‘So, where do you get your protein from, if you don’t eat meat or dairy or eggs?’
As a vegan, or as someone who follows a plant-based diet, this is probably one of the most common questions you get asked. And, to be honest, I can understand why. Many of us grew up eating meat, fish, dairy and eggs as our go-to sources of protein. So when you get chatting to someone who doesn’t eat ANY of those things, it’s natural to wonder where they get their protein from. Luckily, there are lots of plant-based sources of protein out there – so let’s take a look at a few of them!
Seeds and nuts
Seeds and nuts are a great source of protein, as much as anything else because they’re so easy to encorporate into a plant-based diet. From sprinkling some pumpkin or sunflower seeds over a salad, to making a cheeky vegan chocolate spread out of cacao and hazelnuts, to scattering some chopped toasted almonds onto a Sunday-morning pancake, these little guys are versatile and delicious! Some of the most protein-rich seeds and nuts include hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds. Although technically a legume and therefore a bit of an imposter here, peanuts are right up there, too!
Chickpeas and lentils
Earlier this year, I went to stay with my brother for a few weeks – and he could not get over the amount of chickpeas and hummus I get through on a weekly basis! I guess I’d never thought about it before, but he’s right – for me, life without chickpeas just doesn’t bear thinking about. And not only are they tasty, they’re also a great source of protein that can be enjoyed in so many ways. Think chickpea curries, hummus (homemade’s the best!), chickpea salads, roasted chickpeas on avo toast, … the list could go on and on!
Boasting even more protein per gram than chickpeas, lentils are another brilliant choice for vegans. From dals to soups to salads, there are lots of ways to enjoy lentils – and many different types to try! I like red lentils for a dal or soup, as they break down well, and green or brown lentils for salads, as they hold their shape better. There’s a lentil variety for every occasion, I reckon!
Whole grains also deserve a mention in this list, as they are a good way to increase protein intake for those who enjoy a plant-based diet. There are also loads of types to try, from standard grains like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta through to more trendy ones such as quinoa and amaranth – which is great because variety is the spice of life, right?!
Some of my personal favourites are tabbouleh made from bulgur, a warm rice salad containing a mix of wild and brown rice, and the humble yet delicious combo of pasta and (homemade and vegan) pesto! Another brilliant thing about whole grains? They’re pleasingly filling and most of them don’t break the bank!
Well we’ve made it this far without mentioning tofu (perhaps the most obvious vegan protein source) but now the time has come. Soy-based foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy yoghurt and soy milk are also good sources of protein. Tempeh is, in my opinion, a little under-appreciated – tofu may be the more popular soy product, but tempeh is less processed and contains even more protein. It can be added to soups, sauces and salads, such as the Indonesian gado-gado salad – think beans, bean spouts, fried or baked tempeh, peanut sauce and so much more … yum! But whether it’s tempeh in gado-gado, soy milk in a cappuccino, tofu in a stir-fry or soy yoghurt on breakfast cereal, there’s protein in it, that’s for sure.
Would you believe it – there’s even protein in veggies, from peas to potatoes, broccoli to brussel sprouts! Whilst we often associate vegetables with vitamins, minerals or fibre, that’s not all they have to offer. Some of the top protein-rich candidates are spinach, broccoli, watercress, artichokes and alfalfa sprouts. Ah veggies … where would we be without you?!
And last but not least … beans
This one probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise but yes, beans have a place in our list, too. White beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans … take your proteiny pick! Affordable, filling and tasty, beans are found in dishes from all around the world, including the good old English cooked breakfast! (I veganify mine, yes, but I’m a true Brit at heart and love to start the occasional weekend morning with a fry up!) As well as being delicious, beans are a good plant-based source of protein and work as well on a pizza (think black beans on a Mexican-inspired pizza) as they do in a stew (bean and mushroom stew is my personal favourite).
So to sum up, vegans and those who choose to eat a plant-based diet are NOT missing out on protein – so long as they make sure they’re eating a balanced and varied diet. From nuts to beans, veggies to soy products, there are so many plant-based sources of protein to choose from and, to top it all off, they’re pretty darn tasty, too!