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Do vegans get enough protein?
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me where I get my protein, I’d have a lot of dollars.
Plants have protein, or simply…
However, there seems to be such a misconception that vegans are lacking in protein, so I thought I’d write a full blog post about it. Maybe you’re wondering if all vegans are protein deficient. Or maybe you’re thinking of starting a vegan diet, but you want to make sure that you will get enough protein.
First of all, let’s clear a few things up. Plants do indeed have protein, and most vegans get the protein that they need very easily.
How to get enough protein as a vegan
Protein is important. We do need protein for our muscles, hormones, bones, etc. It is possible to have a protein deficiency, although it’s very rare if you’re eating enough calories. Most protein deficiencies happen when you are not eating enough calories. Even if you do not have a true protein deficiency, you may not be getting exactly what you need. Instead of talking about protein, we should be talking about amino acids.
What is protein?
Let’s take a step back and talk about what exactly protein is. To put it simply, protein is made up of amino acids. Some of those amino acids can be synthesized by our bodies, and we need the other 9 from food. Fortunately, plant food contains all 9 of these amino acids. A long time ago it was thought that we needed to combine proteins in every meal, but we now know that isn’t true. My mom used to say “a bean plus a grain equals a complete protein” and I had no idea what she meant.
Even though it isn’t necessary to combine foods in this way, you probably already do. Beans and rice, anyone?
The best way that I have found to ensure that I am getting enough of the important amino acids like cysteine and lysine is using the app Chronometer. It’s free and is much more comprehensive than similar apps. I do not track every day, but I do try to do it 1-2 times a week.
How much protein do you need as a vegan (or omnivore)
The current U.S. recommendation is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. I’m not a fan of math but fortunately, the USDA has a handy calculator. According to this calculator, my base protein recommendation is 44 grams per day.
Yesterday I ate about 75 grams of protein without making any special effort. It was a typical day of eating for me. This protein primarily came from tofu, lentils, edamame, and hemp seeds. I know that there has been a lot of misconceptions about protein and how much you need, so this number may seem low. Keep in mind that most things that say you need more protein are likely trying to sell you supplements. 😉
Speaking of supplements, there are many vegan protein powders. If you are following a whole-foods plant-based diet, you really don’t need them. However, they are out there if you are really worried about protein. I rarely use protein powder anymore, but when I did I liked Vega Protein and Greens.
The Mighty Legumes
Instead of using protein powder regularly, I prefer to get my protein from whole plant foods. The best way to ensure that you’re getting enough protein (plus all essential amino acids) is by eating legumes. It’s that easy! If you using The Daily Dozen app (my favorite for daily use, much easier than chronometer!) you will see that it suggests 3 servings of legumes daily.
Having 3 servings of legumes daily (especially if you have a variety) will almost ensure that your protein and amino acid needs are being met. Of course, there are many other plant foods that are also high in protein such as quinoa, oatmeal, and nuts and seeds. Wondering what a legume is? Here is a completely not comprehensive list:
- Black beans
- Pinto Beans
- Navy Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Lentils (Yellow, Green, Brown, Red, etc.)
- Soybeans (Edamame, Tofu, Tempeh)
- Lima Beans
- Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
- Split Peas
- Snap Peas
- Black-eyed Peas
As you can see, there are plenty of lentils to choose from. My favorite legume choices are lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans in the form of tofu.
How to eat more legumes
If you aren’t a big fan of legumes, one way to get more into your diet is through legume pasta. Yes, I am serious and yes, it tastes good! My kids love it and my youngest won’t touch any kind of beans otherwise. It does cost a little more than traditional pasta, or plain lentils, but it’s 100% worth it in my opinion. You have lots of options like red lentil spirals or even edamame lasagna! Every legume pasta that I have tried had only lentils, chickpeas or whatever legume + sometimes water as an ingredient.
I also really love cooking beans and lentils in my Instant Pot. I wanted one for a long time and finally got one. I use it every single day! It is so much cheaper (and healthier) to buy dried beans, and the Instant Pot cooks them quickly and easily.
A note about soy
If you’re worried about soy, you might be coming from a background of a Paleo or some other diet that says soy is bad. Trust me, I’ve been there. You can read my journey to a plant-based diet to find out more. Instead of writing about soy myself, you can check out the videos on soy over at Nutrition Facts. You probably don’t need to worry about soy.
However, if you have an allergy or soy just doesn’t work for your body (you know your body better than anyone) you do not have to eat soy on a vegan diet. Let me say it again.
You do not have to eat soy on a vegan diet.
I personally love tofu and edamame. However, as you can see above, there are many other options for legumes if you can’t or don’t want to eat soy. Following a plant-based vegan diet isn’t about eating certain foods, it’s about eating the foods that work best for your body.
For example, most vegans can eat gluten so things like tempeh or seitan are popular meat replacements. I personally can’t eat those things because I have Celiac disease. I also can’t eat any wheat, barley, rye or even oat products. Even gluten-free oats cause a reaction, but I still thrive on a plant-based vegan diet.
I didn’t mean to go off on a rant, but you can definitely do well on a plant-based vegan diet even if you can’t eat popular vegan foods.
How to get enough protein as a vegan? It’s simple!
So if you’re still wondering how to get enough protein as a vegan, it’s very simple. Eat enough calories and eat your legumes! It’s really that simple. If you’re also wondering what vitamins you need as a vegan, make sure to check out that post! Want to get my free 7 days of vegan lunches ebook? Get it here!