An important food group, protein, is critical for various processes in the human body
It is made up of amino acids, which are considered to be the building blocks of human life. While the human body can make some of these amino acids, nine essential amino acids are obtained through diet.
Animal products such as meat, fish, and poultry are considered to be the primary sources of protein which contain the nine essential amino acids.
But people who follow a strictly vegan diet do not consume animal protein. Their diet is primarily based on plants.
Plant-based protein sources are either too low or are missing one or more of the nine essential amino acids. This is why one of the typical concerns of people who follow a vegan diet is that they might lack sufficient proteins.
Even though getting enough protein can be hard for people who follow a vegan diet, it is not impossible. By adding certain plant-based proteins, you can easily meet your daily protein requirements.
Plant-based proteins can give the same nutritional benefit as animal proteins, and that too, with fewer calories. Thus, plant-based proteins are healthier for your heart and body.
Below we highlight some of the best plant-based sources of protein that will provide you the same benefits as meat and poultry.
This popular plant-based protein comes from gluten, the primary protein in wheat. This vegan meat substitute is also known as wheat gluten, and closely resembles meat in texture when cooked.
It is made from wheat flour dough which is washed until all starch granules are removed. The liquid is then cooked until it takes on the consistency and appearance of meat.
100 grams of seitan contains around 25% of protein which is 25 grams.
Thus, it is the richest source of plant protein. It also contains other nutrients such as calcium, iron, phosphorous and selenium. Therefore it is an attractive option for vegans who may be at a higher risk of developing nutritional deficiencies.
You can easily find this vegan meat alternative in grocery stores, or you can conveniently make it at home. It can be used in a variety of recipes and can be prepared in multiple ways.
However, since it is made up of gluten, it should be avoided by people who have sensitivity to gluten or have celiac disease.
Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame
Soybeans are known to be one of the richest sources of plant protein. Three plant-based protein sources which originate from soybeans include tofu, tempeh, and edamame.
It does not have any taste of its own but blends well with different ingredients and take the taste of the food with which it is cooked.
It can also be used as a meat substitute in many dishes. A 100 g serving of tofu contains approximately 10-12 grams of protein.
The other plant-based protein source which comes from soybeans is tempeh. Unlike tofu which does not have a taste of its own, tempeh has a distinct nutty flavor.
Soybeans are fermented and often combined with other seeds and grains. This gives a more firm, dense texture to tempeh. Similar to tofu, tempeh can also be used in a variety of recipes.
Out of the three derivatives of soybean, tempeh is the richest source of plant-based protein. A 100 grams serving of tempeh will provide up to 19 grams of protein.
Edamame are whole, immature soybeans. They are whole, green, and have a sweet grassy taste. They can be used on their own as a snack or can be added to soups and salads, but you will have to boil or steam them before eating.
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are rich in iron, calcium, and protein. They also contain Vitamin K, folate, and fiber, and are a good source of micronutrients such as magnesium and phosphorous.
Tempeh also contains probiotics, which can help maintain a healthy gut.
Amaranth, which is categorized as a pseudocereal, is also an excellent source of protein.
Technically, it is not a cereal grain similar to oats or wheat which grows from the grass but provides similar nutritional benefits as other cereals.
For this reason, they are referred to as a pseudocereal. The cultivation of this grain started around 8,000 years ago and it was considered to be a staple crop in various civilizations including Incan, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations.
Amaranth is still a popular gluten-free alternative with a nutty flavor and crunchy texture. It can be boiled and used for porridges or can be added to granola bars.
Even when cooked, amaranth retains its crunch. It can also be ground and used as flour for baking. Amaranth flour is used for gluten-free baking.
I cup of cooked amaranth provides 9 grams of protein. Along with protein, amaranth is also rich in other nutrients such as manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
The same quantity of cooked amaranth is enough to meet more than the daily recommended value for manganese, an essential micronutrient for brain health.
Amaranth also contains antioxidants which can help reduce inflammation in the body and can also protect against various other medical conditions.
Regular use of amaranth can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may even promote weight loss. Amaranth is only one of the few plant-based proteins with exceptional health benefits.
The nutritional powerhouse, lentils, is also a great source of protein and other essential nutrients. Lentils are available in a wide variety and can be used in numerous dishes including soups and salads and can also be consumed on their own.
They are rich in fiber and slow-digesting carbohydrates. Thus, it is an excellent source of nutrition for people who want to lose weight. Also, the type of fiber found in lentils has proved to be effective in maintaining the health of your digestive system.
A single cup of cooked lentils (around 240 ml) can provide 18 grams of protein and meet more than 50% of the recommended fiber intake. Lentils are also rich in iron, folate, and magnesium.
Apart from providing sufficient plant-based proteins, regular use of lentils can reduce the risk of various diseases including diabetes, various types of cancer, and heart disease.
Quinoa is another pseudocereal which, unlike other cereals, does not grow from the grass. Similar to amaranth, quinoa is a gluten-free plant-based source of protein.
With a crunchy texture and nutty flavor, quinoa can be mixed with fruits and alternative milk, to make a power-packed breakfast option. It can also be used in stews and salads or consumed as the main course.
When compared to other grains, quinoa contains more and better protein. It is one of very few plant-based sources of protein which contain a sufficient amount of all of the nine essential amino acids.
Thus, it can be regarded as a complete protein. 1 cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein. It is also an excellent source of magnesium, zinc, iron, and fiber compared to other grains.
Quinoa is rich in antioxidants and vitamins including Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6, and Vitamin E. Consumption of quinoa can have exceptional effects on metabolism and blood sugar, and so it is an excellent source of nutrition for vegans.
