So, you’ve decided to go vegan. But, what about protein?

If you follow a vegan diet, you have probably been asked the question: “but if you are vegan, what about protein?!”

Needless to say, protein plays a significant role within our body. Known as the “building blocks” of life, protein is responsible for our skin, cartilage, hair and nails. It also helps form important enzymes, hormones, and new tissues within our body. Most notably, protein helps build and maintain our muscles, and forms red blood cells to carry oxygen to all parts of our body. Our body requires 20 amino acids, the most basic units of protein, in order to carry out body functions. Despite the human body being able to make 11 of the 20 amino acids, we must obtain nine amino acids (known as the “essential amino acids”) from our diet. Animal sources of protein provide all the essential amino acids; however, by eating a wide variety of plant-based foods you will be able to attain all amino acids. Here is a list of some great plant-based foods that pack a punch in protein:

Soy

Soy comes from soybean plants and is part of the legume family. Despite being higher in fat than other legumes, soy provides mainly good fats and is cholesterol free. Soy is also an excellent source of calcium, iron, and antioxidants. Examples of soy products include:

  • Cooked soybeans (21 grams[g] protein per 175mL or 3/4 cup)
  • Edamame (25 g protein per 175 mL or3/4 cup)
  • Tofu (17 g protein per 175mL  or 3/4 cup)
  • Fortified soy beverage (7 g protein per 250mL  or 1 cup)
  • Legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans).

Legumes are a good source of fibre and protein. In fact, one serving of boiled lentils (175mL or 3/4 cup) contains about 6g of fibre and 13g of protein! These versatile foods can be used in salads, added to hearty vegetable soups, or incorporated into your favourite pasta sauce.

Grains

Grains are commonly known to be high in carbohydrate; however some grains also provide ample amounts of protein.

  • Amaranth (10g protein per 1 cup or 250 mL): this fine grain is a great way to add protein to pancakes or muffins
  • Bulgur (6g protein per 1 cup or 250 mL): this grain is most popular as Tabbouleh – a cold salad with bulgur, tomato slices, olives, mint, lemon and feta cheese. It’s a quick to prepare grain that a tasty addition to veggie burgers, chillies and stir-fries.
  • Quinoa (6g protein per 1 cup or 250 mL): this seed is consumed like a grain. Try quinoa in soups, salad, stuffed peppers or wraps.

Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butter Looking for a hearty snack that will keep you full longer? Try eating a handful of nuts or seeds! Nuts and seeds are not only great protein sources but they are also high in fibre, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Some examples of nuts and seeds high in protein include:

  • Peanuts (10g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)
  • Almonds (8g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)
  • Pistachios (6g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)
  • Cashews (6g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)
  • Pumpkin seeds (9g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)
  • Sunflower seeds (8g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)
  • Sesame seeds (8g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)
  • Flax seeds (8g protein per ¼ cup or 60mL)

Bottom line: it is important to eat a well-balanced plant-based diet to ensure you consume an adequate amount of protein.

Blog post contributed by Alyssa Ramuscak, Nutrition & Dietetics Student, University of Western Ontario