Yes, You Can Get Enough Protein From Plants
Eating a plant based diet isn’t just another dietary fad or #trending – it’s here to stay. There are a multitude of benefits in upping these beautiful ingredients in your diet – from increasing fibre, vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and phytochemical status to reducing your intake of processed and manufactured foods. Not only that, but eating more plants and being conscious of the way we consume has a massive environmental and social impact too. Plenty of reasons to do a little more on the veg, right?
That said, while there are so many reasons to eat more plants and reduce your meat intake, one of the main macro-nutrients that generally goes astray when people make this shift is protein. And good sources of protein in the diet are vital for us to thrive.
What even is “protein”?
To refresh, we need protein for:
- growth, development and repair of our cells, muscle and body
- to stabilise our appetite and blood glucose levels
- for healthy hair, skin, nails and bones
- to help transport both oxygen and cholesterol (good and bad) around the body
So protein has an important role, right?
We find our complete sources of protein (these contain all essential amino acids to build our protein blocks) primarily through animal tissues such as red meat, chicken, fish, pork, eggs etc. Now clearly, if you’re reducing your intake of these, you’re also reducing your intake of “more easily” accessible complete proteins too. So you need to be aware of what plant based ingredients you now integrate into your diet to ensure you maintain healthy protein intake. Because eating a plant based diet rich in protein IS possible.
Consider these incredible plant sources of protein to get your hit:
LENTILS, BEANS AND CHICKPEAS – provide proteins, fibre and a source of carbohydrate too. They’re easily integrated into meals and plump up what may begin as a leafy salad into something far more substantial and protein rich. Try these:
- Tabbouleh with chickpeas, buckwheat in place of freekeh (cracked wheat) and a tahini dressing
- Broccolini, snap pea, lentil and almond stir fry with tamari, ginger and chilli and some brown rice to serve
- Kidney beans with plenty of Mexican spices stuffed into sweet potatoes
NUTS AND SEEDS – not only deliver on the essential amino acids we need to build proteins but are a rich source of essential fatty acids – vital for cardiovascular health, to aid weight management and give us that gorgeous glow in our skin. Did you know that when you combine almond, brazil and cashew nuts, you have all the essential amino acids for a complete protein sitting in your hand (or mouth)? Perfect, right? Nature’s little wonder snack.
PEANUT BUTTER – one of the richer sources of protein of all the nut butters. Be mindful however that you don’t over do it on the peanut butter (you can overdo a good thing) and that it’s a natural peanut butter without the additives, oils and sugars found in some of the more commercial supermarket brands. Because there aren’t already a tonne of ideas for eating peanut butter (including perhaps that occasional swipe from the jar) here’s a few more for your PB protein punch:
- Peanut butter in a medjool date for an afternoon pick-me-up and one of the best combinations known to mankind (with an extra boost of magnesium and fibre from the date)
- A dollop of peanut butter in a morning smoothie to add a fat and protein component which will keep your hunger at bay and energy stable
- Peanut butter mixed with lime juice, chilli, sesame oil and ginger and tossed through vegetti, zoodles, spoodles or whatever you might like to called spiralised vegetables, for a plant based satay noodle salad or stir fry of heavenly deliciousness with a protein kick.
QUINOA – yes we’ve heard the benefits of quinoa to death, but this grain still deserves a mention. It is one of the richest plant based sources of protein and rather be stuck on the same quinoa salad repertoire to get your dose, think about including some of these variations too.
- Baked seasonal fruits with cinnamon, quinoa and coconut yoghurt
- Quinoa flakes in granola with chai spices
- Quinoa stuffed capsicums with plenty of herbs
HEMP AND CHIA SEEDS – are tiny but pack a punch of nutrition into that minuscule package, with both seeds adding a valuable supply of essential amino acids to plant based diets and of course to enrich any meal too. Their flavour is mild so don’t be afraid to be liberal in use and play around with these ideas:
- Cacao chia pudding with almond milk, topped with hemp seeds and toasted coconut
- Apple banana and hemp seed breakfast muffins
- Raw energy slice with hemp, chia, oats, dates, coconut, sunflower seeds, maple, vanilla and coconut oil
What’s the deal with “complete protein”?
Don’t freak out, this won’t take you into a world of protein equations and numbers conundrums. There’s a very easy formula to this which will help you on your plant based protein journey. While this isn’t 100% vital in order to obtain all the essential amino acids each day when eating a plant based diet, nutritionally we still encourage people to combine certain plant foods. This is so when one ingredient might not tick all the essential amino acid boxes, another complementary ingredient will prop it up, therefore creating a complete protein in a meal. It’s as simple as combining cereals or wholegrain with legumes. Examples might include:
- Chickpeas with quinoa in a salad
- Peanut butter on wholegrain bread
- Kidney beans with brown rice and mexican flavours
It’s simple right? There’s nothing too complex about the process and on the way you can gain so much for your health, wellbeing and for the earth too. #eatmoreplants
Jacqueline Alwill is a qualified, practicing nutritionist, personal trainer, whole foods cook and mum. She is passionately committed to improving the health, wellbeing and happiness of all individuals.