Our ‘Explained’ series of posts aims to simplify the information surrounding vegan nutrition. This article talks about protein.
- The vegan protein myth holds no real weight.
- Protein is overhyped and isn’t something you should be too concerned with unless you have fitness or strength goals.
- Eat a wide and varied whole foods diet as much as possible.
- High protein foods are beans, legumes, seeds and soy products.
- High protein food combinations are a great way to makes sure you are getting adequate protein each day. Example: peanut butter on wholegrain bread.
The Vegan Protein Debate
Amidst all the vegan hype, one question has sought to try and dismiss the vegan movement, especially for men. Protein. Where do we get it and how often? Is it enough?
We men are hardwired to believe that as men, we must be big and strong, and protein, thus meat is the source of those attributes.
Yet, as veganism rises so are the number of vegan athletes. The vegan bodybuilding scene is booming. The popular term ‘vegain’ symbolises a movement of men who have continued to build muscle but without consuming animal protein in the process.
It’s not just bodybuilders. Pro athletes are also going plant-based.
As the World Cup is currently on, I have to mention Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. Both have made the transition to plant-based diets in the last year.
They may not embody the vegan lifestyle. Yet, they have adopted the diet. Their Reasons? To improve performance, increase energy levels and recover muscles quicker.
Where do you get your protein?
Protein is important, it is essential to the human body for building tissue, cells and muscles. It is also essential that as a vegan you are aware of your protein intake and ensure you are getting enough.
Let’s take a look at some animal and vegan proteins:
Animal Protein Foods
- Pork – 31.6g per 100g
- Lamb – 29.2g per 100g
- Beef – 23.4g per 100g
- Chicken – 20g per 100g
Vegan Protein Foods
- Peanut Butter – 25g protein per 100g
- Kidney Beans – 24g protein per 100g
- Black Beans – 21g protein per 100g
- Pinto Beans – 21g protein per 100g
- Chickpeas – 19g protein per 100g
- Pumpkin Seeds – 19g protein per 100g
- Flax Seeds – 18g protein per 100g
- Tofu – 17g protein per 100g
- Oats – 16.9g protein per 100g
- Chia Seeds – 16.5g protein per 100g
- Spelt – 15g protein per 100g
- Quinoa – 14.1g protein per 100g
- Hemp Seed – 11g protein per 3/tbsps
- Spirulina – 10g protein per 2/tbsps
- Nutritional Yeast – 9g protein per 2/tbsps
- Lentils – 9g protein per 100g
- Green Peas – 5.5g protein per 100g
- Brown Rice – 2.7g protein per 100g
Animal vs. Vegan Protein
So, vegans can’t get the same amount of protein in one food. But does that even matter?
Vegans should try to take in the recommended daily amount of 0.8g per kg of body weight. This is not a set rule, you are not always going to hit this target. It won’t make much of a difference if you are under.
Non-vegans rarely hit any of their RDA of anything either so don’t worry about it too much.
To be honest, I haven’t thought about my protein intake since going vegan and I’m still building muscle in the gym. You don’t need to become obsessive, be mindful. As Vegan Physique says, ‘it’s overhyped’.
A common misconception is that a vegan must eat a complete protein at every meal. This is not true either. Eat a varied diet, try to keep it organic and GMO-free. This way, the food you consume within a 24 hour period should be enough to give us the complete protein required.
Complementary Protein Combinations
If you have ‘vegains’ to make then here is a short list of combinations that will ensure you are getting complete protein:
- Split pea soup with whole grain bread
- Beans and whole grain tortillas
- Peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread
- Tofu with brown rice
Combining the proteins like this we can ensure our bodies are getting enough protein. If you have fitness goals, then introduce a vegan protein powder or vegan protein bars into your diet. The powders and bars can be expensive but consider the practices of the dairy industry. That extra money doesn’t seem so bad.
Beyond Meat Protein
No doubt, meat is more effective at supplying the body with protein. It is a much simpler process than making combinations with plant-based proteins. Eating 100g of pumpkin seeds in one go can be tough work.
Meat was once considered healthy as part of a human’s diet. Yet, meat isn’t what it used to be. The animals no longer roam free around fields feeding on lush grass or insects. In fact, ‘approximately two out of every three farm animals in the world are reared on a factory farm. In the United States, about 99 percent are reared on a factory farm.’
Although meat has more protein and is far more accessible, it does come with a side of health implications too.
Red meat and cheese, in particular, comes with a side of saturated fat:
Stilton – 25g per 100g
Cheddar – 21g per 100g
Parmesan – 19g per 100g
Mozzarella – 17g per 100g
Pork – 3-13g per 100g
Lamb – 3-7g per 100g
Beef – 2-8g per 100g
These numbers are based on ‘good’ quality meat and cheese. This doesn’t include processed goods where saturated fat content can be much higher.
Studies show that small amounts of processed meats increase your chances of cancer. Meat and dairy products also contain various hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and dioxins. All of which have been linked to an increase in the risk of cancer and heart disease. This recent study revealed that meat and dairy-rich diets were linked with a 50% increase in the chance of heart failure.
Whilst, protein deficiency remains as one of the biggest threats to men in embracing veganism. Meat remains one of the biggest threats to men’s health.
We have seen the destruction and waste behind the meat on our plate. We know plant-based foods can provide us with the protein our bodies need to thrive. So…
Are the negative impacts of eating meat on our health, animals and the environment worth it? Is our taste, want and convenience more important?
More important than our own health, animal welfare and the environment?
Let me know your thoughts.
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