Vegan protein is not as mysterious or difficult as it’s made out to be. It is also not as expensive as made out to be. It can be easy, delicious, nutritious and cheap.
What sorcery is this? Beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds of course. You can head over to your local grocer and buy dry beans and legumes in bulk. Once prepared, you can freeze them and pull them out as needed. This ensures that on a weekly basis you are getting various sources of amino acids and protein to keep you healthy, strong and satiated on a vegan diet.
But they give me gas? And they have anti-nutrients that cancel out the good parts. Don’t worry! With proper preparation and cooking, you can mitigate these points significantly.
The teacher asked for a sentence using beans. Girl: My father grows beans. Boy: My mother grows beans. Then a third child spoke up and said: we are all human beans.
Let’s get something cleared up first. For my clarity too! Legumes and beans are in fact one and the same, in a way. Legumes are part of the Leguminosae family. So beans (and chickpeas), lentils and peas, all fall under the legume umbrella.
Legumes (that is beans, lentils and peas) are truly amazing. Considered to be superfoods, are nothing short of an amazing addition to your diet. They are a great source of protein, low in fat, a great source of fibre, iron and other vitamins and minerals. Legumes and all under are considered to be of the Worlds Healthiest Foods. Not convinced? Let’s look into them one by one.
Beans have been cultivated for thousands of years. They have been staples in many cultures throughout history. The people of long ago knew the value of these little guys. They are low cholesterol, high in protein, low in fat and high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, folate and B Vitamins. All of these nutrients are essential for healthy system function.
What beans are the healthiest?
All beans are healthy in their own way. Each has a little more or a little less of one nutrient or another. However, pinto beans, chickpeas and black beans are of the healthiest beans around. They make for some pretty amazing meals such as in Mexican dishes, middle eastern and Indian dishes. There are so many different ways of eating them, its difficult to get bored with them.
Combine pinto beans with a whole grain brown rice and you have a meal that is basically fat-free and a good quality complete protein. Pinto beans are also high in copper. Together with iron, copper is essential to form healthy red blood cells. Vegan ladies that are still menstruating or men that are lifting heavy weights, pinto beans are great for building healthy blood.
Pinto beans are fibre fabulous. They are mostly insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre passes through the gut and sweep up debris, toxins and pulls extra cholesterol with it too. For this reason, pinto beans are considered heart-healthy beans. Great fibre content also provides support for healthy blood glucose levels, that is, it’s helpful to stabilize blood sugar.
Other benefits are good levels of iron, a great source of molybdenum, a trace mineral that has many important functions in the body. One advantage of good molybdenum levels is its ability to detoxify sulfites. For those that struggle with sulfite sensitivity, add pinto beans weekly for added protection and support.
Chickpeas are a favourite amongst most people. I have met few people who can resist a good hummus. They are themselves not of any particular flavour but this is what makes so versatile. They take on the favour of the dish they are in. Perfect for curries, stews, burgers, falafels and dips, chickpeas are great.
What about nutrition? Well, chickpeas have your back on that side too. Of course a great protein source and when combines with seeds such as sesame, come together to form a complete protein. While it’s not essential to eat complete protein combinations at every meal, if you are trying to bulk up, this can be useful.
In addition to protein, chickpeas are also a source of complex carbohydrates and fibre. For those that are scared of carbs, don’t be when it comes to chickpeas. Because of the lovely ratio of protein, carbs and fibre, your body will use the energy in a steady stream throughout the day. It’s the simple cabs one should worry about, and there is nothing simple about chickpeas
Similarly, chickpeas also have nutrients that contribute to bone health. As vegans or anyone on a plant-based diet, this is really useful. It’s not the best source of calcium for vegans but the matrix of nutrients are what counts to overall bone health. What are these nutrients? Calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K. All essential for bone health.
Black beans, a staple in Mexican dishes is a bean of greatness. There is some evidence that black beans are not just a protein powerhouse but also contain a good amount of phytonutrients. Phyto-nutrients are those nutrients that are cancer protective. They protect cells from oxidation and keep them healthy.
Black beans have a considerable amount of carbohydrates in the form of starch. Most people stay away from starch but the great thing about black beans is that the starch is in the form of resistant starch. Resistant starch is not broken down immediately in the stomach or small intestine spiking blood sugar. Rather, it gets broken down in the lower digestive tract in the large intestine. This is gut healthy as it provides food for the bacteria that live there.
