Protein is made up of chains of molecules known as amino acids. There are 20 amino acids found in nature that your body can use to build protein. Out of these 20 amino acids, 9 are considered essential, which means that your body cannot produce them itself, so you need to get them from your diet. The remaining 11 are considered non-essential, as your body can produce them from the 9 essential amino acids. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a minimum daily protein intake of 0.8 grams (g) of protein per kilogram of body weight. People aiming to build muscle, pregnant or nursing women, and older adults may need more protein.
Animal products such as meat, eggs, and milk are naturally high in protein, which is an essential nutrient made up of amino acids. This makes it easier for people who consume animal products to meet their daily protein needs. The human body creates 11 amino acids but must get another nine from food. Animal products are complete proteins, meaning they contain all the amino acids. Some plant products, such as soya beans and quinoa, are also complete proteins while others are incomplete proteins. A person following a vegan or vegetarian diet should eat a varied diet of plant-based foods to get the required range of amino acids.
Being vegan can have its challenges for athletes and those who exercise, as it is important to ensure there is adequate energy and protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as some key nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc and iron, as well as calorie intake. A recent study by the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” found that vegan diets can be more difficult to maintain and that there may be some issues around digestion and absorption of key nutrients, but with careful management and some supplementation, a vegan diet can achieve the needs of most athletes satisfactorily. Whether you are an omnivore or a vegetarian, under this article you can find a plant-based great source of protein and real benefit in helping to reduce animal proteins in the diet.
Soy products are among the richest sources of protein in a plant-based diet. People can try tofu, as a meat substitute, in a favorite sandwich or soup. Tofu is also a popular meat substitute in some dishes. Tofu, or bean curd, is derived from soya and just 100g of tofu provides 8g protein. Tofu is very versatile as it can be cooked in many ways, including baking and stir-frying, as well as blending it into soups to make them creamier and higher in protein. These soy products also contain good levels of calcium and iron, which makes them healthful substitutes for dairy products.
A pulse is actually an edible seed that grows in a pod, and this therefore includes all beans, peas and lentils. These make a great, low-fat and affordable source of plant protein and provide plenty of variety. Different pulses include different level of protein content.
- Lentils – Lentils contain plenty of protein, fiber, and key nutrients, including iron and potassium. Cooked lentils contain 8-9g of protein per 100g. Lentils are a great source of protein to add to a lunch or dinner routine. They can be added to stews, curries, salads, or rice to give an extra portion of protein.
- Chickpeas – Cooked chickpeas are containing around 7g of protein per 100g. Chickpeas can be eaten hot or cold, and are highly versatile with plenty of recipes available online. They can be added to stews and curries, or spiced with paprika and roasted in the oven.
- Garden peas – Garden peas are containing around 7g of protein per 100g.
- Beans – Beans are containg 7-10g protein per 100g.
Quinoa is a seed and you can find white, red, black or mixed varieties. 100g of quinoa (cooked weight) will provide almost 4g protein, but it’s also known as a complete protein which means it contains all 22 amino acids, making it a great alternative to carbohydrates such as rice and couscous.
- Nut and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are again very versatile and can be used with meals or as a snack to ensure adequate protein, and energy, is maintained throughout the day. Some of the best nut and seed proteins include:
Peanuts – Peanuts are protein rich, full of healthful fats, and may improve heart health. They contain around 20.5 g of protein per 100g. Peanut butter is also rich in protein, with 3.6 g per tablespoon.
Hemp seeds – 5g per heaped tablespoon
Almonds – Almonds offer 3g of protein for every six almonds. They also provide a good amount of vitamin E, which is great for the skin and eyes.
Walnuts – around 3g of protein for every three whole walnuts
Pumpkin seeds – 4g per tablespoon
Cashew nuts – 3g per 10 cashew nuts
Brazil nuts – 4g per six Brazil nuts
- Chia seeds
Chia seeds are a complete source of protein that contain 2 g of protein per tablespoon. Seeds are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and can be used in breakfasts, sprinkled over salads and soups, or as a healthy, protein-rich dessert. They also work as an excellent replacement to egg in vegan cooking as they are hydrophilic and will therefore expand when soaked in water for about 20 minutes.
Buckwheat is actually a seed that is high in both protein and fibre, with 100g providing about 5g of protein, and it’s also gluten-free. Buckwheat is becoming increasingly popular and can be found as flakes, groats, pasta and flours, making it an excellent addition to a vegan diet.
While oats are a complex carbohydrate, providing slow energy release, they are also an excellent source of protein packing 10g per 100g.
Some slightly lesser known grains can also be used to bump up your protein. Those are,
Sorghum – over 8g of protein per 100g
Spelt – over 5g of protein per 100g
Teff – over 4g of protein per 100g
Amaranth – over 4g of protein per 100g
Vegetables also offer a surprising amount of protein including:
Asparagus – almost 2g of protein per six spears
Broccoli – almost 3g per 80g broccoli
Brussels sprouts – around 2g per 80g Brussels sprouts
Kale – almost 2g per 80g serving
Spinach – 2g per 80g serving
Sweetcorn – over 2g for every three heaped tablespoons
- Brown and wild rice
While primarily a carbohydrate, brown and wild rice do contain adequate levels of protein, around 4g per 100g, and they’re also a great source of fibre.