A Simple Guide to Vegan Protein (You probably already get enough!)
Hey all you vegans out there, let’s talk about protein!
Whenever someone “finds out” I'm vegan, I am too often flooded with tons of inane opinions and questions. There’s no question I get more than “where do you get your protein?"
While the salty side of me wants to respond with something bratty that mentions all the connections between red meat and heart disease, it’s always better to come back at them with a positive attitude and real information. Instead, I take a deep breath and say, "everywhere!"
People like to assume that vegan equals unhealthy and malnutrition, but that’s because a lot of omnivores don’t understand the concept of a meal that doesn't surround a big slab of meat (sorry). It’s interesting how people like to think they know everything about nutrition and health once they hear that you lead a lifestyle different from their own, isn’t it?
Guys, I have been vegan for seven years and I’m alive! Crazy, right? One would think that my protein deficiency would have killed me long ago! Now, when I said you can get protein everywhere, I meant it! Protein isn’t this mystical thing that only lives inside animal flesh, it is truly ALL over the place.
Complete & Incomplete Proteins
A big misconception about protein is the notion of “complete” and “incomplete” proteins. A “complete” protein means a source of protein which has all 9 essential amino acids. For some reason, “complete” has become into a synonym for meat and “incomplete” one for plant-based. These titles are super misleading and make it seem like you won’t get sufficient protein from plant-based sources alone. But that’s not true! All you have to do is combine 2 “incomplete” sources to make a “complete” one! Some common and tasty examples of this are peanut butter and whole wheat sandwiches or beans and rice! More importantly, you don’t need to eat them at the same time! By just eating various types of so-called “incomplete” proteins throughout the day, your body very easily gets all the amino acids it needs! That's not all! While mixing and matching is one way to ensure you’re getting everything you need from your proteins, there are actually tons of plant-based proteins which are “complete” all their own!
Now, I would break all of this down by the measured intake of protein per calorie that you should be consuming, but those numbers vary person by person. Also, like I’ve been saying, our society’s obsession with protein consumption is incorrect and unhealthy. So, I’ll just hit you with some of my favorite plant-based proteins that you should regularly include in your diet to make sure you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs.
Soy is a widely known and common source of plant-based protein. Tempeh is by far my favorite of the soy products. Not only is it super tasty, but it’s fermented, which gives it a multitude of health benefits, in addition to being protein-packed! Not sure how you feel about soy? Check out our blog about it! If you are someone who is worried about soy intake, just skip it elsewhere! Personally, I avoid soy milk and prefer soy-free Earth Balance. Oh, also, soy is a complete protein.
Soy sources: tempeh, tofu, soy beans (edamame), soy milk, miso
Yes, vegetables have protein! You’ve probably heard of the broccoli vs. beef protein debate. I’m not going to say anything definitive because there’s just so many ways to measure this and no widely accepted answer. But, it doesn’t matter which has more, what’s important is that vegetables have protein at all!
Some protein-packed veggies include: broccoli, spinach, kale, green Beans, artichokes, asparagus, peas
Beans & Legumes
Obviously, beans are a great source of protein. Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, baked beans! Eat them all and eat them often!
Other sources: lentils, black eyed peas, chickpeas
Nuts & Seeds
You probably know that nuts are also an awesome source of protein. You know what that means? Peanut butter! Or my favorite, raw almond butter! Either way, eat all the nut butter!
Nut and seed sources: all nuts, nut butters, nut milks, chia seeds, hemp seeds, hemp milk, pumpkin seeds
Even More Vegan Protein
That's right, there's still a lot of vegan proteins that we haven't gone over. I like to include meat and dairy substitutes in this miscellaneous section because they can be made of such a wide variety of sources like wheat, beans, soy and vegetables. Some of the foods on this list, like spirulina and buckwheat, are considered superfoods and are complete sources of proteins, as well as providing a lot of other benefits. Nutritional yeast, for example, is also a natural food-based source of b12, which is hard to come by for vegans!
Miscellaneous sources: spirulina, nutritional yeast, quinoa, tahini, buckwheat, oats, vegan protein powders
Okay, all you vegans, vegetarians, and protein apologists: Next time anyone questions your protein intake, you can show them this blog. Or, you know, just educate them on all the ways that you're keeping your body healthy with a plentiful variety of nutrient-dense foods.
P.s. I'm so hungry now, how about you?
Bree is a vegan, coffee and beer loving, intersectional feminist who is particularly invested in health. She has a degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from CSULB, where she spent her time turning her passions into academic activism. When she’s not busy spreading awareness on living a non toxic lifestyle, she is most likely taking a long bath, cooking extravagant vegan food, or crying about dogs.