Vegan Kitchen Essentials – Final Chapter
For the previous posts in this series, see Part 1: Vegan Kitchen Essentials (Products To Make Your Life Tastier), and Part 2: Vegan Kitchen Essentials (Cupboard Essentials, including spices and oils) .
This week we answer that question: But Where do you Get your Protein?
Before I launch into more traditional vegan and vegetarian forms of protein, I’m going to share something with you I didn’t realise before I had to answer this question:
Vegetables have protein!
Not what you’d intuitively think, right?
In the interests of full disclosure, not all vegetables are created equal when it comes to protein.
Some have higher amounts than others (sun-dried tomatoes are surprisingly high, kale is surprisingly low), some are not significant sources of protein, and veggies do not have as much protein per calorie as meat or fish.
Grains, Noodles, Nuts & Seeds
I use whole grains and noodles as a basis to build my meals around: quinoa, wild and brown rice mixes, millet, cous cous, barley, and many others.
Soba noodles are my favourite for a meal that feels like a naughty treat, but is surprisingly good for you. They’re Japanese buckwheat noodles, and are a slow-release carbohydrate.
They’re low in fat, high in fibre, and a good source of high quality protein. They go well with satay sauce and tofu, or with veggies and chili, or even cold with cucumbers and tomatoes and a sweet dressing.
My other favourites are quinoa, and wild and brown rice mixes. I even use quinoa in my breakfasts. We’ve devoted a whole blog post to quinoa recipes from bloggers I’ve met through Food Bloggers of Canada that you can check out if you want to jump on-board the quinoa wagon. 🙂
Nuts and seeds are great toppings on grilled meals and salads. Some of my favourites are pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and black and white sesame seeds.
Sesame seeds are nice scattered over pan-fried tofu. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in particular are great salad toppers. Chia seeds are popular in smoothies and desserts, and flax seeds mixed with water make an excellent egg replacement.
Pair a grain bowl with some veggies, and some nuts and seeds, and you’ve got a filling, nutritious meal, full of good calories.
Tofu & Tempeh
Soy products are a great way to get protein.
But there’s a lot of misinformation out there about soy.
I was one of those people who used to worry it contributed to cancer. After some extensive reading, I decided that this misinformation was a combination of an incorrect assumption about the composition of soy, and the misunderstanding that correlation equals causation.
It wasn’t until I read an article by Dr. Holly Wilson (an emergency department doctor, and a vegan) that addressed soy myths that I felt better about using it so frequently. If you’re interested in what a doctor also has to say on our protein needs, she’s also written an article addressing the protein issue.
But back to tofu and tempeh…
Tofu is made by curdling soy milk with a coagulant, in a similar way to traditional cheese making. It’s nutritious – a good source of protein, essential amino acids, iron, calcium, manganese, copper, zinc, and vitamin B1.
It has a neutral taste, and comes in soft, silken, and hard forms, making it extremely versatile. And it also tastes delicious pan and deep fried – my favourite naughty vegan food.
Tempeh is an Indonesian soy product, made by fermenting cooked soy beans. It looks like soy beans pressed down into a block shape, kind of like a veggie patty.
You can get unflavoured tempeh from the grocers and marinate it yourself, or buy the pre-marinated kind. In Canada, I used to get the garlic and sesame pre-marinated type, and use it in sandwiches, salads, and even as part of my nachos.
Tempeh is becoming one of those trendy health foods. It’s fermented, which everyone is jumping on lately. Fermented food is supposed to be much easier to digest and produce compounds which inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Beans & Legumes
Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils are my favourite legumes. They can be used in a wide variety of recipes and cuisines. And combine beans with grains, and you get all of the essential amino acids you need.
In case you’re interested, here are some of the protein stats: cooked lentils have about 18 grams per cup, cooked black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans and chickpeas each have 15 grams per cup.
How much protein do you really need?
This question is almost as vexed as the “Where do you get your protein?” question.
I’ve seen wildly dissenting opinions on what you need. I’m not a nutritionist, so I’m going to take information from several sources, present it here, and you can do your reading and make an informed decision.
Obviously, nutritional needs will be influenced by a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) how active you are, your gender, whether you’re aiming to increase muscle mass, and whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
“Adults in the U.S. are encouraged to get 10% to 35% of their day’s calories from protein foods. That’s about 46 grams of protein for women, and 56 grams of protein for men.
It’s not hard to get this amount if you eat two to three servings of protein-rich foods a day, according to the CDC.
A small 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein. A typical 8-ounce piece of meat could have over 50 grams of protein.
One 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein.
One cup of milk has 8 grams of protein.
One cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein.”
Healthlink BC, in Canada, agrees with the U.S. recommendation:
“Adults over 19 years of age need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. You can use the following equations to find out how much protein you need.
Step 1: Weight in pounds ÷ 2.2 = weight in kilograms
Step 2: Weight in kilograms x 0.8 = Average Daily Protein Need
Note: 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds
An average adult man needs about 56 grams of protein each day.
