As long as people keep asking for it, we will keep talking about protein. The topic is a seemingly endless black hole of conversation when it comes to vegan diets, but it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. A vegan diet can contain a generous amount of protein sources, and there’s no need to worry about developing a protein deficiency or experiencing a lack of variety in meals (check out these high-protein vegan recipes). All whole foods contain protein (we’ll repeat this later, because it deserves to be repeated), and here are the best vegan protein sources to meet your daily needs and satisfy omnivores’ incessant questions about where vegans get theirs. proteins.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Protein deficiency is generally not a problem in first world countries. This is not to say that proteins are not important, because they are extremely essential for life and optimal health, but industrialized nations tend to place enormous emphasis on an issue that does not really concern them. The American protein obsession is a lot like Southern Californians who worry about hypothermia – it’s not completely out of the question on a cold January night, but it’s very unlikely. For the vast majority of people, there’s no need to count your protein intake, but if you’re curious, it’s fairly simple to calculate. The USDA’s recommended daily allowance is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To calculate your protein requirement, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 and the result is the number of grams of protein you need each day. For example, a 130-pound woman should aim for 46.8 grams of protein per day and a 170-pound man should aim for 61.2 grams of protein per day. Note: This formula is designed for the “average” individual, someone who can exercise occasionally but not at a high intensity or for most of the week. Those who are more active, who exercise at moderate to high intensity at least four days a week, should aim for 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This is a general guideline: To truly optimize performance, a plant-based dietitian can help you fine-tune your exact protein needs based on your activity level.
Are vegetable proteins complete proteins?
Complete versus incomplete proteins are not much discussed in the vegan community other than to respond to omnivores in their attempt to make plant proteins look inferior to animal proteins. Most people, omnivorous or not, pay no attention to how much complete or incomplete protein they consume on a daily basis, but as soon as someone becomes vegan, it becomes a major concern for the outside looking inside. Esteemed physicians, including Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Michael Greger have pointed out that as long as you eat enough calories and vary your diet, they will meet their protein needs regardless of whether or not they consume complete protein. or incomplete.
If you’re suddenly wondering if the foods you like are complete or incomplete, here’s what you need to know. Proteins are made up of 20 different building blocks known as amino acids. The human body can make 11 of these amino acids on its own, but the other nine must be obtained from food sources. These nine building blocks are called essential amino acids. Not all foods contain all nine amino acids. These are called incomplete proteins. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. With the exception of foods like soy, hemp, quinoa, chia seeds, pea protein, and buckwheat, most plant-based foods lack some essential amino acids. This is not to say that they are inferior protein sources, because people eat a variety of foods, and incomplete protein sources naturally complement each other. Think rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, peanut butter sandwiches … the list is endless. Eat a varied diet, eat enough calories to support your body, and don’t have to worry about complete or incomplete proteins.
The best vegan protein sources
Every single whole food contains protein, but some contain significantly more of it than others. This list is not complete, you would need a textbook to list them all, but here is a list of some of the best high protein vegan foods.
This meaty vegan food is made up mostly of vital wheat gluten which is extremely high in protein. There’s a whopping 18 grams of protein in a simple two-ounce serving of seitan. Many vegan meats rely on seitan for their chewy texture, but you can also buy it in its original form and season it to your taste (try Upton’s Naturals). Those who love DIY can make their own seitan quite easily. Here is a recipe if you like it.
Beans are not a singular food, they are a category. While many are content to stick to just a few varieties, there are dozens of types of beans that all have unique taste and texture, not to mention a significant amount of protein. Lima beans, broad beans, blacks, pinto, kidneys, cannellini and chickpeas all contain between 12-15 grams of protein per cup when cooked. While not called a bean, black-eyed peas are also high in protein, weighing in at 13 grams per cup.
