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How can I get protein on a vegan diet?

Jul 29, 2014

Dr Janet Brill - Nutrition & Fitness Expert

It’s easy to get in enough protein on a vegan diet. Legumes, grains, soy and meat analogues, such as textured vegetable protein (TVP) and nuts, all provide ample amounts of protein. And when eating out, do your homework and call the restaurant ahead of time to ensure that they serve animal-free, vegan-friendly dishes. Vegetable protein is a healthy alternative to animal protein because it is low in saturated fat and has zero cholesterol. The soybean, part of the legume family, is the main ingredient of many common vegetable proteins such as tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein. You can eat those raw, baked, grilled, or sautéed. Edamame is the immature soybean inside the pod—a great snack on-the-go, salad topper, or even as a substitute for chickpeas in hummus.

 

Gwen Beckcom – Fitness Together Mission Hills

While both plant and animal foods supply protein, animal foods provide complete protein, which packs all the amino acids our bodies need to build muscle and synthesize antibodies, enzymes, and hormones. Since vegans nix meat, fish, poultry, eggs & dairy, it's important to keep nutrition on the front burner because plant protein often lacks several of these amino acids. Going vegan and getting enough protein can be tricky, but not impossible. One of the simplest, cheapest, and vegan-est meals in existence is also one of the best sources of protein around. Most beans are low in methionine and high in lysine, while rice is low in lysine and high in methionine. Put 'em together, and whaddaya got? Protein contents that is the same as meat. Subbing lentils or chickpeas for beans produces the same effect. These meals are a great way to load up on protein and carbohydrates after an intense workout. Other sources of vegan-friendly complete proteins are soy products & quinoa. Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that is packed with 8 grams of protein for every cup and is a great source of iron & fiber too! You can also make up a complete protein by combining foods such as hummus with a pita, spirulina with grains or nuts, and don't forget about the peanut butter sandwich, which packs in 15 grams of complete protein per 2-slice sandwich with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. 

If you’re considering going vegan, make sure you're getting enough calcium, omega-3 fats, vitamin D, iron and B12 in your diet as these key nutrients are commonly lacking in a vegan diet. Adding hemp seed, chia seed & buckwheat will not only increase your protein intake, but will also provide calcium, omega-3 fats, fiber & iron as well as magnesium & zinc. Making sure your body is getting enough protein to stay strong is crucial, as it functions to build and maintain your body, fight off disease, and keep energy levels high so you can stay alert all day. While it may seem difficult to get a full dose of protein per day (on average 46g for women, 56g for men), implementing a few of the above high-protein foods into your diet can help you reach those protein goals.

 

Derek Gelato  – Fitness Together Latham

Just like everybody else, vegans need complete protein to get all the essential amino acids. It is not that difficult to get more than enough protein in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Seitan is a good source of protein (consists of isolated wheat gluten), and I use Garden of Life's Raw Protein powder, which is plant-based protein that is organic and GMO-free. I also eat nuts and seeds.

 

Stacy Adams, Owner - Fitness Together Central Georgetown

Getting enough protein is always are concern when committing to a Vegan diet.  The main thing you have to keep in mind is you have to eat a wide variety of food in order to obtain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs.  Focus on high protein grains, such as Quiona & oat bran.  Eat a variety of beans & peas such as, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas, & split peas.  Incorporate plant protein supplements, when needed, such as Plant Fusion Protein Shake, Vega Protein Smoothie, Rice Protein Powder, Pea Protein and/or Hemp Protein powders.  A lot of the plant protein powders contain a wide variety of plant protein sources that provide you with all essential amino acids & taste great!  Nuts and nut butters also contain a small amount of protein and are a great compliment to a meal or snack.  The best thing to do is eat as many whole foods as possible, rather than relying on "fake" meat and/or processed foods.  Track your meals and you may be surprised on how quickly you can meet your protein requirements and stick with your Vegan Diet.

 

Chavanne Scott – Manager of Fitness Together Ballantyne in Charlotte, NC

I typically do not recommend vegan diets; however, if you decide to try a vegan diet, it is important to know and understand that proteins are the building blocks of life. In the body, they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth, tissue repair, and muscle recovery to name of few. Therefore, having adequate protein is critical to the proper care and function of your body; especially if you are maintaining an active lifestyle and participating in regular workouts. To meet the needs of the body, I prefer to see clients consume .75-1.00 grams of protein per pound of lean body composition. If you are unsure of these numbers, it is time to schedule a body composition assessment with your Fitness Together trainer.

Good sources of protein on a vegan diet are as follows: green peas, quinoa, nuts & nut butter, beans, chickpeas, tofu, chia & sunflower seeds, seitan (meat substitute made from wheat gluten), and a high quality protein supplement; such as the Isagenix Natural Berry Harvest shake which is a premium non-dairy meal replacement made from nutritionally complete plant-based protein. It features Phyto-IsaLean Complex™—a natural blend of pea and hemp protein to maintain lean muscle while supporting healthy weight management.

 

Susan Miller RD MPH CDN - Fitness Together Cold Spring Hills

Green peas: 1 cup has 8 grams of protein. My kids live then just frozen!!

Quinoa: 1 cup has 8 grams. I make a breakfast cereal out of this with hemp and banana!! Yummy!!!!

Hemp seeds: Yes from the hemp plant.. But not the same results..lol!! I sprinkle these on everything from salads to yogurts.

Nut butters: my favorite is almond but any nut butter is good. There have lots of calories so watch it but every tablespoon has 3 grams protein. 

Beans: these have a whopping 12 grams protein per 1/2 cup. That's crazy good!!

Chickpeas: another amazing source and so tasty. I put them in the oven and bake them up. They come out crunchy!! Just like eating nuts.

Sunflower seeds: I sprinkle these on salads and bring them to the beach with me. A great snacks!  

Edamame: sprinkle with salt (which is great for adrenal energy) and have as a side with dinner. 

Chia seeds: Remember the chia pet? Yup..that's where chia seeds come from. I add 2 tablespoons of them to a cup of milk and 1/4 cup oatmeal. Put that in refrigerator over night and when you wake you have a pudding. You can then add fruit or maple syrup. 

Lastly Cocoa powder. This has 1-gram protein in every tablespoon. I make my own hot cocoa with this or add to a smoothie with fruit. Sooo good!