The Vegan Challenge: How to Get Enough Protein
Plant-based diets offer a variety of health benefits: They can help people maintain a healthier weight, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and alleviate high blood sugar issues.
Animal-based foods provide complete and high quality protein, but most plant-based protein sources are incomplete. This means they fail to provide the nine essential amino acids your body requires to stay healthy, withstand daily stressors, heal well and live strong.
As a result, every vegan needs to incorporate a range of protein sources into their diet and work to consume these foods on a regular basis. To accomplish this, vegans need to master the shortlist of complete plant-based protein sources and understand how to pair incomplete but complementary foods to obtain the protein they need.
Complete Protein Sources
There are a number of plant foods that deliver complete protein. Soy is an excellent example and it’s available in many forms from tofu and tempeh to powders and milk, so for many vegans it becomes the go-to protein of choice. Add spirulina, hempseed, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, chia seeds and pepitas (pumpkin and squash seeds) to your short list of quality proteins, and to keep your food choices fresh and interesting, incorporate other protein sources such as almonds, chickpeas, flaxseeds, goji berries, certain peas and wild rice.
Complementary Protein Combinations
Rice, nuts, seeds, legumes and most grains contain some protein but lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Pair these incomplete proteins in a dish, eat them in the same meal or consume an assortment of them over the course of a day, and you’ll create complete proteins. Classic combinations include rice and bean dishes, toast and peanut butter, hummus on whole grain bread, and snack or trail mixes featuring a mix of grains, seeds and nuts.
To put the protein challenge in perspective, consider these facts: The CDC recommends an average daily intake of 46 grams of complete protein for women and 56 grams for men, and since your body doesn’t store amino acids, it’s important to consume a full range of protein sources. A 4 oz serving of beef contains about 26 grams of protein, while a similar serving of lentils contains about 13 grams and quinoa contains about 4 grams.
A varied diet is an essential component of any healthy eating regimen, but it’s especially important for vegans. The solution is to develop a sound food plan that integrates a range of protein-rich foods in sufficient quantities, so you obtain the steady stream of the complete protein your body requires.