Plant-based sources of protein for the veg curious

Disclaimer: I am not a dietician or a medical professional. Consult a professional if you’re concerned about your diet.

The number one question I get asked as a vegan is, “but where do you get your protein?”

It’s pretty simple – I get my protein from all the food I eat. Almost every food has protein in it, and many plant foods are abundant in protein. How much protein do we actually need?

The recommended daily allowance of protein is 46 grams for women ages 19 – 70, and 56 grams for men ages 19 – 70. These are only guidelines; depending on your weight, activity level and whether you’re recovering from illness, you will need more or less protein. Consult a medical professional if you’re concerned with getting enough protein.

If I eat two pieces of whole wheat toast with peanut butter for breakfast, I will get approximately 13 grams of protein, while two scrambled eggs give you approximately 12 grams of protein.

Quinoa is an excellent protein source for vegetarians and vegans.
Photo by: Silvia Pikal
My favourite plant-based sources of protein include:

– Lentils, cooked, 1 cup = 18 g of protein

– Black beans, cooked, 1 cup = 15 g of protein

– Chickpeas, cooked, 1 cup = 12 g of protein

– Quinoa, cooked, 1 cup = 9 g of protein

Some of my favourite recipes include lentil tacos, black bean burgers and an asparagus and chickpea casserole.

If the base of your meal doesn’t include a lot of protein, like a salad, pasta or stir-fry, top with tofu, nuts or seeds, or add a tablespoon or two of peanut butter to a smoothie or a sauce.

The myth of combining proteins

Amino acids form proteins. There are nine essential amino acids that are bodies cannot produce, and must come from food.

Most animal products contain all nine amino acids, as do some plant foods like soybeans, quinoa, hempseed and buckwheat.

In the past, it was thought that complementary proteins like rice and beans needed to be eaten at the same meal for our bodies to use them together. Today, studies have shown that our bodies can combine complementary proteins that are eaten within the same day.

Even if you don’t eat quinoa, it’s easy to get all the required amino acids from plant foods. The problem with the “complete protein” blurb you see in nutrition textbooks is the underlying as-sumption that vegetarians only eat one type of food. If you eat nothing but lentils everyday, three times a day for months, then of course you’ll have a problem. But whether you’re vegetarian or not, no human body can function on diet with so little variety. There are several vitamins and minerals that we don’t produce, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods to be healthy. Some foods, like beans and rice, toast and peanut butter and hummus al-ready contain all essential amino acids. However, as long as you eat a varied diet, you don’t have to worry at all about combining proteins.

Vegan athletes

There are several successful vegan athletes. Three of my favourites include:

Brendan Brazier, professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion

Mac Danzig, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitor, four time winner of the King Of The Cage Lightweight Championship

Steph Davis, rock climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer

For more information on plant-based protein, the Vegetarian Resource Group has a fantastic chart that lists several vegan protein sources, along with how much protein they contain.

Also check out these posts:

http://www.nomeatathlete.com/where-to-get-your-protein/
http://happyherbivore.com/2011/10/ask-happy-herbivore-protein/