There’s a general concern about whether vegans get enough protein in their diet and even if they do, how could it ever compare to animal sourced sources. Being the building block of our whole muscular and skeletal system, this huge macronutrient needs to be tracked in order to make sure we’re getting an adequate amount each day.
Proteins consist of 21 essential and non-essential amino acids. Nine essential amino acids are the ones which we need to take in from outside sources as our bodies can’t produce them by themselves. The problem that arises for vegans, is the fact that all animal products contain all nine of them, whereas plants need to be combined to make sure none of the essential amino acids are missing. How much protein should we even be ingesting on a daily basis is a topic of many discussions without any real scientifically proven answer, so we’re not gonna dive into it now. However, protein is a crucial macronutrient which we all need in adequate amounts for our bodies to function properly, and learning how to create a well-balanced meal plan is key to a healthy diet. Since plant-based eaters need a bit more help than carnivores, we’ve made a list of 5 easy protein sources for vegans.
Peas are an incredibly vitamin and mineral rich food, and they contain a high amount of protein as well. Preparing them in meals is an excellent way to include them in your diet, but they’ve become extremely popular due to the production of pea protein powder and its replacement for whey or soy protein. Grinding the peas into a powder after which fiber and starch gets removed leaves a highly concentrated form of pea protein isolate. Its greatest benefit is the fact it's hypoallergenic, as it doesn’t contain gluten, soy, dairy, or any of the most common allergens. The majority of people digest it pretty easily and as it’s almost neutral in taste, it pairs well with chocolate, vanilla, or any other natural flavors. Pea protein powders can nowadays be found in almost every store, so try experimenting and add them to smoothies, acai bowls, or homemade protein bars.
After pea protein, hemp is the most common vegan protein source, as it packs 15g in 1/4cup. It’s also a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. People usually find it hard adjusting to its taste, as it’s pretty earthy and not as neutral as pea protein. It pairs well with chocolate as its richness can mask the earthy flavor, but dates and other nuts or coconut can work as well. Troubles with digestion aren’t common, and one of its greatest benefits is the fact that almost all of it gets absorbed by the body. Due to proteins edestin and albumin, which hemp contains, our body can break down all amino acids in a very smooth way. Hemp protein bars could be found in most health food stores, as working with pure powder form at home can be very frustrating while you try to find the best ratio which will mask its strong flavor.
Nuts & Seeds
For the least processed option, nuts and seeds are a great source of protein. Almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds (yes, you read that right!)…all of them are little superfood power bombs which in addition to being high in protein, pack a whole lot of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat. They’re amazing in their pure raw form, as well as lightly roasted, but can be used in desserts, sauces, dressings, processed as nut butters, or added on top of salads or soups for that extra dose of crunchiness. The newest craze around nuts & seeds comes in the form of plant “milks”, also known as “mylks”. Since they’re a great milk alternative not just for vegans, but for everyone who’s lactose intolerant, or otherwise doesn’t/can’t consume animal milk, the market is overflowing with companies trying to make the new best plant mylk. Because of their high fat content, they are incredibly creamy and smooth, and people love adding them to coffee, chai, tea, hot chocolate, or any other beverage of choice. A bunch of companies even have flavored versions, so that everyone can enjoy chocolate milk, no matter which source it came from.
Beans & Legumes
All beans & legumes are a great non-animal protein source and have been used in diets all around the world since the early ages. Because of their great nutritional profile and high amount of fiber, they’re a topic of thousands of research studies which are trying to prove all of their potential health benefits. Although an actual, scientific proof that eating a cup of chickpeas or kidney beans a day will definitely lower your chance of heart disease doesn't exist, including them into your diet, especially if you’re vegan, is an excellent way to go. The variety to choose from is great, as every nation has their own beans & legumes they’ve been cultivating for years. They’re a staple in every traditional stew, curry, and chilli dish, but the awareness of vegan diet brought on tons of new cookbooks and recipes with beans and legumes being the stars, and not just a side dish. Bean burgers, chickpea pasta, and lentil bolognese are just as good as the originals, and many carnivores are staring to opt for making and ordering them in restaurants as well.
Tofu & Seitan
A staple in Asian cuisine for over 2000 years, tofu is a cheese-type of food made from soybeans (soy milk to be exact). It’s pretty bland in flavor so it absorbs all kinds of different spices and sauces, making it a great “canvas” to play with. It can be easily made at home, although majority of people gets the packaged version as it's already ready-to-use. Before the vegan diet became so mainstream, tofu was the one of the first types of food that was used in “meat replacements” and meat alternatives such as vegan burgers, vegan sausages, vegan chicken strips, or scrambled “eggs”. Since the vegan cooking became more creative and spread out, tofu became more of a delicacy, as people started appreciating it in its real form and trying to make the best version of it, rather than treating it as just a meat replacement. The only problem with tofu nowadays is the source from which it’s derived. Unfortunately, the majority of US soybeans are GMO, and therefore, so is tofu. Do your research before your purchase, and pay attention to the country of origin, as some countries completely ban GMO or require super strict regulations.
Seitan on the other hand comes from wheat. Also known as one of the fundamental Asian foods and widely used as a meat substitute, its reach today isn’t as big as tofu because of the amount of people suffering with gluten intolerances, allergies, and sensitivities. Made by removing starch from wheat, seitan literally IS wheat gluten - a protein, and therefore for vegans, a great protein source. Also pretty bland by itself, it’s usually combined with a bunch of spices, flavorings, and other foods, so in addition to making vegan sausages or beef “jerky”, it can also be used in desserts, puddings, and breads.
Non-animal protein sources are vast, but people still fear that going vegan will make them protein deficient. Luckily, there are tons of great cookbooks and recipes nowadays which prove otherwise. It’s time to let all of the fear behind and get creative in the kitchen!