Getting enough protein is often cited as a concern by those considering a vegan diet. Protein is traditionally associated with meat and other animal products, so it's unsurprising that people wonder where they will get it from if they go vegan.
With millions of healthy vegans all over the world, it's clearly possible to meet your nutritional requirements without meat. But how? This article will answer that question.
Should you be worried about getting enough protein?
No! Regardless of your diet, protein is not difficult to come by. In fact, all foods contain at least some protein. Though food packaging often boasts that the product is a ‘source of protein’, this claim is meaningless - all foods are a source of protein!
Most of us never worry about getting enough fat or carbohydrates, the other two macronutrients. That's because we recognise that these are abundantly available, meaning it's not necessary to go out of our way to find them. The same is true of protein. As long as your diet is balanced and contains plenty of whole foods, you will be fine. Protein deficiency has only ever been recorded in those with malnutrition, so just make sure you eat enough!
What are the best sources of protein?
Although all foods contain protein, some contain more than others. Again, as long as you eat plenty of whole foods, you shouldn't need to worry. But to put your mind at ease, here are some of the best sources.
- Legumes such as black beans, peas and lentils
- Vegetables - broccoli famously has more protein per gram than steak!
- Soya products like tofu and soya milk
- Mock meats
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
Include plenty of these in your diet and you'll be fine.
But isn't plant-based protein incomplete?
A common myth is that plant foods don't contain adequate amounts of certain amino acids, so they must be carefully combined to ensure you get complete proteins. Thankfully, this has been debunked. As long as you get adequate amounts of all the amino acids throughout the day, you'll be fine - your body can store them up, so there's no need to get them all at the same time. In fact, when you eat meat, your body breaks down the proteins into individual amino acids anyway.
In reality, most vegetables and grains do contain adequate amounts of all the amino acids, making it inaccurate to call them incomplete proteins. For example, if you get 1% of your calories from lettuce, this will provide more than 1% of your recommended daily intake of all eight essential amino acids.
Though plant foods typically contain lower levels of amino acids than animal foods, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Eating too much animal protein has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, many cultures worldwide eat a predominantly plant-based diet. They are not protein-deficient, and they have far lower rates of chronic disease than those in industrialised nations.
If chimpanzees, elephants and hippos can get enough protein on a plant-based diet, then you can too! Eat healthily and listen to your body, and you'll have no cause for concern. You'll be thriving in no time.