Guest Blog by Gemma Shorter from nourishgem.co.uk
Protein is commonly associated with animal foods like meat, fish and dairy. Therefore, when it comes to the vegan diet, one question that is often asked is, ‘where do I get my protein’? Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get your protein from plant-based foods. We’ll look into why you need protein and how you can get your daily recommendation on a vegan diet.
Why do I need protein?
One of three macronutrients that are essential in the diet is protein. It is the main structural component of cells and therefore performs many important functions in the body, such as building muscle mass and making hormones.
How much protein do I need?
We need, on average, around 0.8-1g of protein per kg of body weight each day. (You will need slightly more if you’re engaging in regular exercise.) For example, if you weigh 70kg you will need roughly 63g of protein per day. When refuelling after exercise, it’s important to note that muscles can only absorb 25-30g of protein in one sitting. If you consume any more protein than this it will likely be excreted by the body.
“Protein is often associated with animal foods like meat, fish and dairy. However, there are lots of plant foods which also contain protein.”
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids and 20 of them are considered essential in our diet. If a food contains all of the 9 essential amino acids it is considered a high quality, ‘complete’ protein source. Most animal foods such as meat, fish and dairy are ‘complete’ proteins. However, there are only a few plant foods that are considered ‘complete’, including soya, quinoa and buckwheat.
If you have excluded animal foods from your diet, it is important that you eat a varied diet. This will ensure you are supplying your body with all of the essential amino acids. Although most plant foods do not contain all of the essential amino acids, they each contain different amino acids which appear to complement each other. Houmous and wholegrain pitta bread, or peanut butter on wholegrain bread are both good examples of this as they combine legumes and grains.
For those on a vegan diet or looking to reduce intake of animal foods, here are six plant foods which are good sources of protein:
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In the UK we do not eat enough pulses like beans and lentils. As well as being a good source of protein, they are also rich in gut-friendly fibre and iron and count towards one of your 5 a day. Pulses make a great meat substitute in recipes such as shepherd’s pie and spaghetti Bolognese, and add texture to soups, casseroles and salads. One portion is around 80g, which is equivalent to 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses, and contains roughly 7g of protein.
Nut & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are known for being rich in healthy fats but they’re also a good source of protein, fibre and vitamin E. They make a great snack. Try adding them to yogurt, porridge, smoothies and salads. A small handful of 25-30g counts as a portion and contains roughly 5g of protein.
Soya beans are used to make soya milk, tofu, tempeh and miso, or if they are picked when they are young they are referred to as edamame beans. Unlike other legumes, soya beans contain all 9 essential amino acids and are therefore considered a ‘complete’ protein. An 80g portion of soya beans contains 9.9g of protein, 100g of tofu contains 12g and 250ml of soya milk is around 8.5g. Tofu can be added to stir-fry’s, salads or curries. Try replacing cow’s milk with soya milk and use miso in soups and salad dressings.
Quinoa is a seed but it is often used to replace grains such as couscous and rice. Unlike other grains, quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids and is therefore a ‘complete’ protein. It also has more protein than rice and is richer in fibre, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. Its slightly nutty flavour goes well in a salad or as a side to chicken or fish. Cooked quinoa contains around 8.8g of protein per 180g.
Although it has wheat in the name, buckwheat actually comes from a seed and is not related to wheat. Similar to soya and quinoa, buckwheat is a ‘complete’ protein and is a good source of manganese and magnesium. You can buy it as groats, cracked or flaked or made into pasta or flour. The groats can be used in salads and the flour can be added to pancakes, bread and cakes. A 180g cooked portion contains around 9.2g of protein.
As well as being a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, vegetables also contain a small amount of protein. A 100g portion of peas contains around 5.7g of protein, with broccoli containing 4.4g, kale 3.4g and spinach 2.8g.
GUEST BLOGGER: Gemma Shorter
Gemma is a fully qualified nutritionist, registered with the Association for Nutrition. She provides nutritional insight to a range of organisations to help them improve their products or develop their business. Gemma believes that evidence-based nutrition information should be available to everyone and hopes to dispel some of the myths around food and nutrition so you can feel empowered to take control of your health.