The biggest concern around plant based, vegan or vegetarian diets is always protein. Where do you get your protein if you don’t meat? The answer is simple because plants actually contain protein they are just more commonly known for their other nutrients. But they do indeed have protein.
What is protein and why we need it
Protein is an essential macronutrient made of amino acids that work as ‘building blocks’ for our cells and tissues. Protein is found in our muscles, skin, hair, nails, and just about every body part. There are 9 amino acids that we must get from the foods we eat. These amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Meat vs. Plants
When it comes to protein everyone immediately imagines animal products. Chicken, steak, eggs, and whey all contain protein but when you look at the total package these foods come with other side effects. Steak is high in protein but also contains a heavy amount of saturated fat. Ham is high in protein but is loaded with sodium. Plant based proteins are virtually cleaner than meat protein because they don’t cause any health detriments. Lentils, for example, contain 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber and literally no saturated fat or sodium.
Plant Based Protein Sources
Just about every plant based whole food contains some amount of protein. However, these are some of the major ones with the highest amounts.
Legumes (chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils , soybeans)
Tofu (made from soybeans)
Seitan (made from hydrated gluten. Not gluten free)
Tempeh (made from fermented soybeans)
Nutritional Yeast (made from the Fungi family like mushrooms. Adds a delicious cheesy flavor to dishes)
Nuts (brazil, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews)
As mentioned above, protein is made up of amino acids. Plant based protein sources contain certain amino acids and lack the others. Therefore, pairing complimentary proteins to obtain a complete protein is necessary. As long as you are eating a variety of plant based foods you will meet your dietary requirements without even trying. An example of a complimentary protein is rice and beans. Rice has protein but is not a complete protein because it lacks lysine. To compliment the missing link you can add beans to your diet which is high in lysine. It’s important to note that you do not need to consume the complimentary proteins in the same meal or even in the same day.
Hummus and pita bread
Peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread
Tofu with quinoa
Tempeh with brown rice
Yogurt with almond granola
Salad with garbanzo beans and almonds
Beans and rice