5 Best Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians
Proteins are the building blocks of life. Protein makes up about 17% of your body weight and is an essential nutrient for growing and maintaining tissues and keeping your hair and skin strong and healthy. Our immune system also requires protein to help make antibodies that are required to help fight infections and illness. Protein also plays an important role in fat metabolism, blood sugar regulation and energy function.
The general concern about vegan and vegetarian diets is that they might not consume enough protein. In addition to avoiding meat, vegans take their diet a step further than vegetarians because they cut out all animal byproducts including protein-rich foods like milk, Greek yogurt, eggs, and certain brands of candies that contain gelatin.
Despite these numerous dietary restrictions, several studies stated that a planned vegetarian or vegan diet can give you all the nutrients you need. As a vegan, it’s important that all the amino acids are included in the diet to provide optimum nutrition.
How much protein do we really need a day?
The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for an average adult is set at 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. So a person weighing 65kg needs 65 x 0.75g per day, which is 50g. Check out this handy calculator from the FDA to find out how much protein you should be getting each day.
High-protein vegan foods
These plant-based protein sources help you to get enough protein if you are having a vegan or vegetarian diet or just trying to eat more plants and less meat.
1. Quinoa (14g protein per 1 cup)
Quinoa is a seed and you can find red, white, black or mixed varieties. It contains all 22 amino acids, making it a great substitute for rice. One cup of uncooked quinoa provides approximately 14 grams of protein. In addition to being a complete protein, quinoa provides more fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc than many common grains. Quinoa can fill in for pasta in soups and stews. It is even versatile enough to make muffins, fritters, cookies, and breakfast casseroles.
2. Chickpeas (14g of protein per 1 cup)
Chickpeas are rich in protein, fiber, folate, phosphorus, iron, and fatty acids. A cup serving of chickpeas has about 14g of protein. It can be eaten cold or hot. For example, chickpeas can be added to curries and stews, or roasted in the oven.
3. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
Soy products are among the richest sources of protein in a plant-based diet as they provide your body all the essential amino acids it needs. The protein content varies with how the soy is prepared:
½ cup of firm tofu (soybean curds) provides about 10 g of protein
½ cup of edamame beans (immature soybeans) provide 8.5 g of protein per
½ cup of tempeh provides about 15 g of protein
Tempeh is a soy-based food that makes a great meat substitute. It is popular with vegans and vegetarians because it is a good source of protein, B vitamins, probiotics and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus. A 3-ounce serving of tempeh contains 13g of protein.
Tempeh is much chewier and nuttier than tofu. It can be used in a variety of recipes, ranging from soups to burgers and salads.
4. Lentils (17.9g of protein per 1 cup)
Lentils are high in protein, fiber, and key nutrients, including folate, manganese, iron and potassium. Cooked lentils contain 17.9g of protein per 1 cup. Lentils also provide good amounts of slowly digested carbs, and a single cup (240 ml) contains approximately 50% of the daily recommended fiber intake. They can be used in a variety of dishes, ranging from fresh salads to stews, curries and hearty soups, to give an extra portion of protein.
5. Chia seeds (1g protein per tablespoon)
Chia seeds are a complete source of protein that contain 2 g of protein per tablespoon. Chia seeds also contain high levels of iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds. These little seeds can be used in breakfasts, sprinkled over salads and soups, or as a healthy dessert and smoothie.
Despite some concerns over being able to consume enough protein on a vegan or vegetarian diet, many high protein plant-based foods are available. As a vegan, you still get all nine essential amino acids by having a well-planned diet. It may just need a little more effort.
To ensure you get all the amino acids needed on a vegan or vegetarian diet, try incorporating a variety of these complete or incomplete protein sources listed into your diet.