Ah. The age-old question for vegetarians and vegans alike.
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “aren’t you afraid you aren’t getting enough protein?” when I tell them I’m vegan, well, I’d have a pair of these Louboutins in my closet .
I suppose the protein question isn’t completely unfounded –after all, our bodies DO require protein in order to maintain/build muscle mass, regenerate/repair cells, keep our immune systems strong, and prevent fatigue. The problem is, many people automatically assume vegans and vegetarians don’t have many or enough options for protein sources, and therefore we must struggle to get enough of it in our diets.
Well, I’m here to tell you DON’T WORRY!
There are plenty of ways to consume a perfectly healthy amount of protein while following a plant-based diet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average man needs 56 grams of protein a day and the average woman needs 46 grams. Protein is certainly an integral part of our diets (as are fats, carbohydrates, and fruits/veggies), but I believe it is wise to keep in mind that these numbers are very flexible. Some people may require more or less protein than average. Because every body is extraordinarily different, everyone’s needs will naturally vary depending upon factors like height, weight, age, and level of activity– not to mention, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you like visuals, I found an interesting chart here that gives a pretty cool little breakdown of average protein needs by body weight and activity level. As you can see, it’s pretty wide-ranging!
The reason most people may worry about vegans/vegetarians not getting enough protein is because not all plant-based protein is considered to be a complete protein. If one or two amino acids are missing from a protein source, it is considered to be an incomplete protein. In order to gain status as a complete protein, a food must contain all 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot generate. Amino acids are essentially the “building blocks” of protein in that they join together to create a protein source your body can then use. There are 20 different amino acids in total, 11 of which the human body can make on its own. Therefore, it is “essential” the other 9 come from our diet.
Many vegan proteins contain some of the amino acids, but not all. These are considered incomplete proteins. Protein sources that contain all 9 essential amino acids are considered high quality or complete proteins. These essential amino acids are most commonly found in meat and animal products. However, those following a plant-based diet need not worry about consuming complete protein at every meal. Your body is smart! It can combine amino acids (whether complete or incomplete) to get the proper protein it needs as long as the different types of proteins are eaten in the same day. In the past, it was believed that complementary proteins (two incomplete proteins that, when combined, provide all 9 essential amino acids) had to be eaten at the same time.
Reminder: As always, I encourage you to consult your own nutritionist or doctor to find out your exact protein needs if protein intake is a concern of yours. There is a lot of conflicting information out there, so I’ll always urge you to do your own research and choose what is best for you. Plus, research provides a great opportunity to learn something new
Below you’ll find my list of some popular vegan protein sources and average grams of protein in each serving. If you’re bored with your typical protein routine, perhaps this list will help you to get creative with your next meal! And PLEASE don’t be discouraged by some of these items. They may sound strange…but everything on this list easily accessible and can be found at Trader Joe’s, Whole Food’s and/or in the natural sections of most large grocery store chains. I’ll also be posting a protein-packed, budget-friendly recipe in my next post to get you started.
Vegan Protein Sources:
(**= Has all 9 essential amino acids)
- Tempeh: 1/2 cup = 20 grams
- Seitan: 4 oz. = 26 grams (Weird name right? If you haven’t heard of this one…read about it here)
- Tofu: 4 oz. = 8 grams
- Hummus: 2 tablespoon = 2 grams (depending on brand)
- Quinoa: 1/2 cup cooked= 10 grams **
- Soy Milk: 1 cup = 7 grams **
- Lentils: (legumes): 1/2 cup= 9 grams
- Edamame: 1/2 cup = 8 grams **
- Beans: (red,white, black, garbanzo, kidney etc…): 1/2 cup = 7-8 grams
- Soybeans: 1/2 cup = 10 grams **
- Spinach: 1 cup (cooked) = 5 grams
- Peas: 1 cup= 9 grams
- Broccoli: 1 cup (cooked) = 5 grams
- Sprouted Grain Bread: 2 slices = 8 grams (Ezekiel 4:9 bread is an example of sprouted bread)
- Brown Rice: 1 cup = 5 grams
- Buckwheat noodles: 1/2 cup= 14-16 grams **
- Nutritional Yeast: 2 tablespoons = 8 grams ** (This also has all 9 essential amino acids! I’ll be writing more about this great product in a future post! But you can read about it first, here).
- Hemp Protein Powder: 2 rounded tablespoons = 6 grams (Hemp Protein)
- Pea Protein Powder: 2 rounded tablespoons = 28 grams (Pea Protein)
- Brown Rice Protein Powder: 2 rounded tablespoons: 15 grams (Brown Rice Protein)
- Soy Protein Powder: 2 rounded tablespoons = 23 grams (Soy Protein)
- Peanut butter: 2 tablespoons = 8 grams
- Almond Butter: 2 tablespoons= 8 grams
- Peanuts: 1 ounce = 6.5 grams
- Pistachios: 1 ounce = 5.8 grams
- Almonds: 1 ounce= 6 grams
- Soy nuts: 1/4 cup = 12 grams (and ONLY 6 grams of fat!)
- Chia Seeds: 2 tablespoons= 5 grams (GREAT addition to any diet. Read about their many benefits here)
- Flax seeds: 2 tablespoons= 4 grams
- Sesame seeds: 1 ounce= 6.5
- Pumpkin seeds: 1 ounce = 5 grams
Now I don’t know about you…but I think this list set you up for pretty decent argument the next time someone says you CAN’T get enough protein following a plant-based diet!