Moreover, black beans are also rich in other nutrients for good health. Magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, folate and vitamin K. But most notable is the zinc. Zinc is thought to be bound in legumes which makes zinc one of those nutrients that vegans should be concerned about. But there is something special about black beans which means that more of the zinc is available for absorption. Black beans are a winner!
Oh, lentils. They never disappoint. With so many varieties of lentils, one can just not have an excuse not to enjoy them. Whether in salads, soups, curries or burgers, they are always a hit.
And these little guys are packing a great nutrition punch! A complete protein when combined with brown rice, perfect for vegans and non-vegans for a healthy, environmentally friendly source of protein. One can get about 14g of protein per cup of lentils. Consider that 2 lentil and brown rice burger patties, or a warming curry or hearty serving of lentil and veg soup.
One of lentils great features is it’s iron content. For vegans, particularly menstruating women and very active men, iron is a definite consideration. That’s why lentils are so great. they are a great source of plant-based iron. Couple it with peppers or tomatoes for added vitamin C to boost the absorption of iron. It’s these little tips and tricks that make nutrition so impactful.
What else do lentils have to offer? Riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium are all on the cards when eating lentils. Knowing these little guys have so much good nutrition makes them that much more enjoyable.
They are also a great source of fibre and offer a stable blood sugar post meal, safe for diabetics or anyone following a low GI diet. Their nutrition combination and added fibre have also proved to be heart healthy. For those that have genetic predispositions to heart disease, add lentils to your diet on a regular basis to enjoy their protection.
Peas have been in the vegan news as of late and for good reason. They are a great source of protein and nutrients at a great price and low cost to the environment. Where soy protein powders were once the main attraction, peas of have taken their place.
They are a simple vegetable with a nutrient profile that stands up there with many other superfoods. Sometimes superfoods come from your back garden. They don’t necessarily have to come from the Amazon or far corner of the Earth.
Other than protein, peas are well known for their high vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin A. Vitamin A is so crucial to maintain healthy skin and vision. Adding in a cup of peas a day can offer up to 70% of your daily requirements. That’s really useful!
As with beans and lentils, peas also boast a great amount of fiber. This fiber is great to stabilize blood sugar levels, feel full and supports healhy hearts. A bonus in an age where heart disease is one of our biggest killers.
Lastly, peas have a great antioxidant profile. Polyphenols, carotenoids and flavonoids are antioxidants that protect the body from free radicals and oxidation keeping you younger and healthier. More peas, please!
When we talking about the preparation and cooking of peas, we are talking about dried peas. Fresh peas can be soaked before cooking to reduce anti-nutrient content however do not need any overnight soaking or intense cooking methods as dried peas do.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are way underrated. Especially seeds. Seeds are full of amazing minerals and also offer great amino acids to complement other foods in the diet. They are exceptionally versatile. Sprinkle them on meals, add in smoothies or nibble on them through the day.
Nuts can be as easy as a snack, added to porridge, blended into smoothies, added to salads, sandwiches, soups or pretty much anywhere you want.
One of the complaints from men on a vegan diet is that they feel hungry a lot or that they lack energy. Adding nuts and seeds into your diet is the best way to tackle this problem. Usually, people steer clear of too many nuts because they are so high in calories. They are high in calories because they are high in fat. 1g of protein or carbs offer 4 calories while fat offers 9 calories per gram.
But the beauty of a plant-based diet is that you are generally not eating calorie dense foods or high-fat foods. (unless you are a fast food vegan in which case that is a different story). The point is that one can enjoy nuts and seeds freely on a plant-based diet. They offer energy as well as good fats.
That’s not all. Nuts and seeds are a lot more than energy and good fats. For example, one brazil nut offers a vegan their daily requirement of selenium. Nuts and seeds offer good fats not just in the form of energy but serve for vegans the omega 3 starting block alpha linoleic acid or ALA. The body then converts this to DHA. A powerful anti-inflammatory and brain nutrient.
There are some concerns that vegans still do not get enough DHA from a vegan diet even if you are eating nuts and seeds. However, there are some studies showing the bodies ability to convert ALA into DHA increases when on a plant-based diet. A kind of adjustment if you will. This idea may sound far fetched but your body is constantly increasing and decreasing its ability to absorb nutrients under certain circumstances.
