Try a few of these protein sources to amp up your protein intake as a vegan.
Protein is an important part of our diets. Our bodies need plenty of it to create connective tissue, to build muscle, to aid digestion, and to guide thousands of body functions and processes with perfectly crafted hormones and enzymes. There are nonessential amino acids our bodies can make and there are essential amino acids that must come to us from the foods we eat. We need these essential amino acids resupplied often, almost daily. Despite the obvious importance of protein, most of us actually get way more than we need, not too little.
The average American gets more than double our recommended doses of protein, much of this from red meat. This contributes to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and puts strain on the kidneys. The fats, extra calories, and cholesterol don’t do us much good either, especially since we tend to reach for plenty of processed and refined sugars along with our protein, adding even more unnecessary calories.
Plants and Protein
This may come as a surprise, but plants contain protein. All of them. Every last one. Plants use protein too, for much the same reasons we do, though usually in smaller amounts. Protein strengthens cellular walls, and enzymes facilitate the flow of nutrients, repair damage, and fight off infections. Every bit of broccoli, carrot, bean, and spinach contains some amount of protein. It’s true that most plants are lacking in certain essential amino acids, but by eating a variety of whole foods this is not a problem.
For those concerned about their protein intake, here are a few ideas of where to get everything you might need. This includes a few plant sources that are complete proteins, containing all the essential amino acids.
Beans, Lentils, and Legumes
These are inexpensive sources of protein that can go in many different types of meals, from tacos to stir fry. They require a little more work to prepare when using dried, but they’re also well worth the effort. If you want a quicker version, use lentils or peas. You can also pick them up canned, but avoid relying on these too often due to the BPA and added sodium.
You know grains are rich in complex carbohydrates, but they also carry a good deal of protein. Avoid processed grains though. Stick to wild or brown rice rather than white, and whole wheat instead of the bleached white flour. Try some pseudo-grains like quinoa and amaranth for extra protein power too.
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts are a very good source of protein and can make for a healthy snack, a smart addition to a meal, or a tasty spread. Peanuts, cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, and more can be sprinkled into salads, blended into nut butter, tossed in stir fry, or eaten alone.
Seeds, like nuts, are a great source of amino acids. Quinoa, sometimes mistaken for a grain, is one of the best seeds to try. It has a nutty, grain-like texture and flavor while delivering all the essential amino acids in a complete and balanced profile. Hemp seed is considered a complete protein as well, containing all the essential amino acids you need. Chia is another seed to try. It’s rich in omega 3s, protein, and fiber. Don’t forget sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, or sacha inchi either. There are so many seeds to enjoy.
Technically a fruit, avocado has a buttery texture and flavor. It also is fairly rich in protein, along with omega 3s, fiber, and potassium. Try them grilled, mashed on sandwiches and veggie burgers, sprinkled in salads, lightly salted, as a guacamole dip, or even whipped up in a smoothie or chocolate frosting. Avocado is deliciously versatile.
There are vegan supplements that offer complete protein powders. Brown rice protein bypasses the discomforts of whey and the phytoestrogens and GMO concerns of soy. It’s a great option. There are also blends that combine the power of multiple plant-based protein sources, like hemp seed, pea, cranberry, rice, chia, or amaranth, for an even more balanced complete protein. Pick some up if you are worried about your protein needs, especially if you are vegan, vegetarian, or highly active. Your body will thank you for the gentler protein as you tone and build those muscles.