Contrary to popular belief, following a vegan diet doesn't entail complex food combinations to ensure adequate protein. But in a world where most protein is measured by meat and dairy sources, how do you know you're getting enough protein on a vegan diet?
Protein is important for maintaining muscles, bones, hair and nails, for keeping the immune system strong, and preventing fatigue. Protein is made up of amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are called essential amino acids because we need to get them from food x- we need them to survive. Meat, eggs and dairy contain all nine essential amino acids and are often referred to as complete protein. But how do you get complete protein from plant foods?
Complete Protein for Vegans
Soya bean, quinoa and spinach are all complete protein. That is, they contain the nine essential amino acids we need. Other protein sources from plants usually have all of the essential amino acids but their amounts are very low. For example, grains are lower in lysine (an essential amino acid) and legumes are lower in methionine (another essential amino acid).
That's why the notion of food combining came into being. If you eat a grain (such as brown rice) with a legume (such as lentils) you get complete protein (all nine essential amino acids). It's widely accepted today that if you your caloric intake is enough to maintain your body weight and you eat several servings of legume-based foods each day you'll get enough protein – without having to worry about food combining.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The amount of protein each person needs depends on their weight and level of physical activity. On average men need 55 grams per day and women need 45 grams. Some people say vegans should aim for 10% more because plant protein is harder to metabolise.
Vegan Protein Sources
So where can you find these protein sources?
- TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
- Soya milk
TVP or tofu are extremely versatile. Eat them alone or add them to mock meat dishes such as bolognaise, stir-frys, vegie meatloaf, lasagne, stew etc.
Nuts and Seeds
- Pistachios are especially high in lysine
- Try hazelnut, almond or peanut butters on wholemeal toast or sandwiches
- Blend cashew nuts into a banana smoothie for added protein
- Sprinkle sunflower seeds on salads
- Red beans, black beans, broad beans, kidney beans, lima beans, aduki beans, mung beans, lentils, peas
- Use chickpeas to make falafel or hummus
- Wholemeal flour, amaranth, millet, oats, brown rice for cooking
- Wholemeal rye bread
- Sprinkle wheat germ into casseroles or smoothies
- Bake potato
- Brussel sprouts, spinach, broccoli or other green vegetables
If you eat a variety of vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds every day you can be sure you're getting plenty of protein in your vegan diet.Originally published on Jun 09, 2011