Chickpeas, also known as gazebo beans, are a protein-rich legume. A single serving of chickpeas (240 ml) contains around 15 grams of protein along with other nutrients including phosphorus, potassium, manganese, iron, folate, and fiber.
Chickpeas also have a high content of complex carbs which digest slowly. Thus, it gives a feeling of fullness for longer and is effective for weight loss.
They can be consumed in a variety of ways. They taste equally well when served hot or cold. Chickpeas can be added to salads, stews, and curries or even be roasted.
Considering the nutritional value of chickpeas, they can provide many health benefits including a decrease in cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.
The deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, nutritional yeast is commercially sold in powdered form.
The yellow powder or flakes can add a distinctly cheesy flavor to vegan dishes such as mashed potatoes, popcorns, pasta, and tofu.
Nutritional yeast is rich in protein and fiber. A single ounce of yeast can provide 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber.
When fortified, it can be an excellent source of nutrients including copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and variants of vitamin B.
Nuts and products derived from nuts are also a great source of plant-based protein. Adding a handful of different types of nuts to your diet can provide you healthy fats, fiber, and minerals such as magnesium, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and calcium
Nuts also contain vitamins and antioxidants along with other beneficial plant compounds.
A single ounce of nuts can provide between 5 and 7 grams of protein.
Peanuts, almonds, cashew nuts and walnuts are considered to be some of the protein-packed nuts which can also improve your vision, skin and heart health.
Products such as peanut butter or almond butter can also provide the same nutritional benefits. Whenever choosing nuts, make sure you go for raw, unblanched variants.
Blanching, roasting, and seasoning can change the nutritional content of nuts.
Pita and Hummus
The Middle Eastern classic, pita, and hummus, is also a protein-packed food. With low fat and high fiber, pita and hummus provides all nine essential amino acids.
As mentioned earlier, chickpeas are an excellent source of protein. Since, chickpeas and sesame seeds, are the main ingredients in hummus, it contains the nutritional benefits of both chickpeas and sesame seeds.
Also, the wheat which is used to make pita is low in lysine and is considered as an important source of protein. Together, the meal is rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and improves bowel health.
It also contains carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium. A single whole wheat pita with 30 grams of hummus can provide up to 7 grams of protein which contains all of the nine essential amino acids. Therefore, it is a complete protein.
The tiny round white or black chia seeds are a complete source of plant protein.
Containing all nine essential amino acids, chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and fiber along with several other minerals.
Chia seeds are bland in taste and absorb water. This allows them to form a gel-like substance which can be used as a substitute for egg for vegan baking.
It can be added to smoothies or as a topping to salads and oatmeal or can be used to make chia pudding. A tablespoon of chia seeds can provide 2 grams of protein.
It also contains iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium. Packed with antioxidants and other healthy compounds, chia seeds are an excellent source of plant-based protein.
Similar to chia seeds, hemp seeds are also a complete protein. While it is an excellent source of protein, hemp seeds are often considered to have similar psychoactive effects as marijuana.
However, this is not true. Hemp seeds are members of the same species as marijuana but only contain a very minimal amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (TCH).
It is the compound which is responsible for causing a high feeling associated with the use of marijuana. Therefore, it is safe to consume hemp seeds as a source of protein, but make sure you purchase it from a trusted brand.
Hemp seeds can be added to granola bars, smoothies or can be sprinkled over salads.
The inside of the hemp seed is a white nut which is a source of complete protein, omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and magnesium.
A tablespoon of hemp seeds provides more than 3 grams of protein and 5% of the daily recommended value of iron.
A single cell protein, also known as fungal protein is derived from a fungus.
The protein source is often advertised as a substitute for chicken and is an ingredient in vegan chicken nuggets and cutlets.
Generally, it is safe for human consumption and a half-cup serving of products with mycoprotein can contain up to 13 grams of protein. However, people with a history of mushroom allergy must avoid this plant-based protein.
Made from a combination of whole grains such as barley, soybeans, wheat, millet, lentils and spelt, ezekiel bread contains the goodness of all.
Unlike other breads which are made from a single grain, Ezekiel bread is a healthy protein option which contains all nine essential amino acids.
Sprouting grains and legumes have a higher content of amino acids especially lysine. Two slices of Ezekiel bread provides 8 grams of protein. You can enjoy it as toast or add peanut butter to give a boost to the protein content.
Ezekiel bread also have a higher content of fiber, folate, vitamins and beta carotene compared to bread made with a single grain.
With all nine essential amino acids, soy milk is considered to the healthiest non-dairy drink. It is an excellent plant-based alternative to cow milk.
Soy milk is made from soybeans and is fortified with vitamins and minerals. Naturally, soy milk does not contain vitamins so when choosing a brand, make sure you go for the fortified variety.
It is also a good idea to opt for low sugar variants of soy milk.
When compared to other alternative milk options such as almond and rice milk, soy milk is highest in protein. It is also rich in phytonutrients which possess cancer-fighting properties.
When fortified with calcium and vitamins, soy milk is nutritionally very close to cow milk with fewer calories.
So if you are following a plant-based diet, consumption of soy milk can provide with adequate amount of calcium and vitamins essential for healthy bones and teeth.
Protein deficiency is very common among people who follow a plant-based diet. Fortunately, the problem can be easily solved by adding sufficient quantities of plant-based proteins.
Apart from the mentioned list, there are various other sources of plant-based proteins which can help meet your nutritional requirements.
However, with a description of a few plant-based proteins, this article intends to act as a guide for anyone who wants to add healthy and vegan-friendly protein alternatives to their diets.Last updated on: