Protein, I'll Give You Protein!
Trust me, as soon as the words, “I’m going to go on a vegan/plant-based diet” leave your lips, the first thing out of your non-vegan listener’s mouth will be, “But where will you get your protein?”
But before we grapple with that ever-present question, let’s take a look at a few other questions:
What is protein?
Warning! Sciencey stuff ahead...Protein is a macronutrient. Proteins are large complex molecules made up of amino acids. Now it is the case that our bodies do create most amino acids, but nine of them must be obtained from food sources. These nine are known as essential amino acids. These are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Why is protein important to our bodies?
Proteins are involved in cell repair and new cell development. They’re also relevant in creating bone structure, blood hormones and muscles. Amino acids are involved in important processes such as tissue growth, energy production, immune function and nutrient absorption.
So, yeah, you could say that protein and the presence of the nine essential amino acids are pretty important to your body’s functioning.
How much protein do you need?
The average requirement is approximately 42 grams/day*. But if you want to calculate it out specific to your own needs, here is a handy formula:
Your weight in pounds/2.2 = your weight in kilograms
Your weight in kilograms x 0.8 = grams of protein you need per day
As opposed to not getting enough, most people get too much – 70% to much! And this is vegan and non-vegan alike*. If you are low in protein, it is most like due to the fact that you are simply not eating enough. On the other hand, keep in mind that excessive amounts of protein can lead to brittle bones, kidney stones, high cholesterol. It can stress the liver and kidneys.
Do vegan/plant-based diets offer sufficient amounts of protein?
So, now to the “meat” of the issue. Are your family, friends, colleagues, perfect strangers justified in their concern that you won’t get enough protein?
Put simply, no, they are merely uninformed. So, let’s inform them...
In eating a balanced vegan diet where each meal and snack contains some form of protein, vegans will obtain enough protein to keep their bodies healthy. Vegans should eat 3-4 servings per day of high-protein foods that also are good sources of the amino acid lysine**. Choosing a variety of proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables can ensure that your essential amino acid needs are met.
What are good sources of vegan/plant-based protein?
Here is a list of the types of food that will give you the protein you require. Some have all nine essential amino acids and some have less of one and more of another. The idea is to get a variety throughout the day so as to cover all your needs.
Legumes—1/2 cup cooked
- Beans—garbanzos (chickpeas), kidney, pinto, navy (125-150 g)
- Lentils (100 g)
- Peas—split (100 g) or green (80 g)
- Soy foods—edamame (80 g), tofu (125 g), tempeh (165 g), soy milk (1 cup or 250 mL), soy meats (3 oz or 85 g) (look for non-GMO sources)
- Peanuts—1/4 cup (35-40 g)
Seitan 3 oz (18 grams) (a high-protein vegan food made from cooked wheat gluten)
Quinoa – 1 cup (28 grams)
Oats – ½ cup (7 grams)
- Almonds 1 oz (approximately 24 nuts) (6 grams)
- Pistachios 1 oz (approximately 47 nuts) (6 grams)
- Pumpkin Seeds 1 oz (9 grams)
- Sunflower Seeds ¼ cup (6 grams)
- Hemp Seeds 2-3 Tbsp (11 grams)
- Chia Seeds 1 oz (4 grams)
Nutritional Yeast 1 Tbsp (3 grams) (a deactivated yeast and not the same as brewer’s yeast)
So the next time someone asks, “OMG, what about your protein needs?” you'll have the ammo and the aminos : - ) to ease their concerns.
And as an added bonus, here is a great little recipe for a wonderful snack!
Powerhouse Protein Nuggets
For a quick and ever so tasty pick-me-up, you just can’t beat the protein ball. The problem is, knowing when to stop shoving the little flavour bombs in your mouth! They can be put in the freezer (yeah, right - like they're going to make it to the freezer!).
1 cup dry quick oats
⅔ cup coconut flakes
½ cup chia seeds
½ cup dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)
⅓ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
Here’s how the works, work:
- Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl
- Place it in the refrigerator for an hour in an airtight container
- Roll into 1- inch balls
- Keep in refrigerator or freeze them
Makes 12-15 balls
Just sayin’ is all.
P.S. If you're thinking about increasing the amount of plant-based food you eat, but you're not sure how to start, please email me so we can arrange a time to have a 30 minute, "Discovery Chat with Lou". Just drop me an email to let me know you're interested at firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCLAIMER: None of the information in this document is a substitute or replacement for information that should be obtained by your doctor and/or registered nutritionist. Please contact these persons for answers to your health and nutritional questions.
*From Nutritional Facts.org, Michael Greger, MD