When you choose a plant-based diet, you’re not only looking after your body, but you’re looking after the environment as well.
On the flip side, a vegan diet can also make you very sick if you aren’t getting enough protein.
Gold Coast Naturopath, Amy Mingin, says that plant-based sources of protein tend to yield higher amounts of arginine, which may feed viral infections like herpes. Also, they can lack phenylalanine and tyrosine which are essential for neurotransmitter production, mood regulation and adrenal function. So, a fair bit of research and food planning needs to be done when you’re on a vegan diet.
I’ve spent three years eating a vegan diet. And there have been times when I haven’t had time to prep meals or think about how I should be combining my proteins which has even led to anaemia at one point.
So, through my research and advice from professionals such as Amy, these are the foundations that you need to know to make sure you are looking after yourself – not just the animals.
Please note that there are many theories and opinions out there. But this is simply what I have been advised by health professionals, learnt through my research and practiced over the years to get the optimal amount of protein into my diet.
What Can Happen If You’re Not Getting Enough Protein?
- You might be hungrier and so you eat more
- It can cause a hormone imbalance
- Protein is responsible for helping stimulate the production of dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) so it can affect our mental health
- Not as much energy and can lead to anaemia
- Your immune system weakens
- You could start losing hair and your nails may become brittle
The Recommended Daily Amount of Protein
Most official nutrition organisations recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amounts to: 56 grams per day for the average individual and up to 1.0 gram per kg of body weight for more active individuals.
This amount can easily be met daily, as long as you know the correct sources and the food combinations that will make a complete protein.
What is a Complete Protein?
Before I dive into food recommendations, it’s really important to understand what a complete protein is.
A complete protein contains an adequate proportion of each of the following nine essential amino acids that our bodies need to function:
Some foods may contain only some of these essential amino acids, but combine it with another protein that does and… Bam! You have a complete protein!
Side Note: There are people that say that you don’t necessarily need to combine the foods at the same time in order to combine the protein – you can have them at different times throughout the day.
15 of the Highest Protein Sources for Vegans
- Seitan (Not GF)
Seitan is a mock meat made from wheat gluten. Its high protein content, meat like texture and versatility make it a popular plant-based protein choice among many vegetarians and vegans.
Seitan is not a complete protein, so consider combining it with a soy broth to add in the missing amino acid - lysine.
- Tofu, Tempeh and Edamame
Tofu, tempeh and edamame all originate from soybeans and are a complete source of protein. They also contain good amounts of several other nutrients and can be used in a variety of recipes. Tofu, tempeh and edamame all originate from soybeans.
Naturopath Amy also says that for those with oestrogen dominant symptoms like heavy, painful periods, sore breasts or headaches with their period would be best to avoid soy in the luteal phase of their cycle (after ovulation). Stick to fermented versions like tempeh and miso to yield the most benefits from soy products.
Amy also let us in on her cheap and effective way to help balance hormones… she says that those with oestrogen dominance can benefit from 2 tbsp of flax seeds daily to help excrete oestrogen more effectively and regulate bowel transit time.
- Lentils, Chickpeas and Beans
Legumes are nutritional powerhouses. They contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds and may also help reduce the risk of various diseases.
Beans, lentils and chickpeas are not complete proteins as most are low in methionine and high in lysine. However, rice is low in lysine and high in methionine! #winning
- Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a popular plant-based ingredient often used to give dishes a dairy-free cheese flavour. It is high in protein, fibre and is often fortified with various nutrients, including vitamin B12 which helps boost energy.
Try mixing it into risotto or pasta instead of parmesan cheese or stirring it into soups.
- Spelt and Teff
Spelt and teff are high-protein ancient grains. They're a great source of various vitamins and minerals and an interesting alternative to more common grains. Try making your own bread using these grains!
Hempseed contains a good amount of highly-digestible protein, as well as plenty of magnesium, zinc, iron, and calcium.
Hempseed is almost nearly a complete protein - it’s a little low in lysine, so consider combining it with a protein high in lysine such as beans and make a yummy salad!
- Green Peas
Green peas are high in protein, vitamins and minerals and can be used as more than just a side dish. Combine peas with rice and make a complete protein.
Spirulina is a nutritious high-protein food with many beneficial health-enhancing properties. A good one to add to your smoothies. It’s not a complete protein so try combining it with seeds, oats, grains or nuts.
- Amaranth and Quinoa
Amaranth and quinoa are pseudocereals that provide you with a complete source of protein. They can be prepared and eaten similar to traditional grains such as wheat and rice.
- Ezekiel Bread and Other Breads Made From Sprouted Grains
Ezekiel and other breads made from sprouted grains have an enhanced protein and nutrient profile, compared to more traditional breads.
When Barley, Wheat, Beans, Lentils, Millet and Spelt are sprouted and combined it creates a complete protein J
- Oats and Oatmeal
Oats are not only nutritious but also an easy and delicious way to incorporate plant protein into a vegan or vegetarian diet. Add in some nuts, chia or hempseeds to your porridge in the morning and cook with soy milk! YUM!
- Wild Rice
Wild rice is a tasty, nutrient-rich plant source of protein. Those relying on wild rice as a food staple should take precautions to reduce its arsenic content. Combine with beans!
- Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a versatile source of plant protein and are highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain iron, calcium, zinc, and antioxidants. However, like hempseed, they are just a little bit low in lysine.
- Nuts, Nut Butters and Other Seeds
Nuts, seeds and their butters are an easy way to add plant protein, vitamins and minerals to your diet. Opt to consume them raw, unblanched and with no other additives to maximize their nutrient content. SO many combinations here including putting peanuts or cashews through your stir fry, chop nuts through your salads or put them through your smoothies.
- Protein-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
Certain fruits and vegetables contain more protein than others. Include them in your meals to increase your daily protein intake. And let’s face it, veggies go with almost everything! We love them!
I just want to finish by saying that you should always just listen to your body. If you are experiencing some stomach problems such as bloating, gas or loose stools… or you may even put on weight whist on the vegan diet... then perhaps the vegan diet isn’t suited to your body type. Either way, be sure to see a professional such as a naturopath for help if you feel like you aren’t feeling your best self.