Protein is everything for the post-WLS vegan. Those who have had Roux-En-Y gastric bypass only absorb about 75 percent of the nutrients they consume. That means they have to get 100 grams of protein to absorb 75. Duodenal Switch patients absorb even less. Those with gastric sleeves or adjustable bands don’t have malabsorption issues but they still need to focus on protein consumption because they have limited capacity like all bariatric post-ops.
Even though protein is plentiful in the plant kingdom, the limited nutrient absorption for most post-ops means that care and planning are required. The other challenge is that most vegan sources of protein are high-volume foods – large portions are relatively low in calories and other nutrients. Nothing is impossible, though, and for those committed, a vegan diet is attainable for most WLS post-ops.
Soy is often the default when it comes to vegan protein but it’s also a food source that has a high rate of intolerance and allergy – issues that are often aggravated after bariatric procedures.
Here are some valuable whole-food sources of vegan protein and ideas of convenient ways to work them into your eating plan and to maximize their benefits:
- Spinach – Did you know there is 13 grams of protein in every pound of spinach? When it comes to protein content by weight, spinach outranks many animal sources. However, spinach is high in volume, making it tough for the average post-op to consume enough to make a dent in his/her protein needs. That’s where your blender comes into play. Green smoothies are an easy way to drink your veggies – and get in 4 to 6 cups of fresh, raw spinach into your body every day. You can even add spinach to your vegan protein shakes for maximum nutrition.
- Hemp Hearts – A serving of three tablespoons packs 10 grams of protein, making these tiny little treasures protein powerhouses. Nutty with a subtle sweet note, hemp hearts are great sprinkled on salads and fruit or blended into smoothies for a nutritional boost that is both good and good for you.
- Beans/Legumes – Every cup of cooked lentils boasts 18 grams of protein, putting those little precious jewels ahead of beans. But beans shouldn’t be discounted. They offer 15 to 17 grams of protein per cup, depending on variety, with adzuki and cranberry beans ranking at the top end of the scale.
- Ancient Grains – Most people know that quinoa is an excellent source of plant-based protein, offering 12 grams of protein per cup of cooked grain, but have you heard of freekeh? Freekeh is toasted green wheat and outshines quinoa with 16 grams of protein per cup. Prepared just like rice, its nutty flavor and toothsome texture make it a great stand-in for low-protein grains, and it holds up well in cold dishes like hearty salads.
- Nuts – Nuts are a versatile protein booster. You can make your own trail mix or grind them into butter or flour for baked goods and other low-carb treats. Almonds are a common favorite with 6 grams of protein per quarter-cup. Cashews, which can be soaked and blended to make a decadent vegan replacement for cream, offer 5 grams of protein in a quarter-cup.
- Seeds – Great on salads, in pilaf or even atop roasted vegetables, seeds are easier than nuts to digest for some post-ops and also pack a lot of nutrition in a small package. Chia seeds make a filling pudding when mixed with some warm almond milk and vanilla, and they offer 2 grams of protein per tablespoon. A quarter-cup of sunflower seed kernels has 7 grams of protein, and pumpkin seeds have 9 grams in the same size serving.