Seeing as it is Veganuary, it is an apt time to shed light on the possible sources of protein you can get on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
We’ve asked naturopath Sharon Gardner to explain the importance of protein for plant based diets.
Proteins are an important nutrient needed for repair and growth of all cells, from our muscles, to hair, blood, connective tissue, enzymes, and antibodies and much, much more. Contrary to popular belief, protein is abundant in just about every food in varying amounts, and not just animals, which for most part get theirs from plant sources! As vegetarian, vegan and raw food diets, contain mainly sources of low bioavailability protein I would advise you to get 10% – 20% of your daily calorie intake from protein sources so that you can feel energised throughout your day.
Beans, Legumes and Pulses
Referred to as the “poor mans meat”, they contain health promoting sources of protein. As well as having a good protein profile, they also help to reduce cholesterol levels, improve blood glucose levels in diabetics and reduce the risk of many cancers. Additionally, they also contain important phytochemicals, which protect us against cancers, and when we combine them with grains they form complete proteins. Great ways to use these sources of protein would include in stews, soups, as part of a salad, burritos, burgers, and dips or as a great meatless chilli.
High Protein Grains
Quinoa, spelt, buckwheat, amaranth and millet are all high in protein and low in fat. Additionally, quinoa and spelt contain complete proteins, whereas buckwheat contains the 8 essential amino acids. All these grains (excluding spelt) are gluten free, so are great for those of us wanting to eat less gluten products. The grains can be used as a protein-boosting alternative to rice and pasta. The flakes make great energy-boosting porridges too.
Nuts, nut butters and seeds
These all offer good sources of protein, as well as fat. In addition they contain a variety of minerals including iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin E. omegas and other trace minerals. However, they also contain more calories due to their higher fat content, so moderation (as always) is the key. Soaking nuts and seeds for a few hours prior to consuming, helps make them more digestible, as it begins the germination process increasing their protein content whilst reducing their fat content. I love to add a spoon of almond butter into my post workout shake with Protein Excellence and almond milk. It tastes like a peanut butter smoothie.
Soya is also a great source of vegetarian protein, when eaten in moderation and in the right form. There are a lot of concerns as to whether or not soya is healthy! Soya protein isolates, are a part of the soya plant, (but not the whole soya bean), that has been shown to affect thyroid function. These protein isolates are highly refined forms of soya, where the fibre has been removed in order to isolate the protein, which is then dried and powdered and added to many different foods. This is not good for you which is why we do not include soya in our supplements. So please read your food labels, in order to avoid any that may contain this genetically modified isolate or soya protein concentrate. The best way to include soya into your diet is in its natural form, such as miso, tempeh and edamame beans. Remembering to check your tofu and soya milk to ensure they are free from isolates.