Hands down, ‘Where does a vegan get protein from?’ is the the number one question I get asked most frequently! This is often followed, by, ‘Can vegans get enough of it?’ Sometimes then followed by ignorant questions such as, ‘Aren’t vegans weaker than meat eaters?”
Anyone who is a meat eater, probably will have these assumptions about vegans, as this is what a lot of society feeds out to them. Meat for years in the media, has been linked to ‘strong men and women.’ Watch The Game Changers and you might change your mind!
Let’s go back to basics to really understand what is protein and where it comes from.
What is Protein?
Proteins are large molecules that our cells need to function properly. Protein consists of amino acids and the structure and function of our bodies depend on proteins. Without filling your diet with the correct amounts of protein, you run the risk of missing out on key organ functions. This could lead to all sorts of problem down the road! Few of them being loss of muscle mass, weakened functioning of the heart and lungs and lastly even an early death.
Protein is made up from different amino acid profiles. 11 of the total 20 amino acids can be synthesised by the body and don’t have to be obtained by food. The other 9, do need to be obtained by food. These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. All 20 amino acids can be obtained from plant-based ingredients.
Protein is SO important in your daily functioning of your body so it is understandable that people can worry about the implications of switching over to a vegan diet in regards to their protein intake.
Why do We Need Protein in our Diet?
Protein has a vast number of benefits and it is vital to include it in your diet on a daily basis.
- A number of people worry about the levels of protein in vegan food, thinking the switch will make them lose their muscle. Protein intake is crucial for building muscle mass as well as repairing muscle tissue after a workout.
- Are you a late night snacker and constantly have food cravings throughout the day? There have been a number of studies that correlate the link between high protein and less cravings. Start the day with a delicious high protein breakfast such as this tofu scramble, and your cravings will reduce!
- Looking to lose weight? It has been shown in a number of studies that there is a connection between increased protein and weight loss. In a 12-month study in 130 overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet, the high-protein group lost 53% more body fat than a normal-protein group eating the same number of calories
How much Protein do we Need?
There are a number of ways to calculate your protein levels that you need per day. If you’re at a healthy weight, don’t exercise much or lift weights, then aiming for 0.36–0.6 grams per pound (0.8–1.3 gram per kg) is an average estimate. This amounts to:
- 56–91 grams per day for the average male.
- 46–75 grams per day for the average female.
If you do train and lift weights, you should look at getting more protein in your diet. This is one of my favourite calculators where you’ll be able to calculate the optimal protein intake for your weight and activity level.
So.. How do Vegans get their Protein?
Protein can come in various shapes and sizes and and from various places including beans, nuts and grains. If you need that extra hit, they can even come from places like protein powder and plant-based meat sources. On the surface, you may think that the options are limited but here’s a list of some of my favourite protein sources.
Tofu – 15-20g Protein
Tofu is one of the best sources of protein to get into your diet as it contains the 9 essential amino acids. Per 100g of protein, you can expect to get around 15-20g of protein, dependent on the type of tofu.
My personal favourite way to cook tofu is in a tofu scramble, go check out my scramble showdown recipe. I have tofu almost every day, if not for breakfast you’ll see me dishing it up in a curry!
Tempeh – 19g Protein
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from soybeans that have been fermented, or broken down by microorganisms. It has a slightly nutty taste. It can be cooked in a number of ways including being steamed, sautéed or baked. Tempeh is also often marinated to add more flavour. Per 100g of tempeh, it packs an impressive 19g of protein!
Seitan – 22g Protein
Soy allergy? Seitan is your answer!
“Seitan in a relatively new term for a centuries’ old plant-based protein made from wheat protein, aka wheat gluten,” says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, and author of The MIND Diet. It’s been a staple in Asian diets for years, Moon says, and it has been historically popular among Buddhists, since they’re often vegetarians.
