The rise of new fitness fads like the keto diet, paleo diet and now the vegan diet has stirred up a bunch of controversies. The thing is, although in some eyes these diets may seem like fitness fads – there seem to be here to stay.
The vegan diet is a diet that has been around for a very, very long time. Since the beginning of modern human existence, there have been people who choose to refrain from meat consumption.
Many religions like Buddhism and Hinduism have strong ties to a vegetarian diet. They believe that animals are sacred and to take a life in an unnecessary way is simply not wholesome as a person.
Personally, I value these beliefs and stand by what they say. On the other hand, if I was an early human and I had nothing to eat I would hunt and eat an animal – it’s just something primal in all of us.
Meat is a part of our early diets – whether we like to admit it or not.
With that said, there is an insurmountable collection of data that shows that meat consumption (especially fatty meats) is linked to chronic disease.
In fact, some recent research has even shown that by limiting your meat consumption you can lower your risk factors for heart disease and cancer – pretty cool right?
Okay, okay – this isn’t the point of this article. The point of this article is to walk people through the best sources of protein on a plant-based diet so let’s get to it.
Plant Protein 101
The first idea that I want to emphasize is that there is a certain train of thought that believes that some protein is more valuable than others. People split protein into complete and incomplete based on their amino acid profile and bioavailability.
In some cases, this could be a good way to determine if you are getting all your nutrients from your food – but in most cases, it simply isn’t worth paying that much attention to.
There are so many sources of protein – if you have a diet that is well balanced with the foods we have below (and I’ll explain in more detail) you really will not have to worry about if you are hitting your requirements for leucine or alanine.
You know from some of our earlier articles where and what protein is – but did you know that plants are the only organism responsible for creating dietary protein?
Yep, that’s right. Protein is created by plants.
It is a process they undertake through filtering nitrogen. On a very basic level, plants absorb nitrates from the soil and use this to build protein. We (plant eaters) then consume the plant and acquire our protein in that way.
When you consume protein from an animal you are merely eating the recycled protein that this specific animal has created. The tissue in the animal goes through a very similar process to us – recycling the proteins and adding it to our biomass.
What am I getting at?
All protein comes from plants – why not just eat it from the source?
Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Many people will scoff at a vegan diet because they are worried about the protein intake. At the time of this article, I have been vegan for 4 years and have never had an issue with protein – it’s everywhere.
Still, most people mainly acquire their protein through animal products – and in the west, that’s just how we are taught.
Think back to your nutrition classes – were you ever taught about beans, nuts and grains as being a good source of protein? Doubtful.
We cannot get stressed out about this – but it is important to recognize that knowledge is power, and understand that you can get protein from dozens of plant-sources.
Here are my Favourite vegan proteins:
This is more of a generic term for any bean or legume. Beans not only contain a very good source of protein, but most would consider their amino acid spectrum to be complete. They also contain a very good source of fibre, minimal carbs and minimal fat.
Beans for Protein, Best of (100g)
- Kidney Beans, 24g
- Black Beans, 21g
- Chickpeas, 19g
- Red lentils, 9g
Beans truly are one of the best sources of protein – irregardless of if you are vegetarian or not.
The best part – there is a huge variety of beans. Black beans, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans – the list goes on. Similar to various types of meat, there are various types of beans that will satisfy your hunger and keep you in the kitchen.
Grains and Greens
Oats, barley, bulgur, amaranth, quinoa – there are just so many different sources of protein that come from grains. We in the west have been conditioned to believe that grains, like wheat and corn, are unhealthy and only full of carbs – and to a certain extent this is correct, but it is mainly the cause of selective breeding and feeding for the masses.
Best Grain Sources of Protein (100g)
- Spirulina, 57g
- Buckwheat, 13g
- Barley, 12g
- Rye, 10g
- Spinach, 3g
- Steel Cut Oats, 3g
Ancient grains like the ones above will not only have a much wider spectrum of amino acids, but they will also contain much more fibre and many more vitamins and minerals.
Greens are one of the most underutilized sources of protein in our human diet. Not only do they contain a surplus of glutamine (important for limiting muscle wasting), but they also contain a very good source of dietary carbohydrates.
Grains and greens should always be a staple in your diet. Ensuring that you are eating the best sources of grains like Oats, barley, bulgur, amaranth, quinoa and my personal favourite – hemp (great for omega fatty acids), will ensure that you are meeting and exceeding your intake of protein.
We couldn’t leave this off the list. Nuts are perhaps one of the most powerful foods for humans. Not only do they contain a very good source of protein, but many nuts have good fats and high fibre content. This makes nuts a high-calorie food – but on that, you can eat every day and enjoy the benefits.
Nuts also provide a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals, including zinc and manganese – two minerals many people are deficient in.
Understanding that nuts have a very high caloric value (more than double that or beans and grains) means understanding that you should be consuming a minimal amount each day.
Something in the lines of a handful with lunch should be enough to meet your requirements.
Bro, Where Do You Get Your Protein?
It is unfortunate that we have not been taught about diets that help to limit chronic disease. It is even more unfortunate that people are not educated on the basics of nutrition as it relates to all food.
On the other hand, it is good to know that most governments are making serious changes to their nutrition plans. Most Scandinavian countries have altered their food plans, Germany has started to make changes, even Canada has removed meat as a primary protein source from their new food guide.
Look, I completely understand if you are not interested in consuming a plant-based diet, but you should recognize that you will not suffer from protein deficiency. The vegan diet does provide a very, very healthy source of calories and is sustainable long-term.
Making the switch will take time. Altering your diet in any capacity will be difficult – but the struggle will be well worth the rewards.