"But how do you get your protein??"
"You need meat for strong bones and muscles!"
These are typical questions and reactions when it comes to veganism.
But, the answer (or solution) is actually very straightforward...
From all the foods you would typically eat on a whole, plant-based food diet! Duh
Be prepared to answer any questions or objections (or educate yourself) by actually understanding what protein is; how much you need; the difference between plant-based and animal protein; and the best sources to grow those strong muscles!
Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids and is an integral part of our diets. We need to eat enough protein every day to help maintain our health.
It is essential for optimal bodily functions, cell and tissue repair, and maintaining strong bones and muscles. (Your mother was right. We do indeed need protein to grow!)
Protein keeps us feeling fit, strong and full, giving us the energy to get through the day.
The recommended amount is between 10 and 35% of your daily calories, depending on your weight.
Or according to Harvard Health Publishing, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, and most Americans are meeting or exceeding this.
So yes, protein is an essential part of our diet, but so are whole grains, vegetables, and fruits too! We shouldn't think that protein is the main thing we need to eat.
There are 20 amino acids in proteins, and humans need to get nine of these (essential acids) from the food we eat to survive. We call them "complete" proteins, and the other 11 are considered non-essential.
Animal proteins are "complete" proteins containing similar patterns of amino acids as human cells, which means they have a higher biological quality than plant proteins.
Whereas only a few plant-based proteins contain all nine amino acids, and the rest are "incomplete" proteins, meaning they don't have all nine essential amino acids.
This is no biggy, though, and does not mean plant-based proteins are second class.
A varied, balanced vegan diet will provide all the adequate protein requirements and necessary amino acids. Your body maintains a pool of amino acids from each type of food you consume and will use it as necessary.
Despite the confusing information you might see online about soy, it's not harmful to your health. Soy is nutritionally dense and has many health benefits. Learn more about soy's health benefits HERE.
Soy is perhaps the best plant-based protein source and contains all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Soy varieties and their protein per 100g:
Tofu: 8 grams
Tempeh: 19 grams
Edamame beans: 11 grams
A pulse is an edible bean seed that grows in a fruit pod and includes all beans, peas, and legumes. They are all excellent low-fat and affordable sources of plant proteins and can be used in many ways in cooking.
Some varieties and their protein per 100g:
Lentils: 8-9 grams.
Chickpeas: 7 grams
Garden peas: 7 grams
Beans (black-eyed, butter, cannellini, kidney, edamame) - 7 - 10 grams
Quinoa is actually a carbohydrate, but it is also a complete plant-based protein source and is high in fiber.
It provides almost 4 grams of protein per 100 grams.
It's easy to cook, tastes great, and is very versatile as you can use it in many different ways, such as in oatmeal, baked goods, salad, or instead of rice.
Here are 8 reasons why quinoa is good for you!
Seeds are little powerhouses! They pack a punch of nutrients, including protein, magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Add them to your salads, smoothies, sandwiches, or eat as a snack to increase the protein of any meal.
Pumpkin seeds: 5 grams protein per 30-gram serving
Chia seeds: 4.7 grams protein per 30-gram serving
Hemp seeds: 8 grams protein per 30-gram serving
What happens when you eat chia seeds every day? Find out HERE
Another great source of plant-based protein, albeit in smaller quantities, are nuts, and they also provide heart-healthy fats.
Enjoy nuts as a snack, or add to your morning breakfast, salads, and stir-frys.
Almonds: 1 oz roasted almonds contains 6 grams of protein
Cashews: 1 oz roasted cashews contains 4.5 g of protein
Pistachios: 1 oz pistachios contains 6 grams of protein
Nutritional yeast is often overlooked as a source of protein. It has 4 grams of protein per tablespoon and contains all nine essential amino acids.
It's an excellent source of Vitamin B12, which is often in a deficit in people that only eat a plant-based diet.
Add nutritional yeast to tofu or egg scramble, dips and sauces, pasta, or as a topping to your popcorn.
HERE are 8 more ways to use nutritional yeast.
Grains may be primarily carbohydrates, but they also pack a protein punch! For example, a cup of quinoa or barley adds 5 to 6 grams of protein to your meal.
Oatmeal is another protein champ offering 12 grams of protein per serving. Top it off with some nut butter and soy milk, and you'll have over 20 grams of protein in a single plant-based meal.
Ancient grains like teff, millet, and amaranth are also great options to add to your meals to increase the protein content.
Getting your protein on a plant-based diet is not that difficult at all. Many of the foods you consume will provide adequate protein and fulfill the RDA (recommended daily allowance).
When eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods and adding protein sources with every meal, you will definitely meet your protein requirements.
Word of caution: If you experience constant symptoms of extreme fatigue, lack of energy, muscle weakness, disturbed vision, or feeling depressed, you may have a Vitamin B deficiency.
Although uncommon, it can occur when you are following a vegan or plant-based diet and not getting enough Vitamin B12 over a long period.