Vegan Misconceptions: Part 2
It’s time to knock out another Vegan Misconception that has been a point of controversy for far too long. This month’s myth buster we are breaking down the building blocks of life and finding out the truth about protein.
#3 “You can’t get enough protein being vegan.”
It is hard to imagine that without the daily scrambled eggs in the morning, grilled chicken salad or fillet of salmon for dinner that you can still obtain the necessary portion of protein. It’s true, animal protein provides our body with complete proteins that are necessary for daily functionality. However, it is possible to obtain equivalent complete proteins on a vegan diet (and without relying on processed “fake” meats). Plant-based proteins are readily available in whole food sources such as nuts, beans, legumes, vegetables and seeds - all of which contain healthy fats and soluble fiber that aid the digestion of nutrients.
Without going too science, lets get a quick overview of this essential macronutrient. Protein is a powerful building block in our body that does more than give us toned muscles. Protein has 4 main functions in our body:
- Antibody production and formation
- Act as a catalyst for enzymes to facilitate chemical responses in the body
- The production of hormones
- Build and repair muscle tissue
Once sufficient quantities of protein have been absorbed for these 4 processes it is stored as fat to be used as energy in times of starvation. Yep, our bodies actually turn protein into fat! Ugh.
SO how much protein do you need to consume daily to avoid having it turn into fat storage?!
If you are a strict calorie counter, you can use the model that only 10% - 15% of your daily calorie consumption should be from protein. Since our calories consumption varies day to day, a more standard calculation for the average adult is : Your Weight in Kg x 0.8 = Daily Protein Needs.
For example a 150 lb adult: 150 lb / 2.2 = 68.2 Kg
68.2 Kg x 0.8 = 54.4 g of protein per day
*If you are pregnant, sick or healing from an injury you may need to increase your daily protein to 1 or 1.2 times your weight in Kg.
Now that you know how much protein you actually need on average, below is a list of the top 10 plant-based protein sources and cooking tips.
1. Tempeh – 21g per serving
Tempeh is a fermented soybean patty that contains a rich nutty flavor. Tempeh is made by mixing fermenting soybeans with a grain (usually barley) and forming it into a 16 oz block. Soy gets a bad rap these days due to GMO farming and its natural hormones, but soybeans are the most complete plant-based protein available. When purchasing soybean products look for organic or sustainable products. Traditional tempeh is not gluten free because it is fermented with grain, however many companies have come out with gluten free options for those with gluten sensitivities. Tempeh contains many health supportive nutrients, such as B12, manganese and fiber. Not to mention it is easy to use when cooking and tastes delicious. I love LightLife can be be marinated, grilled, sautéed or baked.
2. Tofu – 10g per serving
Tofu is a processed form of soybeans, which have been made into a soy milk and curdled and strained in order to form a block. Silken tofu or firm tofu, which has a high water content, is great to use in smoothies, sauces or vegan cheeses. Extra firm tofu is best used for cooking as it can be marinated, grilled, fried or baked. Here’s a tip for how to pack the most flavor into your tofu:press it for at least 30 minutes before marinating so that it absorbs more of the marinade flavor.
3. Natto – 16g per serving
You either love it or hate it, this traditional Chinese dish is made of fermented soybeans that maintains a slimy texture and potent flavor. The dish is high in nutrients such as vitamin K, E and nattokinase, an enzyme which prevents blood clots. It is a popular breakfast dish mixed with mustard and soy sauce.
4. Seitan – 20g per serving
Seitan is a pure form of wheat gluten, so if you are celiac or gluten intolerant stay FAR away! Seitan is made by kneading water and flour to wash away the starches leaving only the gluten protein structure. Seitan is then cooked in a seasoned broth providing an umami flavor. Many people are sensitive to the texture or seitan, however, as far as texture is concerned it is very similar to meat. Similar to the other plant proteins, seitan can be cooked many ways. Upton's Naturals is one of my favorite seitan brands, it is great in stews, marinated or grilled.
5. Lentils – 18g per serving
Lentils are the legume that just keep giving. They are high in protein, high in fiber and virtually fat free. Lentils are a very versatile ingredient that can be mashed into patties, loaves, added to salads, soups or stews. Lentils add a rich texture and rounded flavor to any dish. There are three main types of lentils; red, green and brown. All are delicious on their own but certain types are best for various dishes. For example, red lentils become very mushy and pliable when cooked so they are great to use as a binder when making veggie burgers or lentil loafs. Green lentils are the most versatile as they are still pliable enough to be a binder but they can also maintain a good structure for salads. Brown lentils hold their shape the most making them great for salads and soups.
6. Beans – approximately 7g per serving
Beans can be transformed into hummus, dips, soups or veggie burgers and more - the possibilities are endless. Beans are an adaptable and nutrient rich plant based protein. There are many types of beans, which provide various textures and nutrients. The beans that pack the most ‘bang for your buck’ are black beans, garbanzo beans, aduki beans, pinto and kidney beans. Containing more than 7 grams of protein per ½ cup serving, these varieties are a powerful addition to salads, stews and dips. Although beans are a great source of protein they are not a complete protein. Therefore, it’s important to serve beans with a form of grains to be digested as a complete protein (which explains why beans and rice are a staple meal in many cultures).
Nuts are probably the first plant-based protein people think of and are usually a staple in a vegan diet due to their versatility. They can be served crunchy, creamy, meaty or roasted. Nuts pack a punch of protein, fiber, fat, vitamins and minerals that are necessary in our diets. Not all are created equal though - almonds, pistachios, cashews and walnuts are the most beneficial nuts. They contain the highest ratio of protein and nutrients to fat. Nuts are a great addition to salads, desserts or as a snack on their own. But if you wanted to get a bit more creative you can use nuts in nut-milks, cheeses, cream sauces or pie crusts!
Like nuts, seeds are packed with healthy fats, nutrients and protein. Chia, hemp, flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds may be small, but they are a nutrient dense addition to any meal. Sprinkle them onto salads, oatmeal, smoothies or mix into your trail mix to get an extra boost for the day.
9. Protein Powders
With the ‘on the go’ consumer looking for a quick fix that is both filling and nutrient dense, protein powders are a great option. But with all of the brands available it is important to read the ingredients and understand the product’s protein source. Most important thing for vegans to look out for is whey as it is a bi-product of cow’s milk. Therefore, you will want to find a protein powder that lists soy, pea, hemp and/or grain proteins in the ingredients. Due to the probability that soy protein contains GMO’s and is extremely processed in order to get it into a powder form, I personally prefer hemp or pea protein based mixes. They contain less protein than their soy and whey counterparts but are minimally processed and easier to digest. Brands I like are Vega Protein and Amazing Grass.
10. Faux Meat
Due to the increase of vegetarian, vegan or health conscious consumers many companies have created their own “faux” meats in order to provide familiar flavors, textures and appearances to traditional meats. While many of these faux meats are delicious, they should be consumed in moderation as they are still highly processed. It is best to stick to whole food forms of protein for your dietary needs, but companies such as Beyond Meat, Field Roast and Gardein offer great meat substitutions to satisfy every craving.