Protein is one of the essential macronutrients needed to make up a complete and healthy diet. Our bodies need protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, to make enzymes, chemicals and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of your bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.
There are numerous ways one can get protein. One of the misconceptions about protein is that protein needs to come from animal-based products – meat, dairy, poultry and fish. The truth is there are many plant-based sources of protein like the ones in our fully vegan Trek protein wholefood bars, TREK Protein Flapjacks and Trek Protein Nut Bars.
To make sense of vegan protein and explain how much you need and where to get it from, we asked The Green Dietitian – Jessica Kotlowitz. Jessica is a registered dietitian based in Cape Town who regularly hosts Vegan 101 Workshops where she delves into plant-based nutrition, how to get in your required nutrients and meal planning. You can find out more about Jessica and her workshops here
What are the biggest misconceptions about a vegan diet?
The two biggest misconceptions about a vegan diet are:
- Vegan diets are lacking in protein, iron or other nutrients.
- Vegans are “skinny” or vegan diets cause weight loss. This can be true but not for everyone.
How much protein should the average person be getting a day?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g/kg of ideal body weight (i.e. your weight when you are at a healthy BMI). This works out to about 46g/day for women and 56g/ day for men. Athletes, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people with certain health conditions will need more protein than the RDA.
What is a complete protein?
The idea of complete vs. incomplete proteins is a bit of a misconception. “Complete” proteins are proteins that have all the essential amino acids needed by the human body and these essential amino acids are present in similar ratios to those in the human body. It is commonly thought that plant proteins are “incomplete” because they are lacking in certain essential amino acids, but this is not true.
Plant-based proteins do contain all essential amino acids but are sometimes lower in one or two essential amino acids than what would be required by the human body. For example, most grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds are low in an essential amino acid called Lysine. If one were to just eat these foods and not complement them with some high lysine foods, one could eventually become lysine deficient. Therefore, it would be important to also include some high lysine foods in your daily diet (for example beans, legumes, soy, peanuts, quinoa, etc.)
What are the best sources of vegan protein?
All plant foods (even vegetables and grains) contain some protein but it is important to choose foods that have higher quantities of protein per serving in order to meet your RDA for protein every day. Examples of high protein plant foods include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, tempeh, meat-alternatives, seitan, soymilk, soy yoghurt, pea and hemp protein powder, legume pasta and peanuts/ peanut butter.
What is the complete plant-based proteins?
Soy is a considered a complete protein as it is high in all the 9 essential amino acids.
What is good plant-based combinations that give you complete proteins?
Remember that we don’t need to aim to make up complete proteins at each meal as our bodies can store up amino acids for months at a time. If one meal is lacking in essential amino acids it won’t affect our health. We just need to make sure that we get enough essential amino acids through the course of each day.
- Lentil curry with brown rice
- Bean burrito with avocado
- Tofu stir fry with whole-grain noodles
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Oats with soy milk
- Chickpea salad with sunflower seeds
- Smoothie with pea protein and oats
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Photo Credit: The Green Dietitian: Vegan 101 Workshop by Shaun Robertson