Not meat alone: The 6 best sources of plant protein

Виктор Литвиненко

Not meat alone: The 6 best sources of plant protein
Daily protein requirement. Source: https://ru.freepik.com/author/antoninavlasova

Protein is a building block for cells that affects many vital functions in the body. The most common sources of protein are animal products - meat, milk, and eggs. Unlike meat eaters, vegans and vegetarians have to make more effort to make their diet as balanced as possible and get enough protein.

For those who prefer a plant-based diet, nutritionists have developed a guide to the best sources of plant-based proteins, which includes the foods with the highest protein content. Why are vegetable proteins called incomplete and how can they be better consumed?

Building blocks: daily protein requirements

The daily protein requirement is influenced by factors such as age, gender, weight, height, and physical activity. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also affect this figure.

For women aged 19 to 30, it is recommended to consume 142 g to 184 g of protein per day. This portion should include 28 g of meat, 1 egg, or a tablespoon of peanut butter. Women aged 31 and older are recommended to consume 142 g to 170 g of protein. For men aged 19 to 30, the protein equivalent is 170-200 g, and for men aged 31 to 59, 156-184 g.

These recommendations have been developed by experts from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and include a daily minimum amount of protein to avoid protein deficiency in the body. Most people should consume much more protein, especially when building muscle.

What is the difference between vegetable protein and animal protein?

"Vegans and vegetarians can meet their protein needs with a properly planned diet," says Yasi Ansari, a representative of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a nutritionist. However, so-called "junk food vegans" who prefer processed foods have fewer sources of healthy protein.

Anyone who follows a plant-based diet should be aware of the differences between complete and incomplete proteins. Animal proteins are considered complete because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. In plant proteins, the essential amino acids are partially present, so they are called incomplete.

However, if you combine two or more incomplete proteins, you can get one complete protein. For example, a combination of beans and rice, nut butter and whole grains creates one complete protein. Consuming these foods at different times of the day is also effective.

Best protein sources for vegans and vegetarians

Healthy eating experts focus on several valuable sources of protein: tempeh, lentils, legumes, nut and vegetable oils, seeds, and tofu. Let's take a closer look at each of them.

  • Tempeh

According to Grace Pascal, tempeh is the main source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. The nutritionist describes this product as a fermented alternative to tofu made from whole soybeans. The product is good for the intestines as it contains fiber and probiotics. It provides a long-lasting feeling of satiety. 1 cup of tempeh (166 g) = 33.7 g of protein.

  • Lentils

Lentils are a type of legume. It is rich in iron, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6. 1 cup of lentils = 47.2 g of protein. Note that one cup of dry lentils and the same amount of boiled lentils contain approximately 18 g of protein.

Studies have shown that eating lentils helps reduce cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. This is attributed to the presence of polyphenols, plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.

  • Legumes

Beans are another extremely valuable source of protein. Choose the one that you like best: pinto, white, black, lima, and kidney beans. Half a cup of black beans contains about 7 g of protein. All types of beans are rich in fiber, potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, B vitamins, and iron.

  • Nut and vegetable oils

Peanut and almond oils are invaluable for vegans and vegetarians. One tablespoon of peanut oil contains 3.84 g of protein. A tablespoon of almond oil contains 3.36 g of protein. In addition to proteins, nut oils contain many other nutrients. When choosing an oil, be sure to pay attention to the list of ingredients.

"It is optimal when it is roasted or raw nuts and a little salt for flavor. Hydrogenated oils and sugar are best avoided," recommends Grace Pascal, a registered dietitian from San Diego. Walnuts are high in fat and extremely high in calories, so you should control your portion size.

  • Hemp seeds

This is another favorite of nutritionists because you only need a small amount of hemp seeds to get a lot of protein. 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds = 9.48 g of protein. In addition, the product contains essential fatty acids, fiber, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. The seeds can be eaten both raw and fried.

  • Tofu

Tofu is a great additional source of protein for people who prefer a plant-based diet. Half a cup of raw tofu contains 21.8 g of protein and 816 mg of calcium. Yani Ansari notes that in addition to its high protein content, tofu helps maintain bone health. Hard or soft tofu can have different nutritional value.

Tofu and soybeans have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, help to normalize blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Unlike many other plant-based protein sources, tofu contains essential amino acids that are important for human health.

It is really easy for vegans and vegetarians to get enough protein, knowing about its sources. To do this, it is enough to consume several types of vegetable protein daily, following the so-called layered diet. Plant-based foods high in protein are easy to digest, contain many beneficial micronutrients, and provide a long-lasting feeling of satiety.