There is a catch, but don’t worry, its not the end of the road for plant-based protein. It’s only a matter of correct preparation and cooking, nothing to worry about.
Anti-nutrients, such as lectins, oxalates and phytates bind to minerals in the body and prevent them from being absorbed. They are found in beans, legumes, nuts and seeds but also in other foods. While they do have this negative effect, some anti-nutrients also have some benefits. It’s not all doom and gloom as some make them out to be. Its all about balance.
With the correct preparation and cooking, alongside a varied diet, there is nothing to worry about. Right now, scientists can’t say for sure how much nutrient loss is attributed to anti-nutrients. If there was any serious disadvantage, we would know about it by now. All they advise at this time is to prepare and cook them correctly and not to make them your diets main attraction. Again, a balanced varied diet is the key to optimal health.
A combination of methods can be used to reduce the anti-nutrient content of legumes, lentils and peas. Soaking, cooking, sprouting and even fermentation. The type of cooking method can also be a factor in significantly reducing the phytate content of legumes, lentils and peas.
Preparation and cooking
Soaking legumes, nuts and seeds and peas can go a long way in reducing the phytate content. Soak overnight up to 18 hours to get the best results. It’s even better to rinse and top up with fresh clean water halfway as the phytates get drawn from the beans and into the water. For this reason, it is imperative to always cook with clean water, not the water you soaked them in.
- Put legumes in water with a quarter teaspoon bicarbonate of soda. Bicarb helps to soften some of the fibre so reduce chances of experiencing gas. (this trick was a game changer for me)
- Soak for 12 – 18 hours.
- Soak overnight and rinse and soak for a couple more hours.
- Rinse thoroughly before cooking
Sprouting is a great way to enjoy nuts, seeds chickpeas, lentils and peas. It reduces anti-nutrient content significantly and enhances nutrient levels. Great in salads, as a snack, on sandwiches or wraps or even as a fresh crunch in a soup. Look at this article about sprouting to get the full guide.
Once soaked or sprouted, nuts and seeds do not need to be cooked unless you want to add them into a meal.
Cooking applies mostly to dried legumes and lentils. They can be boiled in a pot and fresh water, added to a slow cooker or better yet, cooked in an instant pot. findings show that instant pots or pressure cookers are the best way to cook legumes to reduce their anti-nutrients.
Peas can be fresh or dried. Fresh peas do not need overnight soaking. Some studies show that soaking for about an hour before use can reduce anti-nutrients in fresh peas. Dried peas can be soaked and prepared to reduce phytate content.
Note on lentils: lentils have different cooking times according to their variety. Some may say that they don’t require soaking but that is related to cooking not reducing phytates. If it states that it doesn’t require soaking, one can simply rinse them thoroughly and soak for 30 minutes.
After you have soaked and cooked your legumes, lentils and peas, you can freeze them into smaller portions for when you need them. Measure them out into 400g which equals one can. Usually recipes call on cans so this is a sure way to have the right amount ready and preparted.
Why not cans?
Canned food is not necessarily less healthy or terrible for you. But anything in nature that is fresh and made from scratch is better. Think artisan bread vs supermarket bread? Or those precooked dinners vs home cooked meals?
There is just a sense of love and wholesome missing in canned goods. Of course, this is up to each person so if you want to buy canned. Life is also busy and if you are taking care of a family, canned is sometimes just the easiest option. As one gets more acquainted with plant-based eating, you can include the whole family on the process.
If canned legumes, lentils and peas are your only option, opt for organic BPA free canned goods so that you know the quality of the canned goods is at a high quality. If you can’t get organic, that’s also fine. Make sure to rinse them very well before eating. At the end of the day, nourishment is better than nothing and not everyone has the time or resources to go fresh. We all doing what we can.
Now you have your stores of well prepared and cooked legumes, lentils and peas. You can easily search the web for recipes. Pinterest is a great resource for recipes or you can buy yourself a great plant-based recipe book.
Vegan protein is easy and attainable. Getting protein from plant-based sources also has the added benefits of extra fibre and other nutrients to support overall health. Much the reason why plant-based diets are so popular for health reasons.
What’s your favourite legume dish? How do you like to prepare your peas? Let us Dolma know your experiences. Let’s share and create a community of support for plant-based living.