What are the Best Vegan Protein Sources?
One of the questions most frequently asked of vegans is “Where do you get your protein?” The truth is that people frequently overestimate the amount of protein that a non-athlete needs to consume. The USDA recommends a daily protein intake of only 56 grams per day, which is easy to achieve on a vegan diet. What can be difficult as a vegan is getting a broad enough range of protein sources. Meat contains all of the essential amino acids needed to construct the proteins that make up human muscle cells, whereas most vegetables and beans contain only a limited range. There are some notable exceptions, known as “complete protein” foods. Below is a list of vegan protein sources, including some complete proteins. The best way to get the full range of essential amino acids is to regularly eat a wide variety of these foods.
The humble soy bean is an amazingly nutritious and versatile food. Soy is available in many forms, such as tofu, miso, soy milk and edamane. It is a complete protein, and that is not its only health-giving property: after reviewing over 50 scientific studies, the FDA approved a recommended intake of 25 grams of soy protein per day in order to lower cholesterol.
Quinoa is another complete protein, which the Incas referred to as the “mother of all grains” due to its nutritional properties. It can be eaten instead of rice or pasta to increase the protein content of a meal.
As well as being a good source of protein, lentils also contain iron. Lentils are cheap, easy to prepare, and make a very good substitute for minced meat in recipes such as bolognese or cottage pie.
Beans come in almost endless varieties, such as kidney beans, black beans, white beans and cannellini beans. They are another cheap protein source. You should eat a wide variety of different types of beans to obtain the maximum benefit.
Peas and Chickpeas
Did you know that the garden peas on the side of your plate are actually an excellent source of protein? 1 cup of green peas contains nearly 10 grams of protein. Chickpeas (also known as garbonzo beans) are even better, with 1 cup providing 15 grams of protein.
When you use seeds as a protein source, you get the added bonus of healthy unsaturated fats such as Omega 3, 6 and 9. Pumpkin seeds are particularly high in protein, at 29 grams per 100 grams, and are also rich in iron. Seeds are a delicious addition to muesli, salads or home-made bread
Nuts are a tasty and satisfying snack that provide protein, unsaturated fats and fibre. Health food stores sell a variety of nut butters – not just peanut – that are delicious to eat on toast or use in baking. Once again, variety is the key, so aim to eat as many different types as nuts as possible.
Seitan is a traditional Chinese food made from wheat gluten. It is very popular in Asian food and makes a great meat substitute. You'll find it in health food stores or Asian markets.
All vegetables contain protein, with leafy greens such as spinach and kale being some of the best sources. It's surprising how much protein you can pack into a low-calorie salad when you pack it full of these nutritious greens.
Wholegrains such as brown rice, oats, brown bread and wholewheat pasta contain more protein than white, processed carbohydrates. They also have the advantage of being high in B vitamins and fibre. Always opt for the wholegrain alternative for an easy way to increase your protein intake.