If you are someone who is planning to increase plant-based consumption in your daily diet or even considering fully adopting a plant-based diet, you must have been seeking answers for some of these queries -
Although the questions are not just limited to the ones mentioned above, the context remains the same -
“Can you consume a healthy amount of protein on a plant-based diet?"
This article breaks down every facet of this crucial nutrient that is fundamental in the upkeep of our body. We will discuss the main sources of protein, how to maintain a nutritionally balanced plant-based diet, and other tips to help you get the most out of food that is rich in protein.
With the paradigm shift toward veganism, it is beneficial to have proper knowledge about the nutritional impact of a plant-based diet. Contrary to popular belief, vegetarian and vegan foods can fulfill your daily requirements of protein.
Before talking about vegan foods that are high in protein, we need to understand more about the nutritional content of animal and vegetal protein sources.
Our bodies need 22 types of amino acids to function effectively. We produce 13 of these autonomously, but have to mandatorily consume the remaining 9. These 9 are known as essential amino acids - histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Amino Acids are building blocks for protein, made by the amino acids consumed by your body and the ones that it naturally produces. You need all 20 amino acids for proper functioning of proteins, its main roles being repair and regulation of your body’s tissues and organs. They aid muscle formation and also help in the maintenance of enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters. So, it’s clear that protein plays a huge role in your body’s upkeep.
It can not be disputed that animal-based diets provide healthful amounts of protein whereas plants, on the other hand, contain only a few of the essential amino acids. In fact, soy, buckwheat and quinoa are among the very few vegan foods that are high in protein and also contain all the essential amino acids. All others contain only 2-3 of them. This may give you an impression that plant-foods aren’t all that suitable if you want a protein-rich diet, but that does not necessarily paint an accurate picture.
When it comes to a balanced diet, we also need to consider a mixture of different nutrients to fulfill our daily requirements of protein. For instance, animals are rich in heme iron and vitamin B complex, especially B-12. On the other hand, plants comprise fibers, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Moreover, plant-foods are not associated with as many saturated fats and cholesterol as animal protein sources are; not to mention the risks posed by processed meat that form a significant portion of everyday meals for about 70% Americans. Taking that into account, high-protein plant foods with low calories has to be your best bet as a vegan to get the most out of your plant-based sustenance.
The dietary reference intake of protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. This estimate is for an average sedentary person. If you have an active lifestyle, your body needs more to build muscles, release energy and function normally. Similarly, when bulking up or losing weight, your daily requirements of protein may change. When these demands are not fulfilled, protein is not available for replacement and building of body tissue, and our bodies start losing lean body tissue.
Thus, one needs to eat the right amount of protein to sustain themselves; which doesn't happen as smoothly with a vegan diet. More so, if you are a vegan athlete or someone who is new to the plant-based diet, accustomed to higher amounts of protein and are worried about what will happen if you stop consuming meat.
The concerns are valid since it is true (as we discussed in the previous section) that most plant foods are incomplete sources of protein. Additionally, plant foods also take more time to be digested. Here begs another question, have you adopted a vegan diet for ethical or environmental reasons? or are you simply trying to design a diet plan which is exclusively protein-rich? If it is the latter, you are likely better off with balanced amounts of meat in your diet. However, for the people who have adopted veganism for the long haul, we have curated a list of protein-rich foods for you.
Add the following food items to your daily meals and consume them consistently in the right quantities for maximum advantage.
Beans, peas and lentils are the best sources of vegetal protein.
Peanuts and soybeans are two complete sources of protein that carry about 38 and 32g of it per cup. The rest like lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans and lima beans offer 15g, which is enough to fulfill one's daily requirements of protein. They also contain fiber, B vitamins and phosphorus.
And what’s better than the fact that there are delicious varieties of legumes? - While beans and peas go amazingly well with your salads and curries, you can easily grind chickpeas into delicious hummus.
Talking about hummus, why not replace pita with a more protein-rich bread option? Ezequiel bread contains about 5g of protein in each slice, almost equivalent to a small egg.
It is made up of a variety of legumes and whole grains including wheat, millet, barley, spelt, soybeans and lentils. So, if you are looking for filling high protein foods with low calories, Ezekiel bread is a must buy for your next grocery trip.
Just remember that it is not gluten-free.
Despite being a legume, soy deserves a separate mention among plant-based sources of protein.
Vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains may suffice your dietary needs but soy products also add a distinguished texture to everyday food. In fact, tofu and tempeh are great meat substitutes. With their mild flavor profiles and savoury texture, they can replace meat in most high protein vegan recipes.
