Despite the widespread myth that vegan’s struggle to get enough protein, there are actually many ways to increase your protein intake on a plant-based diet. Protein is the main component of our skin, muscles, internal organs (especially the heart and brain) as well as our eyes, hair, and nails. Overall it accounts for around 15% of our total weight.
Our immune system also needs protein to help generate the antibodies that help us fight infections. Protein is also involved in blood sugar regulation, fat metabolism, and energy function.
Proteins are made up of amino acids. While your body can produce some of them, you must acquire nine of them through your diet. We don’t need to actively combine complementary proteins since plant proteins can provide adequate amounts of both essential and non-essential amino acids.
When these essential amino acids are found together in animal products such as beef, fish, dairy, and eggs they’re classified as complete proteins. However, our bodies can mix and match amino acids to whatever quantities we require, regardless of what we consume, making it nearly impossible to create a diet of whole plant foods that is calorie-sufficient but protein-deficient.
Plant foods contain various levels of amino acids, eating a diversified diet and combining complementary plant proteins can help you acquire enough of each essential amino acid throughout the day.
The nine essential amino acids are:
Fortunately for vegans, combining a variety of plant-based foods provides enough levels of each of the nine essential amino acids. Here are 8 vegan protein sources you can eat on a vegan diet.
Rice & Beans
This classic pairing is actually an excellent source of complete proteins.
Both brown and white rice have a low lysine content but a high methionine content. Beans, on the other hand, have a high lysine content but a low methionine content. As a result, combining them gives you enough of each to count as a complete protein, as well as the remaining seven essential amino acids.
While the combo is delicious on its own, rice and beans can make a simple, full meal when topped with guacamole, salsa, and roasted veggies.
Pita & Hummus
Not only a delicious snack, pita and hummus is another combination that provides you with all nine essential amino acids.
The wheat used to create pita, like rice, has too little lysine to be called a complete protein source. Chickpeas, on the other hand, which are the main ingredient in hummus, are high in lysine.
In addition to acting as a snack, adding fried or baked ground chickpea balls, often known as falafel, to your pita and hummus can boost the protein level even further.
A staple vegan food, quinoa is an ancient grain with a crisp texture and nutty flavour that resembles couscous. It’s technically a pseudocereal because it doesn’t grow from grasses like other cereals and grains, and it’s naturally gluten-free.
Quinoa contains more magnesium, iron, fibre, and zinc than many other grains and is a complete protein. In most recipes, quinoa may be substituted for rice. It can also be made into a creamy, protein-rich morning porridge by simmering it in plant-based milk.
Tofu, Tempeh & Edamame
Soybeans are used to make tofu, tempeh, and edamame, which are all great plant-based, complete protein sources.
Tofu is a white block formed from coagulated soy milk that comes in a range of textures, including silky, firm, and extra-firm. Tofu takes on the flavour of the items with which it is cooked.
Tempeh is created from fermented soybeans that are often blended with additional seeds and grains to form a hard, dense cake that is chewier and nuttier than tofu.
On the other hand, Edamame beans are green, immature soybeans with a slightly sweet, grassy flavour. They’re typically steamed or cooked and can be eaten as a snack on their own. They can also be added to salads, soups, and grain bowls.
Buckwheat is another pseudocereal that is a plant-based source of complete protein, albeit it is not as high in protein as quinoa.
The hulled kernels, or groats, have a nutty flavour and can be cooked like oatmeal or crushed into flour for baking. Buckwheat is most widely consumed in Japanese cuisine in the form of soba, or buckwheat noodles.
Many vital minerals, including phosphorus, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron, are abundant in this pseudocereal.
Hemp hearts are the edible whites inside hemp seeds, which are technically a nut and are incredibly nutritious.
Hemp hearts are notably high in the necessary fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3), in addition to being a complete protein source. Phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc are also abundant in hemp seeds.
Hemp hearts have a light nutty flavour and can be used to top yoghurt or salads, added to smoothies, or to make homemade granola and energy bars.
Chia seeds are small round seeds that are black or white in colour.
They’re special because they can absorb fluids and turn them into a gel-like substance. As a result, they can be used to make pectin-free jams and puddings. They’re also widely used in vegan baking as an alternative to egg.
Chia seeds can also be eaten raw, as a topping for porridge or salads or blended into baked products or smoothies.
They also include omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.
Nutritional yeast is marketed commercially as a yellow powder or flakes with a unique umami flavour that can be used to give vegan recipes like popcorn, pasta, or mashed potatoes a cheese-like flavour.
Nutritional yeast, when fortified, can also be a good source of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese, and all of the B vitamins, including B12.
Despite concerns about getting enough protein on a vegan diet, there are numerous high-protein, plant-based meals to choose from. Several of these foods contain all nine essential amino acids and qualify as complete proteins.
Try incorporating a selection of these complete protein sources or combinations of nearly complete alternatives into your plant-based diet to guarantee you’re meeting your amino acid needs on a vegan diet.
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