An average adult female needs about 46 grams of protein each day.”
Better Health Victoria, in Australia, states:
“The amount of protein you need in your diet depends on your weight, age and health. As a rough guide, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein (measured in grams per kilogram of bodyweight) is:
0.75 g/kg for adult women
0.84 g/kg for adult men
Around 1 g/kg for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for men and women over 70 years.
For example, a 75 kg adult male would need 63 g of protein per day. It is recommended that 15 to 25 per cent of total energy intake per day is from protein sources. The human body can’t store protein and will excrete any excess. Therefore, the most effective way of using the daily protein requirement is to eat small amounts at every meal. Using the example of the 75 kg male above, this would require that he eats approximately 21 g of protein at three meals each day.”
Breaking Muscle website looks at this from a very active point of view. From the point of view of someone aiming to increase muscle, protein should be around:
“The MINIMUM amount of protein for athletes should be at least .55 grams/pound/day. Depending upon your sport or training regimen, the daily requirement can go as high as .9 to 1 grams/pound.”
Whereas, The Life, says:
The amount of protein that you REALLY need to build muscle is lower than you think, but you still have to get in enough calories from some place.
Most people using higher protein based diets are usually trying to lose weight and maintain muscle (by limiting calories from excess fat and carbs). As [sic] remember, calories matter when you are trying to lose weight.
If your intake of carbs or fats is higher, then your need for protein (as a calorie source only) decreases. Also diets higher in carbs/fats tend to have more nitrogen sparing effect. The issue being making sure you are eating healthy (especially carbs) and not overdo it, as it could easily be stored as fat. This is why many just go the higher protein way, because of an easier route for body composition and they say “well I have to eat something…mine as well be more meat!”.
The more active you are, the more protein you probably should intake. Most average active people only need about 0.6g/lb of lean body weight.
Whew, that’s a lot of information!
As an example of a vegan’s daily protein, let’s have a look at my stats and an example day of food.
As a 60kg, 5 foot 3 woman, I’m petite, but curvy. I have a little waist but most of my fat sits in my chest and backside.
Now, I’m pretty lucky with fat distribution on my body, but my height means I get overweight very quickly – less area to spread a few extra kilos out on me! I have to be a bit more careful with what I eat than most people.
(But I’ll let you in on a secret: I never count calories!)
I’m currently happy with my body shape, and don’t want to gain more muscle. I do two private Pilates classes per week, strength exercises and cardio on a daily basis, do at least two 1.5 hour walks per week, and swim 500 metres three to four times a week.
Based on Australian, Canadian & US recommendations, I should be getting between 45 to 50 grams of protein per day.
So how much protein am I really getting?
- Two Glasses of Water = 0 Protein
- 1 Tablespoon of cold-pressed NZ flax seed oil = 0 Protein
- 1 B12 vitamin supplement = 0 Protein
- Meal: 1.5 cups (1 bowl) of cooked red and black quinoa (16 grams of protein), 1 cup of almond milk (1.5g), 2 small bananas chopped up for bowl (2.2g), ½ tablespoon of maple syrup as sweetener (0g) = 19.7 grams of protein
This might look like a huge breakfast. I’m one of those people who gets seriously cranky without a solid meal first thing in the morning. So far, I’ve got 19.7 grams of protein.
- Soda Water, 1 small bottle (325ml) = 0 Protein
- Several cups of tea = 0 protein
- 1 cup of broccoli and carrot sticks (2.6 grams of protein) and 2 tablespoons of hummus (2.4 grams of protein) = 5 grams of protein
Between breakfast and a snack, I’ve had 24.7 grams of protein – at least half of my daily protein needs.
- Grain Bowl Meal: 1/2 cup of brown rice (2.5 grams of protein) , Grilled or Pan Fried Tofu – half a block, about 232 grams ( 13 grams of protein), 1 cups of stir-fried long eggplant and mushrooms (0.8 grams), Fresh’s miso gravy dressing (1 gram of protein), 1/2 tablespoon of black and white sesame seeds (0.8 grams) = 18.1 grams of protein
- Herbal Tea = 0 protein
- Two glasses of water = 0 protein
Now I’m worrying myself I’m one of those people who gets too much protein! At lunchtime, the protein tally sits at 42.8 grams of protein
- 3 cups of spring mix salad (2 grams of protein), 1/2 can of chickpeas (5.9 grams of protein), 1 small cucumber (0 grams of protein), 1 small tomato (0 grams of protein), home made balsamic dressing (0 grams of protein) = 7.9 grams of protein
- 3 Leda biscuits for dessert = 0 grams of protein
TOTAL: 50.7 grams of protein.
So next time someone asks me if I’m getting enough protein, I get to tell them I probably get too much!
If people are that concerned about your health, they should really ask where you’re getting your magnesium or B12 from. Protein is rarely a problem. If anything, most people get too much protein, which, at the extreme, can have a negative effect on your kidneys and overall health.
So, where do you get your protein from?
Are you worried you don’t get enough protein?
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.