Getting your protein in on a vegan diet doesn’t have to be hard – if you know where to look.
The number of people on a vegan diet is set to double by the end of 2020, making over two million people in the UK vegan. When combined with the number of people who have recently reduced their meat intake or are following ‘flexitarian’ diets, around 1/5 of the population according to the Vegan Society, then it seems a huge portion of people are leaning towards plant-based eating.
Yet, 83% of people still think that following a vegan diet isn’t easy, according to recent research from Bath University. Many people assume that it’s hard to get the right amount of nutrients on a diet that excludes all animal products – particularly protein.
Protein is macronutrient that is usually found in the largest quantities in meat and dairy, and is essential for the growth and repair of the body. We should all be aiming to get around 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight (i.e. a 70kg that will be 53g of protein in a day), however that increases if you are a frequent exerciser.
“Vegans generally do not have a protein deficiency and they do not need to eat more protein than meat-eaters,” explains nutritionist Amaeze Madukah. “There is no reason why the quality of protein cannot be as good as meat if a variety of sufficient plant-based proteins are eaten in combination.”
This ‘combination’ refers to the eight different amino acids that are the building blocks of protein. Most animal products contain all of these in one product, making them a ‘complete’ protein, but some plant sources only contain a few amino acids.
“Our essential amino acid needs do not need to be met at each mealtime and it is the overall consumption over the course of a day that is important. Having a variety of different plant-based proteins will help you easily get all the essentials,” says Amaeze. And don’t stress too much: in a 2019 review published in the Nutrients journal, vegans were shown to not have deficiencies in any specific amino acids.
If you are on a vegan diet or wanting to reduce your meat intake, here are some vegan foods Amaeze recommends eating to ensure you have a high protein and varied diet.
Nuts and seeds
Hemp seeds are the winner here, with approximately 31g of protein per 100g. These are great added to salads, in smoothies or on top of porridge for some extra crunchy protein.
Lentils get a bad rap for being tasteless, but when used in dahl or used in salads and rice, they are delicious and served up 18g of protein per cup. Chickpeas are also a high-protein bean, with around 15g protein per cup. Hello, houmous.
Tofu is a classic meat alternative for a reason: it has 8g of protein per 100g. But tempeh takes the protein crown, with around 19g of protein per 100g. You can grill or fry these as you would any other protein source, or get creative as use them to make this carbonara or try them in a burger.
Grains don’t just serve you carbs and fibre: quinoa has around 8g of protein per 100g, amaranth around 9g and spelt has approximately 10g per cup.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).