Ah, vegan protein. Protein on a plant-based diet is a hot topic and for good reason. Protein is essential to maintain health however the amount of protein we need as well as the source of it is not what we have been made to believe.
The idea seems to be that more protein is best and we should focus on it almost exclusively in our diets. Excessive protein can be heavy on the kidneys and cause health problems. Aiming to get enough for your body turns out to be quite easy and attainable on a plant-based diet.
Animal protein vs plant-based protein
The common belief around protein is that it is a single nutrient and that’s how the body uses it. However, let’s go back to high school science. Protein in its most basic constitution is amino acids. The body uses 20 amino acids however 11 are non-essential (our body synthesizes them) and 9 of which are essential. The essential amino acids are valine, isoleucine, proline, histidine, phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine.
Lysine and methionine are the hardest to get on a plant-based diet however if you eat a diet full of beans, legumes, nuts seeds and whole grains as well as pseudo-grains then its an issue not to be overly concerned about.
When you eat meat, your body breaks down the protein into amino acids which are then absorbed through the small intestine and then your body. The smart system it is puts those amino acids back together to build, maintain and repair structures in the body. So effectively, your body uses amino acids, not “meat protein”.
Vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and beans all contain amino acids at differing levels. The only benefit that meat has in this department is that it contains all the essential amino acids in one place. On a plant-based diet, one needs to eat a varied diet to get all the amino acids. Eating meat for protein is convenient, not essential. A plant-based diet requires more attention to what you are eating, but that is a fair trade off to avoid animal cruelty in the process of animal farming.
“Plant protein can meet requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and energy needs are met. Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults, thus complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal.”
With the right attitude towards your diet and what you eat, you can easily fulfil your protein needs. Veganism is achievable when one eats fresh, whole foods and uses a variety of plant-based ingredients in meals.
In saying that, if you are not totally a cooking enthusiast, really busy or maybe you just don’t like veggies but feel drawn to the cause of veganism then what do you do? Read further to find out.
How much protein do you need?
There is a lot of debate around this area but lets look at the general consensus:
The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is set at 0.75 g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day in adults.British Nutrition Foundation
So if you weigh 60kg, you would need 45 grams of protein per day. If you are aiming at building muscle, you can push your requirements up to 1g per kg of body weight. Eating this on a plant-based diet, especially with the introduction of meat alternatives is easier than ever.
The secret is to eat whole foods, prepared well and consciously, adding lots of herbs, spices and nuts and seeds into meals. Don’t think of food as macros but as an interaction of different flavours, textures and sizes. Adding in hemp seeds, for example, 2 tablespoons, adds in 6.31g of protein to your meal. Such a small addition can tally up over the course of the day and week.
Variety is key
The idea around plant-based protein was that you needed to combine certain foods at each meal for you to get adequate amino acid combinations. Food combinations mean that eating two or more types of food groups creates a complete source of protein. By complete I mean all 9 essential amino acids.
However, science is showing us that in fact, it’s not that rigid. One can eat a variety of foods over the course of a week and your body will pool the required amino acids together to use them. Our bodies are amazing at adapting to life. One of the most incredible things, for example, is when women are pregnant, their bodies increase absorption of calcium from the small intestine and increase the reabsorption of calcium from the kidneys to accommodate the baby. Amazing right?
The body will naturally increase the absorption of certain minerals and vitamins it needs from the plant-based lifestyle. Eat well, eat whole foods, avoid nutrient stealing foods like processed foods, alcohol and sugar and you will thrive.
Food combinations that form complete proteins:
Eating these food combinations in the same meals or within the same week means that you will be getting adequate amino acids to pool for necessary functions in the body.
- Black beans and brown or wild rice
- Whole wheat bread and peanut butter
- Lentils and almonds
- Hummus (chickpeas and sesame seeds)
- Whole grain pasta/rice and peas
- Bean soup and whole grain crackers
- Nuts, seeds and peanuts
In short, eat these following foods during the week:
- Beans and legumes – soaked and cooked thoroughly.
- Whole grain rice – brown, red and wild rice are good. (white rice does not work)
- Whole grain pasta
- Seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, hemp and sesame are valuable.
- Pseudo-grains – quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat
- Soy – organic non-GMO tofu is a great option once a week
Eating the above throughout the week and adding in lots of vegetables and some fruit will ensure that you are getting enough amino acids to maintain health.
What about protein powders?
Life is busy. Work, kids, exercise, admin stuff and just life in general. Sometimes cooking meals and eating as well as we want to is not easy. So what can we do? We want to continue our support of Veganism but feel like we falling short on protein.
Why not supplement with plant-based protein powder? This is the easiest way to get an added 20-25g of protein a day as well as get all the required amino acids you need and a lot of protein powders add in extra nutrients for added health.
One thing that is great about being alive right now is the options available to us to be healthy and well and not at the expense of another. There are amazing vegan protein powders scaling the price ladder.
Protein powders with added greens and superfoods are amazing. This is not to imply that the vegan diet is poor but is realistic that sometimes we need some support and good protein powder with added greens and superfoods is a great insurance policy for our health.
Avoid the protein powders with fillers, added sugars and anything else that looks unnatural and dodgy. Simple is better. Mens and Women’s Health did a great two-parter list of the best vegan protein powders for him and best vegan protein powders for her.
Protein on a plant based diet is easy and doable when eating fresh, whole foods combined with variety and meeting energy needs.
Adding a protein powder for those busy days or if you are exercising a lot is a convenient alternative.
At the end of the day, veganism is not a diet, its a stance of action against the billions of animals that suffer and don’t get to live out their lives because it’s more convenient for us to eat them. It is 2019 and there are so many amazing natural options available to support this journey that the “but where do you get your protein” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
At Dolma, we value ethics and compassion over convenience. That is, we want all living things to have the right to live out their lives. We know that everything can be created in a way that does not require the mutilation and death of animals. We apply that to our perfumes.No animal products are used in our perfumes nor do we test on them. Our perfumes and aftershaves are natural and cruelty-free.