Ask most people about protein sources and they will likely list meat, fish or dairy, which are, of course, off-limits to those seeking to exclude all animal produce from their diet. But while finding natural, vegan sources of protein can be a challenge, there are plenty of options around that can not only ensure your diet is rich in this vital dietary component, but can also add great depth and variety to any meal.
The importance of protein
First of all, it’s important to understand the role of protein in the body and why you need to get enough. Protein is used by all the cells and fluids in the body to help with the growth and repair of damaged tissues. It also provides a vital source of energy. Protein is not readily stored by the body, so a regular intake is needed; especially if you lead an active life. The result of not consuming enough protein is that your body will start to break down muscle to release what it needs. As you can imagine, this is not good. Without getting all scientific, the main thing to know about protein is that it is comprised of amino acids. A protein source that contains all of the nine so-called essential amino acids is a complete protein, while those lacking one of more are incomplete. For the record, they are referred to as essential amino acids because they cannot be manufactured by the body. So how much is enough? Well, a general rule
is that a moderately active woman should aim for 0.75 grams per kilo of body weight and men should consume 0.84 grams per kilo. For example, a 63 kilogram woman would require 47 grams per day. Of course, this can vary. Certain groups, such as pregnant women or athletes will require more.
Animal, vegetable or processed?
In terms of dietary intake, proteins are commonly divided into animal and vegetable sources. However, a more helpful division may be to separate natural and unnatural sources. This means sources that come with a whole lot of processed sugars and fats thrown in for good measure, and those that do not
. Fortunately, one of the great advantages of a vegan diet is that you can strip out all of the unhealthy, unnatural elements clogging up many processed foods and replace them with wholesome alternatives. Of course, it would be an over-exaggeration to state that all non-vegan protein sources are unhealthy, with many natural protein sources
available that can provide a good amount without the chemical and processed nasties, or unacceptable and unnecessary factory farming techniques. However, if you have made the laudable commitment to go vegan, then your first port of call to fill up on complete proteins may well be whole grains.
Learn to love whole grains
While it would be fair to suggest that whole grains have traditionally been ignored as a dietary component, they are now most definitely in vogue, thanks to their health benefits and added dimension they can introduce into any diet. They are especially attractive to vegans as they can complement and add satiety to many meals. As well as providing a source of complete protein, they also contain a whole host of essential vitamins and minerals, and are a great fibre source.
Think about grains and the first word that comes to mind should be 'variety'. One idea is to add a scoop of plain organic oats, barley or whole wheat flour to a fruit or veggie smoothie. This can add substance and texture; transforming a breakfast drink into hearty meal or healthy snack. Struggling to find a healthy sandwich substitute for lunch? Throw together a salad with some quinoa; the super-grain of the moment! Need something tasty and filling for dinner? Add some of that left-over quinoa, or even some brown rice, to a soup or stew. In terms of protein content, three cups (90 grams) or wholegrain cereal or cooked rice will provide around ten grams of protein.
Broaden your horizons
Of course, whole grains are not the only option for vegans looking to increase their protein intake, but they do demonstrate the variety available. Other great vegan sources include lentils, kidney beans and nuts. Soy and tofu also count towards your daily intake. Overall, the message to take away from this is that switching to a vegan diet does not mean missing out on vital dietary components, such as complete proteins. Nowadays, it is extremely possible to eat a varied vegan diet. In fact, given the variety available, you’re likely to discover that your switch to veganism opens up a whole new world of animal-free delights.
Eve Pearce turned to writing on becoming a mother for the first time. Before that she worked as a nutritionist though usually her ambition in cooking is never matched by her skill. When not writing or looking after the kids, she enjoys taking her dogs for long walks.