Plants Have Protein Too!
It still surprises me when people find out I eat plant-based, the first thing they ask is where do I get my protein. I have to admit, after eating vegan for nearly 4 years now, protein is not something I think about very much. I recently ran into one person who literally laughed out loud at the idea that plants have protein too! I eat a lot of nuts, seeds, beans and veggies every day, so I never really feel like I have to count my protein grams. By the way, the average woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day, whereas the average guy needs about 56 grams. But here's a fun food fact: Every single whole food has protein in it. Hard to believe, but it's true! And what's even better, if you're eating plants for protein, you'll also get all the benefits of healthy fiber intake, and zero cholesterol. Can you say the same about animal protein? No, no you can't.
I'm sure you've heard the term "complete" protein before. Basically, what that means is there are 20 different amino acids chains that form a protein. Most of these our bodies will convert into protein on its own from the food we eat, but there are 9 amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own. These are called essential amino acids. In the past, it had been commonly thought that we needed to eat our essential amino acids from one source (like animal protein), but now we know that's just not true. You can meet your dietary needs throughout the day by getting 6 of these essential amino acids in 1 meal, and 3 in the next, or whatever combination works out. The key is to be sure to eat foods high in L-lysine, such as legumes, tofu & tempeh, and lentils, which are excellent sources. Quinoa, amaranth, pistachios and pumpkin seeds are all also decent sources too. If you take an L-lysine supplement though, be sure to read the recommended dosage, you don't want to overdo it. More is not always better. If you would like to read more about L-lysine uses, benefits and dosages, click here.
To make it easier for you, I've come up with a list of my favorite plant-powered protein sources. Some of them are even "complete" proteins, containing the 9 essential amino acids. So next time someone asks you, "Where do you get your protein from?", or laughs at the mere thought of plant protein, you'll have the answers at the tip of your tongue, or at least at the tip of your fingertips!
Top 5 Protein Sources For Vegans:
1. Seeds - Like hemp, chia, flax and sesame seeds. Hemp seeds are an amazing protein powerhouse! They contain all 9 of the essential amino acids, and have a whopping 10 grams of protein per 2 Tablespoons. Chia seeds are also a wonderful source. They also contain the highest plant source of Omega 3's, an essential fatty acid. They are also a complete protein, and have 4 grams of protein to every 2 Tablespoons. I often put all of these in my smoothies!
2. Quinoa - Pronounced keen-wa, it is definitely a source of protein that you want to use often. You probably think it's a grain, but it's really a seed, which is great if you are eating gluten-free, or just cutting down on gluten. Quinoa has 8 grams of protein per cup and has all 9 essential amino acids.
3. Beans - Or legumes if you want to be fancy. Different beans have different nutritional values, but they all have protein and some of the essential amino acids. One cup of kidney beans has a whopping 13 grams of protein! And beans are so versatile too. You can add them to salads, put them in tacos, make bean dips or hummus, and because there are so many different varieties, the options are nearly limitless!
4. Soy - Tofu and tempeh have about 15 - 20 grams of protein per 1/2 cup! I just learned that the firmer the tofu, the more protein dense it is. You've probably heard all abut tofu getting a bad rap recently, but Medical News Today states, "There is not enough evidence from human clinical trials to substantiate the claim that the isoflavones in soy contribute to breast cancer risk." They even go on to say,
"Now we know that moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%."
The American Cancer Society also says that eating soy foods like tofu and tempeh may help lower the risk of many cancers. So there it is, the truth. Pretty great, right?
Don't know what tempeh is? It's a brick made of fermented tofu. Don't be afraid of it because it looks like it's moldy. That's the way it's supposed to look! It crumbles nicely for tacos, and it's firm and chewy and adds great texture to whatever else you're using it for. It also has about 30 grams of protein per cup, if you're keeping score!
5. Peas - Yep, peas! Pea protein is a great way to get your daily protein percentage. It has 7.8 grams of protein per cup. No wonder that jolly green giant was ho ho ho-ing so long ago! And now you can find pea protein powder in your local health food stores for making your morning smoothies too! So, don't count out these little round, green powerplants out, they have arginine and lysine, those tricky to get essential amino acids, and they are great for muscle building too.
Obviously, I've left out quite a few vegan protein sources. Like I said, all plants have some protein. Leafy greens like spinach and kale are great additions, and don't forget about nuts! Who doesn't love some nut butter on nice whole grain toast?