Top Protein Sources for Vegans

Top Protein Sources for Vegans

The virtues of a plant-based diet outweigh the minor inconveniences that come with it. This vegan lifestyle comes with numerous benefits. From preventing animal suffering, helping the environment, and improving your health and fitness, there are countless reasons to go vegan.

However, it's a popular notion that vegetarians fail to get a sufficient quantity of protein from a vegan diet, resulting in an unbalanced diet. While it’s a common concern, it’s largely false.

The Truth about Proteins in a Vegan Diet

This notion of a vegan diet being unbalanced is rather false. It just takes a bit of planning and a little extra work.

According to the American Dietetic Association, an appropriately planned vegetarian diet is healthy and nutritionally adequate. These diets can fully meet all requirements for people during all stages of life, regardless of any special nutritional or dietary requirements. [1]

Protein Requirements for Vegans

From protein-rich foods to protein supplements and more, it's obvious there's a huge hype surrounding these nutrients. One can only imagine how exhausting it is for vegans when they have to deal with the barrage of “how do you satisfy your protein needs?” questions.

However, studies have shown that while vegan diets are lower in protein than the standard American diet, they do a good job of meeting their daily protein needs. [2]

As a newbie to the vegan lifestyle, you might be interested in knowing what to eat for a healthy dose of protein. It's simple.

Let's take a look at some of the best protein sources for vegans:

Tofu, Edamame, and Tempeh

3 ounces of tofu and edamame contain about 6g of protein each, while 4 ounces of tempeh has about 16 to 22g of protein. [3] These foods are excellent protein sources for vegans. All soy products, they provide calcium and iron in addition to protein, making them suitable for use as dairy alternatives.

Tofu is made via the coagulation of soy milk to form a curd which is pressed into solid tofu blocks. It has the added advantage of being somewhat tasteless. This confers a high level of versatility on it as it can take on the seasoning of the food it’s to be served with.

Edamame are barely processed sources of plant protein. They are simply soybeans that are harvested early. The shiny green beans are sweet and highly proteinous. It's super easy to incorporate them into a meal.

Tempe is a fermented soy product. The texture is firm with a nutty flavour. It would go so well when fried crispy and added to stir-fries or salads.

Seitan

One major hallmark of a vegan diet is a distinct lack of meat. Any vegan meat substitute that also provides protein is highly welcomed in this community. Seitan is a popular option here.

This is made from wheat gluten and water in a rather simple process. If you normally include wheat and gluten in your diet, then Seitan is a perfect protein-rich meat alternative for you with about 21g of protein per serving. [4]

You can make Seitan at home or opt for the store-bought variety. Homemade Seitan is as simple as making dough with vital wheat gluten and simmering in a savoury broth for flavour.

You can use Seitan to make yummy recipes such as pan-fried Seitan (vegan Mongolian beef), crispy Seitan schnitzel, and teriyaki Seitan with a side of veggies.

Lentils

Lentils are an excellent source of protein for vegans. They are also high in folate, fibre, iron, and antioxidants which only adds to their appeal. Additionally, they are low in sodium and saturated fat. These small, seed shaped greens are considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet.

Who said anything about a vegan diet being boring? Lentils to the rescue! You've got green, black, red, brown, yellow, orange, whole, and split lentils. Talk about variety!

You can use lentils in pasta sauce, hummus, or even make lentil meatballs and meatloaves. There’s almost unlimited choice here!

Nutritional Yeast

First off, whoever said vegans couldn't enjoy a delicious bowl of mac and cheese probably hasn't come across nutritional yeast. It's a deactivated yeast used as a dairy-free cheese substitute in most vegan creamy recipes.

A quarter cup of nutritional yeast contains 8g of protein and 3g of fibre. [5] With a cheesy and nutty flavour, nutritional yeast works great for many vegan recipes.

You can use it to make a cheesy vegan roasted cauliflower, a vegan omelette, vegan mashed potatoes, and of course, yummy vegan mac and cheese. Sadly, it cannot make bread rise. Still, there's a lot of recipes to use nutritional yeast in.

Quinoa

This is another top source of protein for vegans. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8g and 5g of protein and fibre respectively. [6] It’s also gluten-free, so, if seitan isn’t for you, quinoa can be. Vegan diets can be both healthy and inclusive.

Beyond being rich in protein, quinoa contains adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids. Highly nutritious and rich in fibre, you stand to gain a lot from adding this superfood to your diet.

From fancy quinoa fried rice to simple one-pan quinoa dishes, this makes for a quick, tasty, and nutritional addition to your diet.

Spirulina

Another top food on this list, spirulina is every bit worth the hype around it. With a protein content of 60%, the ‘lazy’ vegetarian can bridge the gap of deficient nutrients such as proteins, B vitamins, calcium, and iron with a daily intake of spirulina.

While it tastes nothing like meat, spirulina can rival meat in the complete protein content as it contains eight essential amino acids. With numerous benefits such as building muscle, removing dead skin cells, strengthening the immune system and bones, etc, this blue-green algae definitely deserves its spot on this list.

It’s perfect for sweeter vegan recipes and desserts…and not just because of the stunning green colour it imparts. A few options here include a super green smoothie, spirulina smoothie bowls, and vegan spirulina ice cream or cheesecake.

Nuts and Seeds

And last but certainly not least, we've got nuts and seeds. In addition to being rich sources of fibre and healthy fats, these are super rich in protein – perfectly well-rounded for the vegan lifestyle.

They’re also great because of how many other products you can derive from them such as nut and seed butter. They go well in decadent vegan desserts and an abundance of other recipes.

A couple of excellent options include almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds.

Conclusion

A vegan diet should not be an excuse to consume less than the recommended amount of nutrients your body needs to function. Ultimately, you can be a vegetarian and still consume delicious protein-rich foods. There are a lot of vegan foods out there that fit this standard. The above is a great place to start.

References

  1. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. JAND Online. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(09)00700-7/fulltext. Accessed: 22-01-2021.
  2. Protein in the Vegan Diet. Reed Mangels, PhD, RD. VRG. https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php#r3. Accessed: 22-01-2021.
  3. Soy Protein Content of Foods. UCSF Health. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/soy-protein-content-of-foods. Accessed: 22-01-2021.
  4. Is Seitan (Vital Wheat Gluten) Healthy? Erica Julson, MS, RDN. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/seitan. Accessed: 22-01-2021.
  5. What are the benefits of nutritional yeast? Daniele Dresden. Healthline. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323245#benefits. Accessed: 22-01-2021.
  6. Quinoa. HSPH. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/quinoa/. Accessed: 22-01-2021.
  7. Why Spirulina is the Best Source of Vegan Protein. Ditsa Keren. Spirulina Network. https://www.spirulina.network/blog/why-vegans-and-vegetarians-love-spirulina/. Accessed: 22-01-2021.

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