One of the biggest health myths around is that we need a tonne of this macro nutrient to lose weight, feel our best, and well, survive. But that is just not the case. We of course need enough of it to preserve muscle mass and repair our cells, but excess protein, especially that from animals, can be harmful.
Eating too much meat can slow you down and make you lethargic. Meat is difficult for the body to digest and consuming too much red meat can increase the risk of harmful toxins building up in the body. In fact, a high protein diet has been linked with high cholesterol and higher risk of cardiovascular disease; increased risk of cancer, kidney disease, weight gain, constipation and diarrhea.
Even though, to the metabolic system, it doesn’t matter where amino acids (what protein is made of) come from, protein is not consumed in isolation, and that’s where the main difference lies. It means that protein comes in packages. While animal protein comes in a package with saturated fats and cholesterol, plant protein is surrounded by phyto nutrients and fiber.
This shows that even if the package problem was animal protein’s only disadvantage, we should prefer plant protein over it. Even if you are not vegan, plant-based protein has been proven to be much more efficient and healthy for the body than animal protein. Luckily, almost all plants have protein in them. Some of them have even more than meat.
The Importance of Protein Amino Acids
Amino acids are the organic compounds that combine to make up protein. Proteins, in turn, are an essential part of all the living cells and plays an essential role in almost all the biological processes in our body. It helps to build muscles, repair injured tissue, produce enzymes and hormones, protect the body and perform thousands of other vital functions.
While it is true that meat is a complete source of animal protein, plants can provide you with all essential amino acids as well. It is probably necessary at this point to clarify what is considered as a complete protein. Complete protein is one that has all 9 essential amino acids required for optimal bodily functions. We need all of these 9 essential amino acids to function properly, unfortunately, our bodies can’t produce these amino acids so we have to get them from our food.
One of the main concerns of people who eat predominantly a plant-based diet revolves around their protein intake, and it’s a common mistake to define complete protein intake as something dependent on quantity rather than quality. Of course, some plant proteins contain a bit lower amount of some essential amino acids, but this is something that our bodies are very capable of compensating and recycling amino acids to meet our needs, and keeping a pool of amino acids ready for when we need them.
Proper Balance of Amino Acids
Getting a proper balance of amino acids is not as difficult as it seems, as long as you’re consuming a well balanced diet. Just make sure you’re consuming different types of vegetables, nuts, legumes and grains. Just look at the traditional dishes of cultures throughout the world and you’ll likely find food combinations in which one food compliments the other in terms of missing amino acids. Examples include rice and beans in Latin American food, chickpeas and rice in Middle Eastern food, or a soy product eaten with sesame seeds in East Asian cuisine.
How Much Protein Do You Need Per Day
Some nutrition experts says that an adult normally needs about 0,8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a vegetarian or vegan this amount should be about 20%-30% higher because proteins in plant-based foods are sometimes harder to digest. Next to that they advise to get your proteins from a diverse array of sources to make sure that you will get all the essential amino acids. For a female that weighs 140 lbs, this would mean eating about 62 grams of protein per day. For a man that weighs 185 lbs this would mean eating about 81 grams of protein per day.
So for example, if a person weighed 150 lbs / 2.2 = 68 kg x 0.8 = 54.5 g protein per day.
More than 90% of Americans don’t eat enough fiber, even though fiber can reduce the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, risk of diabetes, obesity and more. Fiber, therefore, will not only heal your body, but also will help with weight loss.
