The Best Sources of Protein for Vegans and Vegetarians
by Sej Lee
I interact with a lot of different people everyday and I often get asked about my diet. Of course, I tell them it’s natural (double entendre intended), but one standout – and fellow vegans/vegetarians/plant-based folks will agree – among the many questions is: “How do you get your protein?”
Sometimes, it’s phrased as “How do you keep your energy up?” but the core of that question is how, without animal products, do I get what my body needs?
The short answer? It’s pretty simple. It’s totally doable. Wait, is two sentences too long of an answer?
It’s totally valid to get sucked into the science of protein and I promise you, it gets real tricky, real fast. And research shows there’s a wide spectrum of thoughts out there (surprise!) – some think vegan diets mean less protein than the average, animal product-eating diet and some find that vegans and vegetarians are doing just fine.
One of the reasons why vegan and vegetarian diets are often disputed is surely the fact that plant-based protein is often incomplete, meaning it lacks one or more amino acids our body needs. Whether it’s for your hair or muscle recovery (among a host of other things), you need to obtain nine essential amino acids through food as your body cannot produce them on its own. However, by combining the right plant-based protein sources it is still possible to get the complete amino acid profile your body needs to thrive.
Flavor and variety are the spice of life, right? Here’s a few of our favorite plant-based combinations!
The Best Vegan and Vegetarian Protein Options
Here’s a short list of the best protein sources for vegans and vegetarians that should definitely be on your grocery list!
Usually, the best option for pumpkin seeds is the unsalted kind. Studies show that pumpkin seeds can improve sleep and overall metabolism. Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, yet missing essential amino acids. By combining seeds with legumes you’ll get the full amino acid profile.
Who can say no to the high-complete-protein, gluten-free awesomeness that’s quinoa? Replace white rice with quinoa, use it as a base for pudding after a meal, or spice up your salad!
Another famous “complete protein” food is soy. Soy is a great way of supplementing your daily protein needs with a variety of other elements like calcium, iron, and potassium.
Am I the only one who sometimes dreams of peanut butter and chocolate? Possibly the yummiest contender on this list, peanut butter’s a low-carb, rich-in-protein option. Enjoy peanut butter on a toasted slice of whole grain bread to get all nine amino acids your body needs.
Chia seeds should make it into everyone’s mix of vegan or vegetarian protein options. Packed with vitamins, nutrients, and all essential amino acids, chia seeds are an easy way to boost a smoothie in a pinch!
Though not a pound-for-pound rival with peanuts, almonds are rich in Vitamin E, which isn’t easily found in other nuts. And a handful of almonds can go a long way in fighting hunger.
Yes, soy’s already on this list, but tofu is just so versatile. Being able to throw tofu into a salad or a stir-fry gives tofu legs that some of the other protein heavy-hitters can’t stand on, even if it is a soft food.
Take Home Message
Protein sources that aren’t part of your usual animal-product-based diet can help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The key to maintaining a long-term relationship with protein in a vegan or vegetarian diet however, is mixing and matching. Sometimes that’s adding kale, sometimes that’s reaching for a healthier snack bar. Be mindful and intentional with your diet as you add them to a more plant-based you – of course, let us know how you’re keeping inspired (@realfoodbar)!