Top Ten Reasons Not to Worry About Protein in a Vegan Diet

Batman meme protein

I’m borrowing the Top Ten Tuesdays meme from my sister at Many Little Blessings today!

A top question that is asked of vegetarians and vegans is “how do you get your protein?” Protein is a combination of amino acids that the body uses for things like metabolism and muscle development. While we do need protein in our diets, it is not as much as is often assumed and plant sources provide perfectly adequate protein.

So, let’s look at the top ten reasons why vegans don’t need to fret about how they can get enough protein.

1. On average, an adult needs between 45-55 grams of protein per day. That’s really not that much! If an individual consumed a cup of beans, 1/3 cup of almonds, ¼ cup of oatmeal, 1 piece of whole wheat bread, and a half cup of tofu in one day, he/she would have 48.5 grams of protein, even without any incidental protein that comes from other veggies etc.

2. BEANS! Legumes are a primary ingredient for most vegetarians and they are full of protein. Most beans have 7-10 grams of protein per 1/2 cup cooked.

  • 3. Nuts. Nuts are also delicious, nutritious, and easy to work into any diet. Check out the protein in some of them:
  • Peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons – 8 grams protein
  • Almonds, ¼ cup – 8 grams
  • Peanuts, ¼ cup – 9 grams
  • Cashews, ¼ cup – 5 grams
  • Pecans, ¼ cup – 2.5 grams

4. Seeds. Most seeds are little bundles of protein. Sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds have between 6 and 8 grams of protein in just 1/4 cup and are easy to sprinkle onto salads or sandwiches, or blend into smoothies.

5. Grains. There is more  protein in whole grains than most people realize.

  • Quinoa, ½ cup – 4 grams
  • Bulgar, oats, kasha, ¼ cup cooked – 3 grams
  • Whole wheat bread, 1 slice – 2.5 grams
  • Broccoli, 1 cup cooked – 4 grams
  • Spinach, 1 cup cooked – 5 grams

6. Tofu. Vegan protein does not mean that you have to cook with tofu every day, though it can.  Tofu is very versatile and can be added to many food items with very little impact on flavor.  New tofu eaters may find it more palatable if it is more “dry.”  This can be accomplished by using a tofu press or by freezing a block of extra firm tofu and then thawing in a colander before use.

7. Tempeh. Tempeh is another easy way to fit protein in.  Tempeh comes in prepared blocks.  They can be chopped and added to other items, sliced and fried (we love it with bbq sauce), or eaten right out of the package.

8. Dark greens. Even items that you might not think of as protein sources, like dark greens, have protein. So, most healthy-eating vegans get a lot of that “incidental” protein in their diets without much effort.

9. Protein “combining” is not necessary in individual meals. No worries! Your body is actually so clever that it will “hold” the amino acids and do its own combining. And, some of the natural companion foods for vegan proteins are items that would “complete” them anyway. So, things like tortilla chips, rice, corn, couscous, or oatmeal are pretty good fits with the items listed above. It’s likely that you’ll end up with a protein combination in your meal anyway, and it’s almost inevitable over the course of a day.

10. There are plenty of vegan running long distance, boxing, doing competitive weight lifting, swimming, and playing football. When  you take a look at some of them (Robert Cheeke, Brendan Brazier, Tony Fiammetta, Molly Cameron, Matt Frazier), it’s pretty hard to doubt that it is possible to get enough protein in a vegan diet.

If, having read this, you still feel worried, it’s fine to add a protein shake to your day, but there really isn’t a need to obsess about it or have two or three shakes a day. Eat a varied, plant-based diet, and your protein should be fine!

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Chickpea Nuggets – An Easy Vegan Snack

Baked chickpea nuggets

Baked chickpea nuggets

The VeganAsana Jr. left for college last week.

When I say left, I mean she moved into the dorm of a college 30 minutes from home and 5 from my office. So, she’s not far, but she is now eating dorm food. Of course, that presents some challenges for a vegan.

Wednesday, she was remarking that she will need to do a better job with protein. So, we had a conversation about protein snacks (like nuts). This morning, I thought that, before the weekend, I would whip her up an easy quick snack that I could drop off. And here it is!

