Protein on a vegan or plant-based diet

A common misconception within the vegan community is that you don’t have to put effort into meeting your protein requirements because essentially all plants contain protein. And while yes, that is the case. Just like any other person, we do need to put effort into meeting our protein requirements because protein has such important roles within our bodies that an inadequate intake is just not worth it.

Proteins are made up of various amino acids (AKA the building blocks) linked together in differing combinations. There are 20 different amino acids, and these can be considered either essential, meaning the body cannot produce these and they must come from our diet, or non-essential, meaning the body can produce these and so they do not need to come from our diet. Anyway, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, but why is protein itself so important?

These are some of the main functions of proteins:

- Form digestive enzymes to help optimal nutrient digestion and absorption

- Support DNA and RNA regulation and expression

- Support musculoskeletal stability

- Assist hormone synthesis

- Support immune function via antibody production

- Act as essential molecule transporters

- Aid neurotransmitter formation – mental health support

Plants contain either complete or incomplete proteins, meaning they contain all essential amino acids or only a few, respectively. However, by consuming a variety of specific protein-rich plant foods daily, it is easy to consume adequate amounts of all essential amino acids on a plant-based diet.

Some good protein-rich plant foods include:

  • Buckwheat

  • Tofu/tempeh/edamame beans

  • Hemp

  • Chia seeds

  • Ezekiel bread

  • Quinoa

  • Legumes

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Seitan

  • Whole grains

And don’t forget many of the seitan and soy mock meats are high protein also, with some brands such as the Sunfed chicken chunks being a great product to include in your diet occasionally.

I find a foolproof method of ensuring you are hitting your protein requirements each meal is by combining 2 protein-rich plant foods – this also ensures you are getting a good intake of all the amino acids.

This may look like:

  • Nut butter and wholegrain bread

  • Hummus and pita

  • Beans/legumes and rice

  • Muesli with seeds, nuts and grains

So in summary,

  • It’s difficult to become protein deficient if you’re consuming a BALANCED and VARIED plant based diet as long as you are consuming protein rich plants/foods.

  • Mix and match your plant proteins to ensure you’re consuming complete proteins regularly.

  • Try to make sure in each meal you have 1 strong protein source (E.g tofu) or 2 lesser ones (e.g. brown rice and peanuts) that make up minimum 1/4 of your plate.

  • AND, don't be afraid of utilising things like protein powders to supplement your diet as they have a purpose, and ensuring you are hitting your target is much more important!

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