How do you get your protein?

The first question most people ask when they discover that we eat a plant based diet is “why”? I covered our reasons on my home page: “You don’t Eat No Meat?!” The second question they ask is – “How do you get your protein without eating meat or dairy?” I remember asking my vegan friends the very same question.

The simple answer is – plants supply all the protein I need for a balanced diet. We get protein from the same place other herbivores do – plants! Those eating a vegan diet can get plenty of protein from grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, leafy greens and small amounts of healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocado. Here is a video posted by Dr. Michael Greger (NutritionFacts.org) that talks about plant-based proteins being better for long-term health than meat & dairy (Published on Oct 26, 2011).

According to Medical News Today.com, these are the top 15 sources of plant-based protein:

Tofu in curry sauce
  1. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
    1. Firm tofu (soybean curds) contains about 10 g of protein per ½ cup.
    2. Edamame beans (immature soybeans) contain 8.5 g of protein per ½ cup.
    3. Tempeh contains about 15 g of protein per ½ cup.
  2. Lentils  
    1. Red or green lentils contain plenty of protein, fiber, and key. nutrients, including iron and potassium. Cooked lentils contain 8.84 g of protein per ½ cup.
  3. Chickpeas
    1. Cooked chickpeas are high in protein, containing around 7.25 g per ½ cup.
  4. Peanut Butter
    1. Peanuts are protein-rich, full of healthful fats, and may improve heart health. They contain around 20.5 g of protein per ½ cup.
    2. Peanut butter is also rich in protein, with 8 g per tablespoon, making peanut butter sandwiches a healthful complete protein snack.
  5. Almonds
    1. Almonds offer 16.5 g of protein per ½ cup. They also provide a good amount of vitamin E, which is great for the skin and eyes.
  6. Spirulina:
    1. Spirulina is blue or green algae that contain around 8 g of protein per 2 tablespoons. It is also rich in nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins (although not vitamin B-12) and manganese.
  7. Quinoa
    1. Quinoa is a grain with a high-protein content, and is a complete protein. Cooked quinoa contains 8 g of protein per cup.
  8. Mycoprotein
    1. Mycoprotein is a fungus-based protein. Mycoprotein products contain around 13 g of protein per ½ cup serving.
  9. Chia seeds
    1. Chia and hemp seeds are complete sources of protein that can be used to make smoothies, yogurts, and puddings.
    2. Seeds are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are a complete source of protein that contain 2 g of protein per tablespoon.
  10. Hemp seeds
    1. Similarly to chia seeds, hemp seeds are a complete protein. Hemp seeds offer 5 g of protein per tablespoon. 
  11. Beans with rice
    1. Separately, rice and beans are incomplete protein sources. Eaten together, this classic meal can provide 7 g of protein per cup.
  12. Potatoes
    1. A large baked potato offers 8 g of protein per serving. Potatoes are also high in other nutrients, such as potassium and vitamin C.
  13. Protein-rich vegetables
    1. Many dark-colored, leafy greens and vegetables contain protein.
    2. A single, medium stalk of broccoli contains about 4 g of protein
    3. Kale offers 2 g of protein per cup.
    4. 5 medium mushrooms offer 3 g of protein
  14. Seitan
    1. Seitan is a complete protein made from mixing wheat gluten with various spices. The high-wheat content means that it should be avoided by people with celiac or gluten intolerance. For others, it can be a protein-rich healthful meat substitute.
    2. When cooked in soy sauce, which is rich in the amino acid lysine, seitan becomes a complete protein source offering 21 g per 1/3 cup.
  15. Ezekiel bread
    1. Ezekiel bread is a nutrient-dense alternative to traditional bread. It is made from barley, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt.
    2. Ezekiel bread offers 4 g of protein per slice. Get even more protein by toasting Ezekiel bread and spreading it with peanut or almond butter.

I also found a more extensive list that can be printed out at a website called OrdinaryVegan.com.

Do I have to eat all this stuff??

To be honest, I have not tried every food item on the list above. In fact some I have never even heard of (Spirulina). I just wanted to share this list so you can see that you don’t have to eat tofu every day just to get the daily recommended amount of protein. There are many options and most of them are actually cheaper to purchase than meat or cheese. I would say that most of our daily protein comes from beans, nuts, dark green vegetables and quinoa. We add tofu or tempeh to an occasional recipe but usually only once every 2 or 3 weeks.

Do you get the ‘Meat Shakes’??

Roasted boar in Tuscany, Italy

A friend of mine once asked me if I experienced any meat withdrawal symptoms when I stopped eating meat (he called it the “meat shakes”). Although I occasionally crave Chick-Fil-A or some good BBQ pulled pork – I am actually fine not eating meat and dairy. My taste buds have changed to actually want to eat more veggies and fruit. To be honest, I actually feel relieved to not have to deal with slimy chicken breasts and bloody red meat. It used to make me hate cooking – for real! I will say that I still have a weakness for ice-cream or anything chocolate (which is not good for my sugars – see blood tests below). We found a really good coconut based ice-cream called “So Delicious” which is true to it’s name.

I also wanted to share my most recent blood work (below) which was taken just a couple weeks ago. You will see that the protein in my blood has not gone down much at all since I began eating vegan in June of 2017. The good news is that my cholesterol still remains low – compared to 2015 and 2016 (when it was inching up to 200).

The only nutrients that are not found in a vegan diet are B12 and Omega 3 fatty acids. We take a multi-vitamin that provides the B12 and other B vitamins and I also use nutritional yeast a few times a week (has the same nutrients). I’ve recently found a plant based source for Omega 3 called Ahiflower Oil (it can be found on Amazon at a reasonable price). Flaxseed oil is another possible source.

I hope this information helps you understand how easy it is to get protein on a healthy plant-based diet. If anyone asks you about protein, just tell them that broccoli has more protein, per calorie than steak! If you would like to learn more about eating a healthier plant-based diet make sure to sign up for or follow my blog.

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