One of the biggest myths about vegan diets is that you can’t get enough protein. Protein performs many essential functions in the body, the most important being the growth and repair of muscle tissue.
There is a common misconception that we need far more protein than we actually do, meaning it’s easy to meet your protein requirements with some basic knowledge and meal-planning.
Plant-based diets can be abundant in protein with the added benefit of more nutrients, lower cholesterol and lower calories. Not only are there plenty of plants that pack a powerful punch, many have more protein than the meat and dairy products we ordinarily turn to.
And if that sounds boring, don’t worry! I’ve provided you with recipes links for savoury and sweet options for each category so you can see just how delicious plant-based protein can be.
Soya or edamame beans are technically legumes, but have such a versatile range of uses they deserve their own category. Tofu and tempeh are the most diverse soy products to cook with, while edamame beans can be added to salads or stir-fry’s for a quick protein hit.
People are often scared of soy because of the confusion that the phytoestrogen it contains can increases the risk of cancer. In fact, there is evidence that these plant-oestrogens can actually reduce this risk by blocking too much oestrogen from being absorbed into the body, whilst also benefiting other health concerns.
Protein Content of Soy Products (per 100g):
Soybeans (dry roasted): 43g, Tempeh: 19g, Edamame (cooked): 11g, Tofu: 8g, Soy Sauce: 8g*
BEANS & LEGUMES
There are a wide variety of options when it comes to legumes – all kinds of beans, chickpeas, lentils and more. Not only do they contain a lot of protein, they come packaged with plenty of iron and fibre, making them a vegan dietary staple.
Kidney beans are a rich source of nutrients but have a strong flavour. For milder tastes, white beans like cannelloni can be added to soups and salads, or even mashed on toast.
Chickpeas are a vegan’s best friend in the form of houmous or falafel, or you can add the whole lot into a one pot chilli for a filling protein-rich meal.
Protein Content of Beans & Legumes (per 100g):
Lentils: 26g, Kidney Beans: 24g, Black Beans: 21g, Pinto Beans: 21g, Chickpeas: 19g
NUTS & SEEDS
One of the most useful ingredient groups as nuts are great for making many different dairy replacements. Full of protein for an easy way to meet your recommended serving and a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be hard to get in diets which exclude fish.
Blending nuts with a few other simple ingredients can make a variety of vegan products – from plant-milks and vegan cheeses to creamy sauces and nut butters. Seeds can be added to smoothies, salad dressings or even homemade jams for an extra protein boost.
Protein Content of Nuts & Seeds (per 100g):
Hemp Seeds: 32g, Peanuts: 26g, Cashews: 18g, Chia Seeds: 17g, Walnuts: 15g
DARK, LEAFY GREENS
Popeye had it right all along, as dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are great choices to help meet your protein needs.
When compared per calorie spinach actually has more protein than beef, with the added benefit of no cholesterol or saturated fat but high levels of calcium and iron.
The flavour of spinach is especially easy to disguise within smoothies and juices where it will be masked, however, it’s harder to hide the green colour. A good trick is to blend all the other ingredients into a smoothie first, admire how good it looks before adding your spinach, blend again and drink your smoothie without looking at how off-puttingly healthy it looks.
Protein Content of Dark Leafy Greens (per 100g):
Spinach: 3g, Kale: 3g, Broccoli: 3g, Brussel Sprouts: 3g, Watercress: 2g
It seems logical that grains would be mostly carbohydrates but they can actually be a great source of protein and one of the most versatile for adding to both sweet and savoury dishes.
Seitan, one of the most popular meat replacements, is made from vital wheat-gluten, an almost pure gluten flour which has a very high protein content. It can easily be made at home, flavoured to your liking and shaped into meat-style dishes to really satisfy your cravings.
Quinoa is technically a seed but is prepared like a grain and has become increasingly popular for it’s high protein content and neutral flavour which can take any seasoning you like.
Oats are a more familiar choice and can be added to many recipes to top up your protein.
Protein Content of Grains (per 100g):
Seitan: 20g*, Oats: 13g, Pasta: 13g*, White Rice: 6g, Quinoa: 4g
All nutritional figures have been taken from the USDA Food Composition Databases and rounded to the nearest whole number. Some(*) are averages and will vary depending on production methods. Information correct at time of writing. Stock photos by rawpixel and Mike from Pexels.