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Protein sources for vegans and vegetarians

“Am I eating enough protein?” 

One of the biggest concerns for vegans and vegetarians is their protein consumption. 

A well planned and balanced meat free diet can be nutritious and meet all your daily requirements. 

When considering protein, the first thing you might think of is dairy, chicken or fish. 

Non meat eaters — there are many plant based proteins that help you reach your protein requirement. 

 

What is the big hoo haa about protein?

Protein is made up of chains of molecules known as amino acids. 

A high protein diet is never a bad idea! It can promote muscle strength, a feeling of fullness and even aid in weight loss. 

 

Plant versus animal protein

— Animal protein contains all nine essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. 

— Plant protein also contains all nine essential amino acids but often a limited amount of at least one essential amino acid, making it an “incomplete” source of protein. However, a mix and match of a variety of plant based proteins will help you meet the essential amino acid requirement. Plant-based diets are often linked to several health benefits especially among vegans whose diets support weight goals, blood pressure and heart health, all it requires is careful planning.

 

Here’s a little secret not many know  — some plant based foods do have whole source of protein than others (This means that they provide your body all the nine essential amino acids it needs.)

So continue reading to make informed choices — 

  • Tofu, tempeh, and edamame

Tofu, tempeh and edamame are all made from soybeans, a whole source of protein and rich in iron and calcium too. 

– Edamame are unripe soybeans with a sweet and grassy taste. They are eaten steamed or boiled. 

– Tofu is made from soybean curds pressed together using a process similar to cheesemaking. It is almost tasteless but absorbs flavours easily.

– Tempeh on the other hand is made by cooking and fermenting mature soybeans and then pressing them into a block. It has a very nutty flavour. 

  • Lentils or dals 

Lentils are the most popular protein among Indians, used in a variety of dishes and a staple in every Indian household. With 18 grams of protein per cooked cup, lentils are also a rich source of fibre and iron, a simple and delicious element to increase your protein intake especially if you are vegetarian or vegan. 

  • Chickpeas or channa

Chickpeas are packed with proteins, nutrients and minerals and are very beneficial for your health, considered a vegetarian protein powerhouse. This versatile bean is used as an ingredient substitute in gluten free and high protein pasta, bread and even vegan desserts.

  • Kidney Beans or Rajma

Kidney beans are high in protein, carbohydrates and fibre but are low in fat. Most types of beans contain about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup. Kidney beans and other legumes help decrease cholesterol levels, manage blood sugar, lower blood pressure and sometimes even reduce belly fat. A steaming bowl of rajma chawal is a high protein comfort food in many Indian households. 

  • Green peas

Did you know that green peas contain 9 grams of protein per cooked cup which is slightly more than a cup of whole milk? Green peas are also a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium and several other vitamins and minerals. There aren’t many vegetables that are as high in protein as this vegetable. Food companies make plant based protein powders using green peas because of its high protein content. Speaking of green peas, I would love a bowl of matar paneer for lunch today!

  • Amaranth and quinoa

Although amaranth and quinoa are often referred to as gluten-free grains they don’t grow from grasses like other cereal grains do, which is why they’re technically considered a pseudocereal. Amaranth and quinoa provide 8 to 9 grams of protein per cup and are complete sources of protein, which is highly uncommon among grains and pseudocereals making it a great addition to a vegan or vegetarians diet. 

  • Breads made from sprouted grains

Bread made from organic and sprouted whole grains or legumes contain at least 8 grams of protein. Sprouting grains and legumes increases the healthy nutrients, reduces antinutrients and increases the content of specific amino acids, (lysine) which helps boost the overall protein quality in bread. Opt for sprouted grain breads for healthy living!

  • Oats and oatmeal 

Eating oats is an easy and delicious way to add higher quality of protein than any other grain to any diet. Half a cup of oats has 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fibre along with other nutrients, making it a healthy addition to your diet. 

  • Wild rice

Wild rice contains approximately 1.5 times more protein than other long-grain rice including brown rice and basmati. Unlike white rice, wild rice is not stripped of its bran, a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. 

  • Chia seeds

Chia seeds is native to Mexico and Guatemala. With 5 grams of protein and 10 grams of fibre per ounce, chia seeds definitely deserve to be mentioned as a plant-based protein. These tiny but mighty seeds are full of nutrients like iron, calcium, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. 

  • Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese or paneer is the best dairy item when it comes to protein. An alternative to tofu and an all-time favourite among Indians. 

  • Yogurt or dahi

Dahi is extremely high in protein and a probiotic. It has 11 grams of protein per 100g. 

 

  1. Milk 

The proteins in milk can be divided into two groups based on their solubility in water. Both groups of milk proteins are considered to be of excellent quality, making milk a terrific source of protein. Not only is milk rich in high-quality protein but it is also jam packed with vitamins and minerals.

  • Nuts, seeds and their derived products

Nuts and seeds are super sources of protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Their derived products like nut butters as well! 

1 ounce contains 5–7 grams of protein depending on the variety. When choosing which nuts and seeds to buy, keep in mind that roasted or blanched nuts might have lost their nutritional value compared to raw or unblanched nuts. 

  • Buckwheat

Buckwheat is actually a seed, both protein and fibre. It can be found as flakes, groats, pasta and flours, making it an excellent addition to a vegan diet and protein rich substitute for other cereals and flours. 

  • Protein-rich fruits and vegetables

All fruits and vegetables contain protein, 

Vegetables with the highest protein content are — broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts. 

Sweet corn, which is a grain in actuality, is another common high protein food that is eaten like a vegetable. 

The highest protein content is found in fruits like — guava, custard apple or sitaphal, mulberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines and bananas. 

 

Benefits of Protein Rich Food

  • Protein is extremely important for our bodies to carry out basic functions. It is used by our muscles, bones, skin and hair to repair and maintain them. 
  • Proteins enable the body’s cells and organs to communicate with one another. 
  • The enzymes in our body are made up of protein which is responsible for millions of chemical processes throughout the body. 
  • Protein helps to strengthen bones
  • A high-protein diet helps wounds heal faster after an injury or surgery. 

So all vegetarians and vegans out there, use this as a source of information and a guiding light.

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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