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A vegan meal made up of avocado, bananas, berries and tomatoes.

How to go vegan and get enough protein

As one of the five main food groups, protein is an essential part of maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. There are a number of different foods that are considered to be a good source of protein, such as milk, eggs and dairy foods, like yogurt, as well as chicken, turkey, beef and various types of fish.

However, when it comes to veganism, there’s a common misconception that, because this diet prohibits the use of animal-derived products, it means missing out on this all-important macronutrient. So, with many protein-packed foods off the vegan shopping list, how do people who follow a plant-based lifestyle ensure they stay healthy?

The good news is, it’s probably easier than you think to go vegan and meet your body’s need for protein at the same time. To find out more, keep reading.

What is protein, and why is it so important?

In simple terms, protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids - organic compounds that combine to form proteins, which enable growth. The human body uses 20 amino acids in various combinations - 11 of which the body can create itself. As for the other nine, the body cannot make these on its own, meaning they must come from your diet.

Protein is important for many different reasons. Making sure you have a daily intake of protein helps keep your cells in good shape. This nutrient is used to build and repair tissue, and is a vital component for your bones, muscles, cartilage and skin. In fact, your nails and hair are made up of mostly protein.

Protein also plays a part in helping the red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body to ensure you’re receiving the nutrients you need. It also assists in the production of enzymes that aid food digestion, as well as helping to create new cells and body chemicals. It also helps to make the antibodies that are needed to fight infection, and it plays a role in blood sugar regulation, energy function and fat metabolism.

Eating foods that are high in protein offers many fitness benefits too. For instance, it can help to build lean muscle, reduce muscle loss and speed up recovery after exercise or injury. It can also make you feel fuller for longer, helping to curb your appetite and in turn, enabling you to maintain a healthy weight.

Where do vegans get their protein?

Despite the fact that a lot of foods that contain protein are off-limits to vegans, there is still a whole host of nutritious, plant-based and meat-free alternatives to choose from that will ensure you’re still getting your recommended intake. Here are some protein-rich, vegan-friendly foods that can be used in an array of delicious dishes.

Tofu

Tofu is a fantastic source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. Also known as bean curd, tofu is produced by curdling fresh soya milk, which is then pressed into a block and cooled. The ultimate versatile ingredient, it can be marinated, pan-seared, scrambled, spiced, crumbled, baked, blended and more. So, whether you’re in the mood for a breakfast taco, a veggie filled frittata, a stack of maple syrup-covered pancakes or bowl of hearty soup, tofu can deliver. Tofu is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many different ways. For example, it blends well into soups to make them creamier.

Chia seeds

Chia seeds are packed with protein, and only a small serving is needed to reap the nutritional benefits. For instance, they can be sprinkled over salads and soups, used in breakfasts or as part of a healthy dessert. These seeds can also be used as an alternative to eggs due to the fact they expand when soaked in water.

Pulses

Pulses are a great, low-fat source of plant protein. An edible seed that grows in a pod, there are many different types of pulses to choose from, including lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, mung beans, black-eyed peas and garden peas to name but a few. Use them to make everything from burgers, falafels and stews, to brownies, jams, cake pops and cheesecakes.

Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a seed that’s high in both protein and fiber, as well as being gluten-free. It can be found in many different forms, including flakes, pasta and flour, making it a great addition to a vegan diet. Use it as a side dish or in place of rice or quinoa, as oatmeal or ground down to make everything from blinis to breadsticks.

Oats

Oats are packed full of protein. They are also a complex carbohydrate, meaning they provide a slow release of energy. Soak in almond milk for delicious vegan-friendly overnight oats or you can use them to make a variety of cookies - from pumpkin, to coconut to peanut butter.

Quinoa

Quinoa is a seed that can be found in white, red, black or mixed varieties. It is known for being a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids, and it is also gluten-free. This dynamic ingredient can be used in everything from superfood salads, to stir fries and stews.

Brown rice

Although it is primarily a carbohydrate, brown rice contains a sufficient amount of protein too. This type of rice is also a great source of fiber. Whether you want a burrito, sushi or a casserole, you can rely on this healthy carb.

Vegetables

There is a wide variety of different vegetables that offer a generous amount of protein, including broccoli, kale, spinach, avocado, Brussels sprouts, corn, cauliflower and asparagus.

What is vegan whey protein?

Whey protein is a combination of proteins taken from whey - the watery part of milk that separates during the cheese-making process. Once it has been separated during cheese production, the whey can be processed to become a powder, which can then be added to shakes, meal replacement drinks and protein bars. It is a complete protein, meaning it is packed full of all the amino acids your body needs.

However, since whey is an animal by-product, it cannot be used as part of a vegan diet. Fortunately, there are a whole range of plant-based whey protein powders available, meaning that even if you are following a vegan lifestyle, you can still put this supplement to good use.

Instead of deriving from dairy, vegan whey protein powders often include ingredients such as pea protein, pumpkin protein and chia, as well as a blend of superfoods and green veggies like spinach, broccoli and kale.

If you’re considering going vegan but you’re unsure if you’ll be missing out on your recommended intake of protein, there’s no need to stress. Now it’s easier than ever to adopt this lifestyle without depriving your body of what it needs.