To this day, my father will not eat one of the meals that I make without feeling he is missing something – “where’s the meat?” he would grumble. It is still a common misconception that you need to eat meat to complete your meal and get your proteins, not only from my father but the general public and many of my patients. When I tell people that I am vegetarian I am often posed with the question “but where do you get your protein from?”
It is well documented that vegetarian and vegan diets can easily get the proteins their bodies require in a diet that provides adequate daily calories. Athletes can even thrive with well-planned vegan diets. Let’s talk about protein and my top favourite sources in my vegetarian diet.
Protein – What You Should Know
Protein is the major structural component of all the cells in our bodies. Protein is needed for
– hemoglobin in your blood
– growth and repair of cells like those in your muscles, skin, and nails
– immunity and overall health.
Proteins are made up of 21 amino acids ( known as the building blocks). Nine of these amino acids are “essential”, meaning we must get these from our diets. Complete proteins are foods which contain all of these essential amino acids. Concern has been raised in the past regarding protein quality in vegan and vegetarian lifestyles since there are few plant-based foods that are complete proteins. However, you can get your needed essential amino acids daily by eating a well-balanced vegan or vegetarian diet with a variety of different foods.
Get your vegan proteins from a variety of different foods including vegetables, pulses (lentils, legumes, beans, peas), grains, soy/soy products, nuts and seeds!
My Top 5 Most Common Plant-Based Sources of Protein
Nuts and Seeds + their “butters”
Nuts and seeds are definitely my go to’s to add some protein to quick meals and snacks. If you’ve been following along with me you’ll notice I use nuts and seeds in a lot of my recipes (almonds, pepitas, cashews, walnuts… I’m not picky in this area, I like them all) and that I absolutely LOVE peanut butter. Not only do they have proteins, but also fibre, healthy fats and beautifying antioxidant Vitamin E!
Just to name a few…
3 Tbsp hemp seeds have about 13 grams of protein
¼ cup sunflower seeds have about 9 grams of protein
2 Tbsp chia seeds have about 5 grams of protein
2 Tbsp peanut butter have about 7-8 grams of protein
Soy – Tofu and Tempeh
Soy is a plant-based “complete” protein. There are so many options for creating delicious meals with soy products including tofu! One of my favourite ways to eat tofu is sautéed in some sesame oil, or check out my Spicy Peanut Tofu here. There is about 9 grams of protein for 4 oz of tofu. Plus it is super cheap!
Tempeh is a fermented form of soy product that is easy to digest and contains healthy probiotics that are good for your gut. I had actually only started eating tempeh about a year ago but have been pleased with the meals I’ve been able to get out of it! See below for a tasty recipe! One cup of tempeh provides you with about 30 grams of protein!
Pulses – Lentils, Peas, Beans. Chickpeas
Did you know that 2016 is the international year of pulses!?
Pulses are high in protein, heart healthy fibres and are super affordable! They also take a longer time to digest so they are great for keeping you full long and help avoid blood sugar spikes.
Like many other plant-based proteins, there are a lot of different types of meals you can use pulses in! I’ve even made lentil cookies and fed them to my dad without him knowing! I love making my own hummus, vegetarian curry and chili
½ cup black eyed peas ~ 8 grams of protein
½ cup lentils ~ 8 grams of protein
½ cup chickpeas ~ 7 grams of protein
½ cup kidney beans ~ 7 grams of protein
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae and something I consider a superfood! It is a rich source of antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, iron and considered a complete protein. I often add spirulina to my smoothies and smoothie bowls!
My boyfriend Gideon hates the word “yeast”, so anytime I use this ingredient I skip that part of the name! Nutritional yeast (NY) has a very yummy cheesy flavour which you can use to flavour an assortment of dishes! I like subbing it as an alternative to parmesan in my pasta dishes (mmm vegan alfredo). NY provides about 8 grams of protein for ¼ cup, is low in calories and an excellent source of Vitamin B12.
Guess what!? Even vegetables contain protein! For example, 1 cup of cooked spinach will give you about 7 grams of protein and a boat load of other nutrients that are good for your body for little calories. People who eat vegan and vegetarian definitely aren’t missing out (unless they personally wish they could eat meat, but I haven’t run into one yet)!
As always, I’d love to hear your favourite vegetarian/vegan meals, your stories, or questions! Comment below!
Oh and here is a recipe for Tempeh Shwarma-Style Lettuce Wraps inspired by Vegetarian Restaurant “ The Coup” In Calgary, Alberta. If you every go there, I highly recommend! Enjoy!