So, lets answer the questions we vegans constantly hear. What are vegan protein foods, what are high or the highest protein foods on our chosen vegan diet. And just where do vegans get their protein from? I have even heard it said, “what is a vegan diet good for, you still need protein.”
The Basics of Protein
As more and more people embrace a vegan lifestyle there is often concern about meeting the body’s nutrient and particularly protein needs, without consuming animals or animal products. In this post I will explore the world of vegan protein foods and debunk the myth that the plant based diet lacks essential protein. We will uncover the truth about protein sources on a vegan diet and discover how they contribute to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Indeed the availability of protein is among the benefits of being vegan.
Before, diving into the world of vegan protein foods it’s important to understand what a protein actually is. Proteins are made up of amino acids which are often referred to as the building blocks of life. There are nine essentials amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own, and must obtain through our diet.
While animal products contain all nine essentials amino acids, in varying amounts, it is possible, and with adequate knowledge and planning, easy, for vegans to obtain these nutrients from plant based sources. All plants contain at least a tiny amount of protein, and without thinking about it a vegan can often get enough protein by just eating a healthy amount of fruit, vegetables and in particular whole grains and legumes. This is particularly effective when combining different foods and protein sauces.
Much of this myth about needing chicken, steak or whatever for muscles is nothing more than clever marketing. Still, you are here to learn about protein in a vegan diet. Indeed it is quite difficult to avoid eating protein on a vegan diet, unless you want to live on salad leaves of course.
But then you probably came here to learn how to get more protein…
It is worth noting at this time that whilst humans can’t produce protein, neither can fish nor animals. The protein that comes in meat flesh, and indeed all animal products, is completely sourced by what the animal has eaten. For example farmed livestock are raised commercially on high protein grains. Mostly soy, but occasionally wheat, oats, corn and so on. It is of course true that you will occasionally see animals in pastures of grass. However, grass is low in protein so they need to eat a lot of it, and it is very inefficient commercially for stock to be raised that way.
In order for farmers to get young animals to put on weight rapidly, so they can be economically slaughtered as babies, or little more that babies, they need these high protein foods. That is why many modern intensively farmed animals never see the light of day, or these idyllic green pastures. If you would like to know more about the life and lifespan of farmed animals please drop me a note in the comments section.
Vegan Protein Powerhouses.
So here we come to the vegan high protein foods. Vegans have an array of delicious (once prepared properly,) and nutritious options when it comes to obtaining adequate amounts of protein.
Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and black or red beans are excellent sources of plant based protein, they are not only rich in proteins, but also packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that promote overall health.
Tofu, tempeh and edamame are soy or soy based products that have become popular amongst vegans due to their high protein content. These products are along with seitan (gluten based meat alternative), are amongst the highest vegan food for protein and the easiest for many vegans to take. Though some seeds for example pumpkin seeds, beans such as red kidney (or chilli) and black beans and nuts, actually have more protein but are not easy for many people to take in regularly high volume. These Tofu, tempeh and seitan are versatile ingredients that can be used in a variety of dishes. Often as a meat alternative in traditional meals that you already love. They can also be used in some sweet dishes, in either case, and provide essentials amino acids that are necessary for muscle growth and repair.
Quinoa and amaranth are ancient grains that are not only gluten free but also packed with protein. They have a complete amino acid profile making them an ideal choice for vegans looking to meet their protein needs.
Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, chai seeds and hemp seeds, provide a significant amount of protein alongside healthy fats. Incorporating these into your diet can add flavour texture and a valuable nutrient to your meals.
Combining Proteins for nutrition.
While it’s true that some plant-based sources may lack certain essentials amino acids on their own, vegans can easily overcome this by consuming a variety of foods throughout the day. By combining different plant based proteins at meals or snacks, we can ensure we receive all the essentials amino acids our bodies need. Examples of complementary protein combinations include beans and rice or hummus with whole-grain pitta bread.
Busting More Myths.
A common Misconception is that a vegan diet cannot adequately support athletic performance due to its perceived lack of protein. However, numerous athletes have thrived on plant based diets while achieving remarkable feats in their respective fields.
From professional tennis players like Venus and Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic to boxer David Haye, to ultra endurance athletes like Rich Roll, and Carl Lewis to NFL players Derrick Morgan and Colin Kaepernick, vegan diets have proved time and time again that they can provide ample nutrition for athletic endeavors. Indeed, in the world of Rich Roll and endurance running, those that do one hundred mile races and so on, more and more of the top athletes are now vegan, the meat-eaters simply cannot keep up.
Though I should say here that the anti-inflammatory properties of a vegan diet certainly help the recovery of athletes too, whether that be from the normal wear and tear of training and competition to specific injuries. You will find a section on veganism for athletes on this website.