Chickpea nugget prepIngredients

3 cups cooked chickpeas/garbanzos
1-2 T hot sauce of your choice
1/2 tsp of Bragg’s amino or soy sauce
2 T olive oil
Sea salt and nutritional yeast to taste

Process

IMG_0957webDrain and rinse beans if canned. Toss with all the wet ingredients. Spread on a baking pan or stone. Sprinkle with sea salt and nutritional yeast. Bake at 350* until beans start to dry out and crack.

Cool to room temp and snack!

 

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Feeding the New Vegan

The transition from a vegetarian diet or an omnivore diet to a vegan diet can be a challenge, not only for the person making the change, but for anyone who might be cooking for him/her. Because the choice to become a vegetarian or vegan can sometimes occur during the teen years, parents can find themselves in a position of needing to cook for a diet that they don’t fully embrace and worrying about nutrition in that diet. As I have previously posted, it’s not as complicated as it might sound to find food for a vegan.   For the person in the kitchen, a good way to start thinking about meal planning for a vegan diet is to break it down into manageable bits.

For each individual “cooked” meal (so, I’m assuming this is mostly dinner, but it might sometimes be breakfast or lunch), try to fit in the following:

1. A grain – Grains tend to be a primary source of vegan food.  This can include basics like pasta, bread, and rice.  For diets that are high in bread, pasta, and rice, it is recommended to work toward including more whole grain pasta/bread and more brown rice, rather than always selecting white items.  Grains can also include things like couscous, wheatberries, cornmeal, bulgar wheat, quinoa (not really a grain, but works like one),

2. A protein – Vegan protein does not mean that you have to cook with tofu every day, though it can.  Tofu is very versatile and can be added to many food items with very little impact on flavor.  New tofu eaters may find it more palatable if it is more “dry.”  This can be accomplished by using a tofu press or by freezing a block of extra firm tofu and then thawing in a colander before use.  Tempeh is another easy way to fit protein in.  Tempeh comes in prepared blocks.  They can be chopped and added to other items, sliced and fried (we love it with bbq sauce), or eaten right out of the package.  Soy burgers (Boca is a popular brand) are quite popular with new vegans and have a taste quite similar to a burger.  But, you don’t even have to head into soy to get protein in.  Nuts and beans are also high in protein.  Kidney beans (mmm, nachos), pinto beans (yum, burritos), black beans (oooh, black beans and rice), garbanzo beans (mmm, hummus), navy beans (yum… soup) are easy to fit into diet and most cooks have a good variety of recipes that are bean based.  Nuts can be added to recipes or used as a base item.  A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread gets in protein and a good grain!

3. 2 vegetables/fruits – If a new vegan doesn’t like fruits and vegetables, it is going to present a challenge, because they are pretty important in any sound diet.  But, veganism doesn’t mean fruits and veggies have to be eaten plain and raw.  Vegan “butter” is easy enough to find.   Olive oil makes a nice addition to many cooked veggies.  Fruits can be eaten plain, cooked into recipes, or blended into smoothies.

Over the course of a day, try to add in some calcium and iron (which can often be folded into the three above).  Calcium can be found in many soy products (including soy milk), vitamin fortified juices, and dark leafy greens.  It’s not a bad idea to add a calcium/magnesium supplement to the vegan diet.  Similarly, iron can be found in unexpected places.  Soybeans, quinoa, spinach, molasses, white beans, and lentils are among some of the non-meat sources of iron.  There are also vegan iron supplements available in most places that sell vitamins, and a little supplementation may ease concerns about iron sufficiency for the vegan and the cook. For smaller meals, you don’t have to hit grains, protein, and fruits/veggies, but across the course of the day, try to work on getting a total of 6 or more servings of veggies/fruit, 6 or more of grains, and 2 of the protein category, along with any supplements.

While cooking for a new vegan may require a little more planning, so that you avoid a constant diet of salad and peanut butter sandwiches, it’s really not as hard as it can sound at first.  Attention to the dietary needs of a vegan isn’t that different than attention to the dietary needs of omnivores, and, in a household where cooking has been relatively auto-pilot, having a vegan in the house may actually result in everyone having a better diet.

Happy cooking!