8 of the best vegan protein sources
Veganism was once seen as an unconventional way of life that many people had never even heard of. Nowadays, it has found its way into the mainstream with more and more people eating only plant-based foods, including world-renowned athletes like Sir Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams and German strongman Patrick Baboumian. An even bigger portion of the population are increasingly willing to give it a try. According to the Guardian, a record 500,000 people signed up to take part in Veganuary (going vegan for the month of January) in 2021. In other words, veganism is becoming a normal part of everyday life for many.
Still, it’s a common misconception that vegans struggle to get enough protein. This can mean that those set on building muscle avoid exploring the potential benefits of a vegan diet. The reality is that many plant-based foods and supplements are rich in this essential nutrient. So, we decided to look into the top vegan foods that you can fill your cupboards with and stay on top of your protein intake, whether you’re building muscle or getting after those weight loss goals.
What is protein?
A protein is a type of large, complex molecule that gives structure to the body’s cells and plays a vital role in many of its functions. A typical protein is made up of around 300 or more tiny building blocks called amino acids. The actual number and sequence of these amino acids are unique to each protein. You can think of it like the alphabet, where they’re arranged in millions of different ways to create specific ‘words’. The protein’s amino acid profile is what determines its role in the body. Altogether, there are 20 amino acids. Of these 20, however, 9 are considered ‘essential’. This means that the body needs them yet can’t make them on its own — they can only be found in the foods we eat. When a protein contains all 9 essential amino acids, it is known as a ‘complete’ protein.
Why do we need protein?
Protein is responsible for a whole range of important bodily functions, including tissue repair, synthesis and the growth and maintenance of muscle. If you’re into sports, lifting weights or simply living an active lifestyle, fuelling your body with plenty of protein is a must. When you’re training hard or regularly on the move, eating protein-rich foods or taking protein supplements is great for nourishing damaged muscles and making sure they can come back stronger than ever.
Is animal protein better than vegan (plant) protein?
In general, animal proteins (eggs, fish, lean meat, poultry, milk, cheese etc.) are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine of those essential amino acids. Most plant proteins are incomplete proteins (except for some, which we’ll come to later). You can, however, combine plant proteins with different amino acid profiles to create a complete protein. The amino acid profiles of spinach and walnuts, for example, complement each other perfectly. As do rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, and your everyday peanut butter sandwich (on whole wheat bread).
It may take a little more effort in the kitchen to get all your essential amino acids from plants alone, although diets that are high in plant protein have been linked to many health benefits. One study found that people eating a plant-based diet had a lower risk of stroke, cancer, and death from heart disease than those who eat meat. Another study suggests that diets rich in high-nutrient plant foods like nuts, legumes, fruits and whole grains are associated with a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Eating animal proteins has also been linked to positive health effects, including increased muscle mass. Eating fish on a regular basis has even been connected to lower rates of cognitive decline. There are, however, some downsides to certain kinds of animal protein. Studies have linked red meat, for example, to an increased risk of heart disease and other health risks.
In short, animal and plant proteins each have their upsides and downsides. The key is balance. Rather than focussing on one or the other, it may be more beneficial to include both nutrient-rich plant foods and lean animal meats in your diet to get the best of both protein sources.
What vegan foods are high in protein?
If you are thinking about going vegan or just giving it a try, here’s a selection of the top plant-based protein sources so you can continue fuelling your body and achieving your health & fitness goals.
Soy is one of the few plant proteins that is complete. Foods like tofu, tempeh and edamame deliver around 12-20g of protein per 100g serving and contain other nutrients like iron and calcium. Aside from being naturally cholesterol free, high in fibre and low in saturated fat, these soy-based proteins can be used in a whole variety of recipes and make a great alternative to meat.
Amaranth & Quinoa
Even though amaranth and quinoa are known as whole-grain foods, they’re actually edible seeds that can be prepared and consumed in a similar way to rice and oats. They’re both complete protein sources, gluten free and packed with minerals like magnesium, zinc and iron. Amaranth contains slightly more protein than quinoa, yet both provide double the amount you’d usually get from brown rice, whole wheat and oats. Try our Body&Fit Pure Quinoa in salads or wraps or use instead of the rice in Emmeke’s vegan creamy chickpea curry.
Another type of edible seed, pulses include lentils, chickpeas, garden peas and beans (baked, kidney, pinto, butter, cannellini etc.). Each provides 5-10g of protein per 100g serving and offers an affordable, low-fat addition to your kitchen shelves with lots of variety. Check out our Body&Fit Crunchy Chickpeas the next time you’re craving a late night snack in front of your favourite film.
Nuts & nut butters
Despite being high in fat, nuts are rich in protein and other healthy nutrients like fibre, vitamin E, magnesium and selenium. They’re also antioxidant powerhouses linked to a variety of health benefits. Enjoy them raw, toasted, roasted, chopped up on food or as a nut butter (try our Body&Fit Natural Peanut Butter in a smoothie or spread over these delicious Body&Fit Vegan Protein Pancakes!).
These tiny seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to Guatemala and Mexico. In a 28g serving, you’ll get around 5g of protein alongside 10g of fibre. They also contain high amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Grab some Body&Fit Organic Chia Seeds and try this delicious chia protein pudding.
A favourite amongst endurance athletes, oats are a complex carbohydrate that provide a slow energy release. They’re also a great source of protein packing in around 10g per 100g serving. Ideal for building muscle or supporting weight loss goals, add a mix of nuts, berries or seeds to your morning bowl and take on your training routine at the top of your game.
Asparagus, avocado, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, Jerusalem artichoke, kale and spinach offer a surprising amount of protein. Six spears of asparagus, for example, will give you almost 2g of protein. That’s not to mention all the other health benefits of these deliciously versatile vegetables.
Vegan protein supplements
Many vegan protein shakes and bars are just as effective and tasty as dairy-based shakes and come enriched with other nutrients that are difficult to come by on a plant-based diet. Our Body&Fit Vegan Protein, for example, comes in a selection of luxurious flavours and contains a blend of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium, iodine, iron, and zinc, as well as the enzyme complex DigeZyme®. You’ll find a whole range of plant-based protein shakes, bars, snacks, supplements and more to compliment every vegan lifestyle across our entire Vegan Series.
In a nutshell…
It’s never been easier to feed your goals with the power of plants! Although it’s uncommon for vegans to experience protein deficiencies, some may want to up their protein intake for a variety of reasons. You might also be one of many ‘flexitarians’ looking to add more plant-based foods to your diet while staying on top of your protein goals. Either way, this list is for you, and it doesn’t end here! Other great vegan protein sources include wild rice, Ezekiel bread, spirulina, spelt, teff and seitan. Keep an eye on our socials (@body&fit_official) for unique vegan recipe ideas and check out our blog for top vegan advice, stories and more to support every health, fitness & lifestyle need.