More Benefits of Plant-Based Proteins.
Whilst I have talked mainly about vegans and proteins here, I should also make a brief note about the other benefits of a vegan diet.
Firstly we have the maltreatment and slaughter of animals. Many of us have cats and dogs, and though it does happen in some parts of the world, we would be horrified if someone offered us a piece of dog or cat in our meal. We would never think of keeping these pets permanently in crates where they could not turn around, as we often do to pigs. Or artificially inseminating them, then take their offspring away from their mothers at birth as we do cows, so that we could consume the milk!
Indeed, if we treated dogs and cats like we do farm animals, in many places in the world we would be arrested and prosecuted. Yet pigs are more intelligent that dogs and make great pets, yet we treat them so differently from dogs. Indeed, except for those kept for breeding we mostly slaughter them at 5 to 6 months, when their natural lifespan is 15 years and sometimes up to 20 years. I also wonder how many people would eat meat if they had to kill their own animal or even watch as it is killed. Some people will say, yes but the pig is bred for slaughter, well is that our doing not the pigs? And perhaps the only difference between the animals is OUR perception, that for many of us has changed, or is at least starting to.
The other main benefit of giving up meat, fish and animal products is towards the environment and conservation. Animal agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water pollution. By shifting towards a plant based diet we can reduce our carbon footprint and promote sustainable practices that are beneficial for both our planet and future generations. We have all heard about the deforestation of the Amazon, what many of us don’t fully appreciate is that most of this is being done not by locals, but by rich foreigners to extend the amount of grazing to raise their cattle. Which are largely then exported! I could go on about this and the effects of fishing and over fishing in the seas but here is not the place. Please drop me a comment if you would like me to do an article in more depth on any of these subjects.
Country to popular belief a vegan diet can provide all the essential protein needed for optimal health. It really is not difficult. By incorporating a variety of vegan protein foods into our meals and snacks we can ensure that we meet our nutritional requirements while enjoying delicious and sustainable options.
If we think about it a little more, all we are doing is cutting out the middle process of feeding these high protein grains to animals so that they can (very inefficiently) turn this protein rich foodstuff to protein for us to eat. But at what cost to us the animal and the planet? But of course also money for the people involved in the process, though often greatly subsidised by the government, or should I say you and I as tax payers?
Furthermore, when people say to you that, “you look muscular for a vegan, that’s unusual,” ask them if they have seen an elephant, a rhino or a water buffalo? Guess what they eat?
So, whether you’re a committed vegan, want to become one but are far off it yet, or simply looking to incorporate more plant based foods into your diet, rest assured that there are plenty of protein rich options available to support your journey towards a healthier lifestyle. And of course you are more than welcome on this website.
Before closing, I would just like to make a few more brief points. One is that it is important for people adopting a vegan diet to ensure they get sufficient vitamins and in particular vitamin B-12, this is generally taken through a supplement. I have covered B12 in other articles but suffice to say you need the supplement unless you plan your diet really well with plant milk that is enhanced with it for example. Many vegans myself included, just take a daily B 12 pill or a multivitamin every day. Though please ensure that they are vegan.
Secondly, if you are ready to move to or towards a vegan diet and have any concerns about getting enough protein whilst you work your way over the learning curve, please don’t worry. There are plenty of vegan protein shakes and bars available out there. For most of us we don’t really need them with a planned and organized diet as demonstrated above, but many of us live busy lives and whilst there are a myriads of plant-based alternatives to meat or processed foods available, we often seem to “eat on the go.” Don’t worry, whilst it’s better for you if it’s not a regular thing, there are plenty of vegan shakes, bars or smoothies that are quickly made up, and whilst strictly not necessary, I do not consider it cheating.
Though, please beware, many protein shakes and bars are made with whey, this comes from cows milk which is left over in the process of making cheese. Though you may have to look further, vegan protein bars and shakes are available and if you shop around are not expensive. I am also attaching offers to cook books on the website if you are new to this or just want to try something different. The following one is a cookbook of high protein recipes, It’s not only for bodybuilders but anyone who leads a very active lifestyle and is concerned they may not be getting enough protein. It really is something you don’t have to worry about with proper planning, but this bit of guidance and some new great recipes can only help! Please click here to check it out.
Please note, if you do buy from this link, as an affiliate, I will be paid a small commission.
If you have any comments or questions on protein for vegans or indeed anything around the subject of veganism, please just drop me a comment. I believe I am becoming more knowledgeable as I practice the lifestyle and study the subject more. As you can probably gather, I am very passionate about it. Many thanks for taking the time to read this article.
One final thought. The biggest land animals on the planet are all vegan, be they gorillas, water buffalo or elephants!