Seitan is great for any vegan that does really miss the taste of ‘meat’ as it can mimic the taste of steak, chicken, pork or even sausage. Seitan also has 22g of protein per 100g! On a vegan keto diet? Seitan is also low in carbs!
Watch out though, as seitan isn’t a complete protein as it lacks the amino acids lysine and threonine. Make sure you pair with some beans to ensure you’re getting all the amino acids that your body requires!
Chickpeas – 11g Protein
Chickpeas are another one of my staples that I have almost every day! 1 tin of chickpeas has 19g of protein. Ok, so you may not have a whole tin of chickpeas to yourself, but half that and that’s still a ridiculously high hit of protein! Chickpeas also have a moderate amount of calories in comparison to other protein sources.
My favourite dishes made from chickpeas are Chickpea Tuna, Chickpea Curry, Homemade Falafel and how can I forget Hummus!
Some studies have suggested that the quality of the protein in chickpeas is better than that of other types of legumes. That’s because chickpeas contain almost all the essential amino acids, except for methionine.
Lentils – 9g – 11g
Lentils are one of the most nutritious and versatile plant-based proteins. This pulse originated in Asia and North Africa. They’re super low-fat and boast high amounts of protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and other nutrients. The 4 varieties of well known lentils include black, brown, green and red lentils. These all have different nutritional values and they are all extremely high.
They can be used in a number of traditional Indian dishes, however there’s endless ways to cook them. Ever tried a lentil shepherds pie? Lentil burgers? The list goes on..
Nutritional Yeast – 8g – 10g Protein Per Serving
Alongside tofu, nutritional yeast is another complete protein which has all 9 amino acids that our body requires. One typical serving, which is generally about a couple tbsp contains between 8-10g of protein.
Nutritional yeast can be used in SO many recipes to give them a ‘cheese’ like taste. Nutritional yeast is one of the main components in my vegan mac and cheese. Don’t fancy it on pasta, why not add it to some popcorn? Sprinkle over a soup?
As well as being super high in protein, it is also high in B12 and Fibre.
Nuts & Seeds – Protein Ranges dependent on the Type
There are so many nuts and seeds which have plenty of health benefits as well as a high amount of protein.
Almonds offer 21g of protein per 100g! They also provide a good amount of vitamin E, which is great for the skin and eyes. They’ve also been known to suppress hunger cravings!
Peanuts contain around 25g of protein per 100g. Add some peanut butter to your sandwiches, desserts and I’ve even put some in a Thai style curry!
Other high protein nuts and seeds include hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds pistachios, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds and cashews.
Go crazy with nuts and seeds, but monitor the calories as they do add up!
Beans – Protein Varies Depending on the Bean
There are so many types of beans which have high levels of protein such as black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans and navy beans.
Kidney beans are one of the highest with 8.7g of protein per 100g. Not sure how to implement beans into your diet? Here’s a list of ideas:
- Lunch wraps loaded with black beans or kidney beans
- Put Them in Pasta. Try adding white beans to pesto pasta or to your tomato sauce.
- Stir them into soups or add them to salads
- A range of Mexican dishes have beans as the star of the dish, so why not make some delicious fajitas or tacos for dinner.
Not enough time to Plan Protein Meals
In those times when you don’t have enough time to plan your meals, I’d highly recommend buying some vegan protein powder and protein bars as a supplement. These are quick ways to ensure you get your protein hit for the day, especially if you have a busy day ahead. My favourite vegan protein powder is from My Protein – My Vegan Range.
I hope this article has given you a deeper understanding of what protein is and answers your question to ‘Where does a vegan get protein from?’ I purchased the Plant Based High Protein cookbook which really helped me understand the ins and outs of protein and the best ways to obtain it from a vegan diet. This book has some great recipes so I highly recommend purchasing it.
If you are looking to transition to a vegan diet, go check out my step by step guide as it has lots of helpful tips on your journey. Comment below and let me know if this has helped you in any way! 🙂