The protein content of tofu varies slightly, as it depends on the type of tofu you buy. The firmer the tofu, the more protein, as firm tofu is more concentrated than the softer options. For example, a three-ounce serving of extra solid tofu contains nine grams of protein, while silky tofu hovers around four grams. Many brands (like Wildwood) also offer a high-protein variety, and those contain up to 14 grams of protein.
Finish your bacon tempeh – it’s high in protein. Also made from soy, tempeh naturally contains a significant amount of protein – a three-ounce serving contains 18 grams! This crumbly, meaty vegan protein source is a great base for a good marinade. Try it yourself with this smoked tempeh peanut satay recipe.
5 Protein powder
While it’s not a whole food, there’s no denying that plant-based protein powders will help you hit your daily quota. Most vegan protein powders contain between 15-20 grams of protein. If you’re looking for a complete protein product, opt for soy or pea protein brands like 22 Days Nutrition or NuFYX.
This powdered seaweed does more than just turn smoothie bowls a pretty blue – it’s a super concentrated protein source. Just one tablespoon packs four to six grams of protein (the green variety is lower on the scale, while the blue spirulina contains a little more protein). Next time you’re into a smoothie, opt for the menu item with spirulina (or Blue Majik, as some call it) for an extra dose of protein.
7 Vegetable milk
The latest U.S. dietary guidelines, revised in late 2020, now state that fortified soy milk is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk. This is huge, as it completely undermines one of the dairy industry’s strongest arguments in favor of drinking milk. Cow’s milk has eight grams of protein, that’s right, but soy milk does. Pea milk also contains eight grams of protein, and some brands (like Califia Farms and Silk) are fortifying their plant-based milks with even more protein, up to 10 grams per eight-ounce serving. Check out this guide to find the right high protein vegan milk for you.
8 Nuts, seeds and butters
Like beans, the nut and seed category is huge. When looking for seeds with more protein, choose a 30-gram serving of hemp seeds (12 grams), chia seeds (seven grams), and flax seeds (nine grams). High-protein nuts include peanuts (7 grams), almonds (6 grams) and Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios (all 4 grams) per 1-ounce serving. Nut and seed butters have similar protein profiles.
9 Nutritional yeast
Affectionately called “nooch” in vegan circles, these yellow flakes are packed with nutrients. Two tablespoons of this cheesy-flavored dressing equals five grams of protein. Not sure what to do with a nooch container? Discover 16 ways to use nutritional yeast.
10 Non-dairy yogurt
Like plant-based milk, lactose-free yogurt can contain a good amount of protein, depending on the brand. For the highest dose of protein, look for a product with added protein, such as Kite Hill Protein (11 grams) or Chobani Oat (seven grams).
If you are looking to increase your protein intake, replace rice with quinoa. This sturdy cereal contains eight grams of protein per cup, cooked. Quinoa is also a great satiating porridge. Switch up your next bowl of morning oats with this breakfast bowl with quinoa and sticky banana bread that warms your stomach.
Regardless of the color, green, brown, yellow or red, lentils are protein powerhouses. A quarter cup (dry) will provide 10-12 grams of protein, depending on the variety. Not sure how to prepare them? Start with this simple vegan lentil and black kale stew.
The cartoon may have slightly exaggerated the protein powers of spinach, but there was some truth to the sailor’s Popeye philosophy. Green leaf provides just over five grams of protein per cup, cooked. Go ahead and be liberal with it. We like to add it to smoothies, soups, pizzas, pastas, and large bowls of salad.
Barring the white varieties (sorry, sourdough aficionados), bread can complement your daily protein quota. Varieties like whole wheat bread and Ezekiel bread contain four and eight grams of protein per slice, respectively. Don’t worry about bread, choose only the higher protein options.
Spinach isn’t the only vegetable with a decent amount of protein. Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus hover around four grams of protein per cup; cabbage contains five grams of protein per cup; and a large potato comes in at just under eight grams of protein. There is more than one reason to eat vegetables!
For more information on healthy vegan nutrition, read:
9 fabulous ways to make tofu
Is soy milk making a comeback?
5 great ways to eat more calcium
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