Some of the Best Vegan Protein Sources
There are more vegan protein sources than non-vegan protein sources. Think about it. There are tens of thousands of edible plants. Each one made up of the three macro nutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein. That means there are thousands of different ways to get protein on a vegan diet. To make sure you’re getting enough protein without eating meat, here’s a list of some healthy, vegan foods you should be eating more of:
Beans are the perfect plant based protein sources. They are super healthy, filled with fiber and they contain the highest amount of protein in any plant food. Also, they are very cheap and easy to make into tasty dinners.
black beans: 15.2 g /cup
chickpeas: 10.7 g /cup
lentils: 17.9 g /cup
split peas: 16.3 g /cup
tempeh: 19.9 g /100 g
Not only are veggies jam packed with energy-boosting carbs, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but many contain a surprisingly high amount of protein. The easiest way to include green veggies in your diet is by steaming them and serving them as a side dish to your savory meals.
- broccoli: 2.6 g /cup
- brussels sprouts: 3 g /cup
- cauliflower: 2.1 g /cup
- collard greens: 2 g /cup
- horseradish: 2.8 g /cup
- asparagus: 2.9 g /cup
- beets: 4.6 g /cup
- corn: 3.8 g /cup
- mushroom: 3 g /cup
- okra: 3.6 g /cup
- mashed potatoes: 3.9 g /cup
- canned pumpkin: 2.7 g /cup
- snap peas: 2 g/cup
- baked sweet potato mash: 5.1 g /cup
Quinoa is gluten-free, very easy to digest and a great source of fiber, calcium, iron, manganese and contains all 9 essential amino acids making it an excellent source of plant protein, 8.1 g /cup. The common way to eat quinoa is to cook it the same way you would cook rice and add it to salads and nourish bowls. You can also mix it with other ingredients such as beans, legumes and countless vegetables and make healthy high-protein, low-fat veggie burgers.
All Nuts are not only packed full of protein but they’re also a rich source of vitamins and beautifying minerals and contain healthy fats, which protect the body against heart and brain-related diseases. An easy way to incorporate nuts into your diet is by adding them on top of your oatmeal, smoothie bowls or salads for crunchiness and texture or just enjoy a handful of nuts as a snack daily.
You can snack on them raw or use them to top your meals. Add this vegan protein source on top of smoothie bowls, salads, and nourish bowls. Walnuts are also becoming a popular meat replacement. One cup of walnuts contains 15 g of vegan protein.
Whole almonds, per 100 g, contain an impressive 21 g protein. Try this awesome raw almond butter, and team a tablespoon with some slices of juicy apple for a plant-protein-packed snack that will have you running around like Bolt.
Pumpkin seeds double as a delicious topping and a vegan protein source. When comparing protein per gram, pumpkin seeds rank as one of the highest vegan protein sources. 100 g (half a cup) of pumpkin seeds contains more than 30 g of vegan protein. 1 oz of raw, shelled pumpkin seeds contains 9 g of vegan protein. 1 oz is approximately two tablespoons, which is easy to get in between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This vegan protein source complements both sweet and savory meals, like topping smoothies, oats and nourish bowls.
Containing 22 g of protein per 100 g, sunflower seeds can be snacked on, sprinkled on to smoothie bowls and added to salads for an extra protein boost. Or, for a salad with a creamy twist, make some of this delicious sunflower seed dressing.
They are soybeans in the pods and taste delicious. When soybeans are very young in mature, before they’re actually soybeans, they’re referred to as edamame. You can find them frozen (out of pod) at your grocery store. Packed with protein 9 g of protein per 100 g of edamame. You can toss edamame in stir-fries, make a crispy snack out of them, or season them as a side dish.
Which is also known as bean curd, is made from condensed soy milk that is pressed into solid white blocks. Tofu is a healthy vegan protein source that doubles as a vegan meat replacement. It’s also affordable, accessible and extremely versatile. One cup of tofu contains an entire 20 g of vegan protein. The more firm the tofu, the more vegan protein per serving. On its own, tofu isn’t full of flavor. However, it has a wonderful texture, and it absorbs flavors like a sponge.
While peanut butter is typically labeled as a fat, it’s also high in protein. Try a sugar-free, no salt added peanut butter with minimal ingredients. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 g of vegan protein. You probably already have a jar of peanut butter in your pantry.