While I field questions left and right about how one can survive without a McDonald’s quarter pounder or Sunday morning bacon, getting enough protein is not something that keeps me up at night.
When we are first unleashed into the vegan world, it is pretty common to go to town in the protein department, lest we shrivel up into a prune.
Faux chicken? Tofu dogs? Fill me up with a couple tubs of vega protein while you are at it. The truth is, once you are comfortable in the vegan groove, eating a balanced and rotating diet, protein problems are so yesterday.
‘But I feel terrible without meat’
A popular anecdote of those who tried and failed a meat-free diet is that their body ‘couldn’t cope without meat’- and they felt couldn’t thrive until they returned swiftly to their chicken breasts and eggs.
Real talk: their bodies weren’t giving up on them, they were adjusting. You can’t expect to flick a switch and expect to feel like Beyonce overnight. There are potentially years of accumulated toxin buildup brought on by consumption of processed meat and dairy products (antibiotics, growth hormones) that need to make their way out through elimination. In even more incidences, it can be a bit of an adjustment coping with the amount of food you need to consume on a vegan diet. Thriving on a plant-based diet often involves consuming much more than you are used to, which has its benefits (yay food) and its setbacks (hope you like to cook).
But how do we get protein from plants without turning into a giant block of soy product?
Lucky for us (and helpless animals) amino acids, the essential building blocks of protein are found abundantly in plant products. That’s right, ALL plants; vegetables, fruits, nuts, and herbs. Yum.
You may have heard that the only way to fuel efficiently as a vegan is to combine veggie proteins to make a ‘complete protein’ through foods like rice and beans. That theory has since been put to bed, knowing that our bodies are completely handy at storing amino acids and utilizing them for our body’s needs on the daily.
So what’s the catch?
In order to get the real benefits of these amino acids, we must give ourselves a wide variety of vegetarian proteins and eat enough nutrient-rich foods through the day. As long as you are reaching your daily calorie requirements through whole, nutrient dense foods, you are not at risk of protein deficiency as a vegan!
But wait…how do we know if we are getting enough?
Counting grams and weighing food probably isn’t your thing, right?
Your individual protein needs are dependent on your body size, activity level, stress level, age and goals. The Canadian Food Guide recommends adults (19 years and over) need 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. Ie, if you weigh 68 kg (150 lbs), then you would need about 55 g of protein per day.
However, what works for Jane Doe doesn’t necessarily make you glow, so I recommend meeting with someone qualified to work with you personally on establishing your ideal protein intake for your goals! (Like me!)
In the meantime, a great rule to follow for weight-control, energy and blood sugar maintenance is to include a plant-based protein option with every meal and snack.
That’s right. Smear some pumpkin seed butter on that banana. Sprinkle some lentils in that baked sweet potato. Have a handful of nuts and seeds after that green juice.
‘OK OK, just tell me what to eat already’
YOUR NUTRITIOUS PLANT PROTEIN ROSTER
NUTS + SEEDS
- sesame seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- brazil nuts
- hemp seeds
- chia seeds, etc
- black beans
- kidney beans
- pinto beans
- soybeans (tofu + tempeh)
GRAINS + PSEUDO GRAINS
- brown rice
- black rice
- wild rice
(smaller amounts, should be paired with a higher protein item such as beans)
- swiss chard
- nutritional yeast
- *protein powders: brown rice, pea, sprouted, hemp protein (should always supplement your protein consumption, not be your main source)
As you can see, us vegans aren’t a sorry bunch. Just looking at that list 99% of them are also high sources of antioxidants, complex carbohydrates and nutrients our bodies love.
Did I miss any of your go-to plant protein sources? What are your favourites?
Fuel your awesome,