the best sources of the macronutrient for vegans.
Sign up for a plant-based lifestyle, and you’re bound to be confronted by the classic “where do you get your protein?” query. With a bit of advice on deficiencies, amino acids, and bioavailability thrown in for good measure. In fact, the subject is now intrinsic to any conversation centred on diets that eliminate meat and other food groups known to be major food sources of the macronutrient. This often stems from the knowledge that protein – which cannot be stored in the body – is essential for several body functions, whether it’s to build bones, support immune function, or get swole at the gym.
That said, if you were to ask most experts – or refer to scientific studies – protein is yet to be deemed a scarce resource in the world of all things plant-based. It’s interesting to note, however, that while animal sources contain all nine essential amino acids used to build protein, plants might typically offer a limited amount or miss out on a few. However, mix things up a bit with several different sources, and you’ll easily hit your daily recommended intake figures. If you’re in the market for some good quality, protein-rich options for your vegan lifestyle, we’ve got a quick guide that’s perfect.
Perfect sources of protein for a vegan lifestyle
A cake-like Indonesian staple made from fermented soybeans, tempeh comes out on top of all vegan protein roundups. And for good reason. Soybeans – which make up its base – are considered complete sources of protein. That is, they contain all the nine essential amino acids the body needs. That’s not all, it also packs in probiotics, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Tempeh has a strong, pungent, nutty flavour and that quickly transforms based on what you add it to. It tastes best when marinated with a bouquet of spices and popularly features in stews and sandwiches.
Protein content: 19 g (per 100 g serving)
Look up a healthy salad recipe online and you’re bound to spot this seed in the ingredients list. Quinoa is a type of edible seed that comes in black, red, yellow, and white. In cultivation for over 5000 years, it’s indigenous to South America – Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru. A good source of complex carbs – which don’t spike blood sugar – as well as fibre, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium – quinoa makes for an excellent alternative to white rice. It can also be ground into a flour to make bread, added to cake batters, moulded into fritters, blended into smoothies, or even stirred into soups. The subtle nutty flavour really elevates any culinary creation, while the nutritional benefits make it hard to beat. Not to mention – like soy – quinoa contains all the essential amino acids. Best part? It’s gluten free, making it safe for consumption by those who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease.
Protein content: 5 g (per 100 g serving, cooked)
One legume to trump them all, lentils are often referred to as pulses and feature prominently in stews, soups, salads, and breads amongst other foods. Native to Western Asia and North America, these are a staple across several cultures. Nutritionally, they come with hearty doses of folate, manganese, fibre, iron, and heart-healthy antioxidants. They have a mellow, nutty, earthy flavour that works well in a host of recipes. To really experiment, try stuffing lentils into sweet potato pockets or moulding them into patties for burgers.
Protein content: 9 g (per 100 gs serving, cooked)
Another ingredient that’s popular to Asian cultures – Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese to be precise – seitan is made from wheat gluten. More specifically, it’s the protein portion of wheat that gives it that signature elastic quality. For centuries, it has been used by Buddhist monks as a substitute for meat. Naturally, it’s now gained steam within the vegan movement. The ingredient is a good source of iron, calcium, and phosphorus and has a neutral flavour. This makes it ideal to be grilled and fried into most delicacies. Best parts? It is one of the best sources of plant protein and closely resembles the texture of meat.
Protein content: 75 g (per 100 g serving)
Adding that signature vibrant hue to green smoothies isn’t the only reason this superfood has gained such popularity over the years. The blue-green algae packs in nutrition as well. In fact, it offers high amounts of magnesium, riboflavin, manganese, potassium, and essential fatty acids. Best part? It features all essential amino acids, and all you need is a few tablespoons to reap the benefits. Spirulina has a grassy, mildly bitter flavour that works best when incorporated into pancake batter, smoothies, or juices with other sweet ingredients.
Protein content: 57 g (per 100 g serving)
This cool-weather vegetable is one of the more popular out there – featuring in soups, curries, bread, stews, and more. Split pea soup is native to North America, while there’s several staple delicacies with the ingredient across Northern Europe, Russia, and India as well. Research has found that they’re excellent sources of iron, folate, vitamins A, C, K, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and several B-vitamins. They also pack in fibre and are believed to have more protein than a cup of dairy milk. To experiment with their sweet yet savoury flavour, incorporate them into tacos, salads, and pastas.
Protein content: 5 g (per 100 g)
The star ingredient of healthy breakfasts and the secret behind the most delicious plant-based coffees and smoothies – oats are a must-have in any pantry. Although traditionally associated with Scotland, where oatmeal has a long culinary history, the grain has now taken the world by storm. And for good reason. They pack in magnesium, zinc, folate, and phosphorous while being a good source of complex carbohydrates and fibre. Oats have a mild, nutty flavour that works well in both savoury and sweet porridge recipes. They’re also ideal for plant-based milks, burger patties, breads, cookies, cakes, smoothies, and more. Our recommendation? Unique baked oatmeal delicacies that taste like dessert.
Protein content: 13 g (per 100 g)
Another wildly popular superfood, chia seeds feature prominently in breakfast pudding recipes on the internet. They’re the edible seeds of the flowering plants from the mint family and have a neutral, nutty flavour as well as crunchy texture that works well when added to puddings, smoothies, juices, salads, and even pancake batter. That said, you could sprinkle them onto almost anything. Most vegan recipes also switch out eggs with chia seeds since they bind ingredients quite the same way. Nutritionally, they pack in iron, calcium, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and magnesium. They’re also one of the best sources of vegan protein.
Protein content: 17 g (per 100 g)
Right on the heels of chia seeds are yet another type of seeds known to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, calcium, selenium, and zinc. Sourced from the cannabis sativa plant, hemp, it often gets confused with cannabis itself but doesn’t contain the main psychoactive ingredient – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – that the latter contains. These seeds have an earthy, nutty flavour quite like sunflower seeds and pine nuts and are easy to work with. You could sprinkle them into salads, sandwiches, smoothies, or even your everyday avocado toast for some added crunch and nutrition. Best part? Hemp seeds contain all essential amino acids.
Protein content: 30 g (per 100 g seving)
If there’s ever a reason to eat your vegetables, it’s this one. Most traditional options, like broccoli (3 g per 80 g), spinach (2 g per 80 g), and brussels sprouts (3 g per 80 g), contain respectable amounts of protein. Not to mention, they also come with a host of nutrients like calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and fibre. That aside, vegetables are essential to a healthy diet and need to make up for a major portion of your plate – regardless of the diet or lifestyle you follow.
Experts recommend consuming about 0.75 g of protein per kg of your body weight every day. This means an adult weighing 50 kg would need about 37.5 g of protein every day. Besides these sources, vegans can opt for thoughtfully-crafted protein powders or nutritional bars. Don’t forget, variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to the plant-based lifestyle.
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