Another delicious soy product is soy nuts. They are made by baking soaked soy and are similar to peanuts, thus making great snacks.
When talking about meaty deliciousness in vegan diets, we can't miss out on seitan, can we?
It is a gluten protein, usually made out of wheat flour. Each 100g of seitan contains about 25g of protein. Besides, it behaves as an excellent meat substitute. With a unique flavor of its own, seitan blends with any recipe and helps meet your daily requirements of protein.
Earthy and flavorful mushrooms bring umami to the vegan world. But besides this, they too are high protein foods with low calories. Some varieties of mushrooms are rich in D and B vitamins as well; thus, having a more holistic nutrition profile. So, if you are a rookie vegan feeling less energetic lately, include these gems in your diet.
Nuts rule the market of snackable vegan foods that are high in protein. They also have fiber, calcium, B vitamins and antioxidants. Besides, some nuts like walnuts and pecans (which is technically a dried fruit) have a good content of Omega-3 as well.
However, despite these many health benefits, nuts must be consumed in limited quantities because of their high calorific value. Some of them might also be allergenic so do assess your probable allergies before you consume any type of nuts.
Although seeds like chia, hemp, pumpkin and flax have high calorific values, they are brilliant sources of protein for vegans. Besides, they contain omega-3 fats so much so that they are almost indispensable for people who don't consume fish.
The best part about these seeds is that they are so versatile that they go into your breakfast porridges, sauces and smoothies without changing the flavor profile very much.
Fun fact: Cashews and pistachios disguise as nuts but are actually seeds!
Another complete source of vegetal protein is Buckwheat. It is rich in B vitamins and stands at par with animal protein sources. In fact, this pseudo-cereal contains around 5.5g of protein per cup.
And what's more, it is a versatile ingredient. Be it pancakes, salads, pastas or even smoothies, buckwheat adds its distinct flavor and nutritional benefits on any type of dish.
Brown rice is the most well-known when it comes to food high in protein for vegans. Besides, it gets digested faster than many other plant-based proteins.
However, it is also an incomplete protein and must be paired with other dishes like legumes, asparagus and nuts. Throw a cup of brown rice in a pan with ginger, radish and tofu to make one a scrumptious high-protein stir-fried rice dish. .
These pseudo-cereals are high protein foods with low calories. Besides all 9 essential amino acids, they have iron, thiamine and folate so much that they make easy-to-cook wholesome breakfasts. Soak these grains a night before and whip up some porridge to make your lazy mornings healthier.
Green vegetables like artichokes, broccoli, kale and asparagus are known for their antioxidants and folate content. But did you know that they are also high protein foods with low calories? Plus, stir-frying vegetables is as simple as it gets.
So, the next time you can't decide what to cook, throw some greens into the pan, season the way you like and serve it hot with rice and beans.
Again something that deserves a special mention! Strange as it might sound, leaving potatoes out of high protein vegan recipes kills your efforts towards eating healthy. Potatoes contain 3g of protein per cup.
Although the content is not substantial, recent research has found that white potatoes contain rare lysine, methionine, cysteine and threonine. So, despite high calories, potatoes must be consumed with other foods to get maximum vegetal protein.
Pro tip: Remember to wash potatoes thoroughly and eat the skins. They are the most nutritious.
While most fruits are not great sources of protein, guavas offer 9g in a cup. Other high-protein foods with low calories include kiwi, apricot and berries.
These juicy snacks add freshness to your diet and an element of guilt-free sweetness. So, why not go for these delicious foods that are high in protein?
Fun fact: Avocado and jackfruit (fruits that guise as vegetables) are good meat substitutes.
Milk derived from nuts, legumes and whole grains is a great source of proteins in a beverage form, suited for vegans. However, the contents vary depending on the source of milk extraction.
Pea milk - 8g
Soy milk - 6.5g
Cashew milk - 4.5g
Hemp milk - 3g
One thing you must remember here is that each of these has a different flavor profile. So, you need to be mindful while using them in different recipes.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that is well known for its health benefits. In fact, NASA proposed growing it in outer space for astronauts' use.
A spoonful of this compound contains 4g of vegetal protein of great quality; not to mention, it also is a source of B vitamins, several minerals and antioxidants. Although a processed supplement, spirulina can be consumed with a regular diet.
When people start increasing the amount of plant-based foods as against meat, they tend to feel hungrier and less energetic. This is mainly due to lack of protein. While it can temporarily be supplemented with a good vegan protein powder, it is better to plan out your diet in the long run. You must balance the complete and incomplete sources of protein to fulfill your average nutritional requirement.
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