Vegan Protein Sources

Protein is one of the three staple macronutrients in our diet, every tissue in our body contains protein so it is essential we get enough protein to build and maintain these tissues. Proteins are also used in many of the enzymes and molecules in our body that allow it to digest our food and send signals around our body. Not to mention how vital it is for building muscle! While most people eating a standard diet get plenty of protein and don't need to really think about it, for vegans and vegetarians it is often a different story. There are plenty of great vegan sources of protein out there, but it can require a bit more thought and effort to make sure you are getting the right amount and the right mix of proteins in your diet. Let's dive in to some of the differences between these protein options and compare which are the best options for the vegans and veggies out there.

The Back Story

Protein is pretty simple, it is made up of lots of different amino acids in a long chain. These amino acids are all needed in our body for different things so it is essential we get the full range of them in our diet. With meat, this is easy because most animal protein sources are COMPLETE proteins, that means they contain all of the essential amino acids our body needs. So if you only ate one type of animal protein for the rest of your life, you would be getting all the amino acids you need! On the other hand, plant sources of protein are not complete proteins. They each contain different ranges of amino acids, so a legume might contain high amounts of three specific amino acids whereas nuts might contain high amount of four different amino acids. So if you are eating plant protein sources it is essential that you SWITCH UP your protein sources regularly to make sure you are covering that full range of amino acids! One last thing to consider is that we get most of our iron from animal protein (specifically red meat) and our body absorbs this iron much better than it does iron from plant sources. So you may need to eat a lot more of the plant sources to meet your requirements.

Plant Proteins

To put things in to perspective here, we need to aim for around 1 - 1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. So an 80kg man would need around 80-120g of protein per day. 

Beans: Beans should be a staple vegan protein source as they contain a good range of amino acids and are loaded with protein! Less than half a standard 400g tin contains a whopping 24g of protein!

Chickpeas: Similar to beans, chickpeas are a great protein source. They contain a reasonable range of amino acids and less than half a standard 400g tin of chickpeas contains 19g of protein.

Lentils: Lentils have an okay range of amino acids and a decent amount of protein. They are also loaded with fibre! Half a 400g tin contains around 10g of protein so while they aren't as good as chickpeas or beans, they are still up there.

Nuts & Seeds: These nutritional powerhouses contain lots of healthy fats and some protein, but they are mostly a fat source and not a protein source. A standard handful contains around 6g of protein but also is around 200 calories so these guys should be considered a snack and not a full protein source.

Oats: Half a cup of oats (what you would usually have in porridge) contains about 6g of protein and also lots of beneficial fibre. However they aren't the best with the range of protein they contain. 

Soy: Soy products are the most nutritionally complete vegan protein sources. They contain almost as many amino acids as animal protein and are considered to be the only complete vegan protein source! Whether you enjoy it as tofu, tempeh or soy milk, soy is a great option to include in your diet. A 125g serving contains 10g of protein.

Plant Milks: While some plant milks (specifically soy) can contribute to daily protein, they shouldn't be considered a main contributing source as the protein level is quite low. 100ml of almond milk contains less than 1g of protein and soy contains 3g.

Grains: Some grains can be a great way to boost your protein intake and contain a good range of amino acids. Quinoa contains 14g of protein per 100g and spelt contains 15g per 100g.

Quorn: Quorn is a much more processed vegetarian protein option that is highly convenient and provides a great meat alternative. It contains around 15g of protein per 100g which comes from Quorn's special ingredient, mycoprotein. This is a fungi protein source that Quorn creates by fermenting the fungi organisms and harvesting the mycoprotein product. It is a nutritionally complete vegetarian protein, however many of their products contain egg which makes them unsuitable for vegans.

The Verdict

There are a great range of protein sources out there for vegans and it is fairly easy to meet your protein needs simply and on a budget. Aiming for a diet that is full of beans, chickpeas, lentils and grains with soy milk as your milk option will keep you on track.
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