Probably the number one question vegans get asked is, “where do you get your protein?” This is because when people think of protein, they think of animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
But not only is it possible to get enough protein on a plant-based diet, it’s relatively easy to do so without having to drink protein shakes and eat protein bars every day, all day long. Getting enough protein as a vegan is simpler than you think. This post will help you get all the daily protein you need on a vegan diet, as well as answer all your questions.
How Do Vegans Get Enough Protein?
Vegans and protein
Do you know where cows and pigs and chickens get their protein from? Plants. A bodybuilder might choose to eat a chicken breast because they “need some protein”. Yet, where did the chicken get its protein? Not from eating a chicken breast (or a steak or a whey protein shake for that matter). Chickens get their protein from eating plants (grains).
In other words, when people eat animals for protein, they are basically eating the “middle man” (or the middle cow, or chicken, or pig) – and not going directly to the source: plants.
The source of all protein is plants.
As long as you are eating a balanced plant-based diet with sufficient calories, you will get enough protein on a vegan diet.
Although uncertainties remain regarding protein requirements, the data in adult vegetarians (depending on the methods and criteria used) indicate that classic vegetarian diets supply more than adequate protein and amino acids. – Pub Med Study
Plant-based sources of protein
The highest sources of vegan plant-based protein are beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds:
- Soybeans (edamame) – 1 cup = 29g of protein
- Lentils – 1 cup = 18g of protein
- Beans (most, including black, kidney, garbanzo, pinto) – 1 cup = 15g of protein
- Tempeh – 1 cup = 31g of protein
- Seitan (wheat gluten) – 3 oz = 21g of protein
- Tofu – 1 cup = 20g of protein
- Black-eyed peas – 1 cup = 13g of protein
- Almond butter – 2 tbsp = 7g of protein
But protein is found in most plant-based foods, such as….
- Whole grain bread – 2 slices = 7g of protein
- Bagel – 3.5 oz = 10g of protein
- Brocolli – 1 cup = 4g of protein
- Soy yogurt – 1 cup = 6g of protein
- Spaghetti – 1 cup = 8g of protein
Vegan alternative meat products are also packed with protein (but minus the cholesterol and hormones found in animal-based products):
- Impossible Burger – 4oz = 19g of protein
- Beyond Burger – 1 patty = 20g of protein
- Just Egg – 6 tbsp = 10g of protein
What to eat daily to boost your protein on a vegan diet?
- Eat your beans! Beans are packed with protein and SO nutritious!! (Did you know that in the world’s healthiest places – the “Blue Zones” – the longest-lived people eat a full cup of beans every day!). Bean burritos, tacos, chili, stews….so many ways to enjoy beans!
- Snack on nuts and seeds – almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflowers seeds – just pick your favorites!! (Just remember, these foods are higher in calories so they should not be your main source of protein if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight)
- Enjoy a daily smoothie with a couple of tablespoons of hemp or chia seeds! Adding spinach, soy milk, and other plants will boost the protein even more! You might not even need plant-based protein powder!
- Enjoy a sandwich made with hummus or nut butter for lunch or as a snack
- Quinoa is a higher protein grain that you can enjoy instead of rice!
What is protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps the body to grow and repair. It is found everywhere in your body – hair, skin, muscles, bones, cartilage, tendons. When you eat protein-rich foods, the protein is broken down in the body into 20 different amino acids. Amino acids – often called “the building blocks of proteins” – are vital to certain functions in your body.
What does protein do in our bodies?
A few of the things protein does for your body include:
- Protein builds and repairs muscle and body tissue
- Protein is necessary for biochemical reactions, including digestion, energy production, blood clotting, and muscle contraction
- Protein helps strengthen bones
- Protein boosts your immunity
- Protein helps burn fat
- Protein helps heal injuries
How much protein do we need?
How much protein you need can vary depending on your age, sex, activity level, and health. In the United States, the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for protein is determined by the National Academy of Medicine. The RDA for adult men and women is 0.8 grams of protein for every 2 pounds of body weight. This RDA is estimated to meet the needs of the majority of people.
So, if you are a woman who weighs 150 pounds, you need approximately 60 grams of protein a day. A man weighing 220 pounds would need approximately 88 grams of protein a day. In the United Kingdom, the recommended amount is similar to the U.S. recommendations – 0.75g of protein per kilo of body weight per day.
There can be exceptions to this, however, in older people and in athletes.
Studies have shown that older people do require more protein than the RDA, and according to the website Today’s Dietitian suggesting that “most people over age 65 should take in about 1 g to 1.2 g of protein/kg of body weight per day to both gain and maintain muscle mass and function.
Is it common for healthy adults in the U.S. (and other developed countries) to have a protein deficiency?
Have you heard of kwashiorkor? Kwashiorkor is a form of malnutrition that occurs when you do not eat enough protein. There’s a reason you probably have not heard of kwashiorkor – protein deficiency is extremely rare in developed countries (such as the U.S, Canada, and all of Europe).
Most people eat too MUCH protein – with Americans eating twice as much protein as their bodies need.
Can you consume too much protein?
Protein is essential to our bodies, but too much protein comes with risks.
Choosing animal products as the main protein source comes with health implications. Because along with that animal-based protein, comes some not-so-healthy things – including saturated fat and cholesterol, along with any hormones and antibiotics the animals are given.
Our bodies can’t store protein. So any extra protein we eat is either used immediately as energy or is stored as fat. And processing all that protein is hard on the kidneys, leading to increased risks of kidney stones and kidney disease. And a high protein diet consisting of red meat and saturated fat also leads to an increased risk of heart disease and colon cancer. (Excess plant-based protein however does not carry the same risk, most likely because plant proteins are high in fiber and in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.)
The Harvard School of Public Health encourages getting protein from plants versus animal products:
In summary, getting enough protein on a vegan diet is pretty easy. Eating a balanced plant-based diet with sufficient calories will provide more than enough protein on a vegan diet.
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