The vegan guide to getting enough protein
One of the biggest food trends of the last few year is the vegan diet, as more of us become environmentally conscious and are aware of the benefits of eating more plants — higher fibre, lower calories, less saturated fats. When done properly, the it can be a very healthy one.
But, there’s a caveat to veganism — there’s always a caveat, right? As well as struggling to get certain nutrients and minerals (vegans, for example, are often lacking in B-vitamins, iron, vitamin D and omega-3s), it can be tricky to ensure you’re getting enough protein from a plant-based diet.
That’s a problem as we can’t skip our protein! It’s one of the building blocks of our body and is crucial for so many different reasons.
Every single one of our cells needs protein, and we need it to allow our bodies to make new cells and replace old ones. It also helps to support our muscles, keeping them lean and strong, keeps us feeling fuller for longer (which is why high protein diets can be so good for weight loss) and stabilise blood sugars. It even keeps our brain happy and healthy and it is needed to synthesise important hormones such as thyroid hormone.
When we don’t eat enough protein-rich foods, we can suffer from protein deficiency. Symptoms include: low energy or feeling lethargic, mood swings, anxiety, poor sleep, lowered immune system, constipation, difficulty in building muscle and hormone imbalances.
So, you can see that it is crucial that we get enough in our diets.
However, if you are vegan or are thinking of making the switch to a meat-free life, then don’t worry! There are plenty of sources of plant-based proteins out there. You just need to make a conscious effort to enjoy more of the following foods, aiming to eat a portion of protein with every meal.
As well as needing adequate protein in our diets, we need to eat complete proteins. These are sources which contain all the nine amino acids that are essential to our health. While we don’t need to eat every amino acid at every meal, we do need to ensure we’re getting the balance right.
Here are some of my favourite sources of plant protein for vegans to try:
- Quinoa is not only delicious and versatile (…did you know that you can bake and make porridge with it?), but it’s also full of nutrients and protein. Not only high in protein it also so contains plenty of fibre, iron and magnesium. Try my Quirky Quinoa Breakfast Porridge.
- Buckwheat isn’t actually made of wheat at all and is gluten-free (it’s a relative of rhubarb!). Try to use cooked buckwheat groats as porridge or risotto, or even try the flour in pancakes.
- Soy is a wonderful source of vegan-friendly protein. Have ‘real’ soy in the form of tempeh and tofu and avoid the processed varieties of soy. Remember to opt for organic and always check the labels.
- Hummus and crudités makes a good snack, and you could try to mix it up a little and with black bean or butter bean hummus.
- Hemp seeds boast both plant-based protein and omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also rich in magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium and are perfect sprinkled over yoghurt, porridge or into a smoothie.
- Chia seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can pack a protein punch for each two tablespoon serving. They’re full of fibre and calcium and taste delicious in a pudding.
- All nuts are rich in healthy fats and protein, which make them a fantastic plant-based snack. Try adding nut butter to a oat cake for a healthy mid-afternoon boost.
- Beans are one of the cheapest and most versatile foods on the planet, but they are so nutritious too. Similarly, legumes are a great source of protein — chickpeas are delicious when roasted with spices and pink salt for a snack (have a look for the recipe in my book, The Balance Plan). For the ultimate protein-rich meal, why not make a bean and chickpea stew or chilli?
Remember to keep your diet varied and pile your plate high with vegetables too. For more individual support, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the conflicting information out there, please get in touch.