Of the three macronutrient, protein is a sneaky one. If you don’t watch its intake, it can begin to slide. Getting adequate proteins is even more of a struggle for vegetarians.
Meat, fish, eggs and whey have some of the highest quality proteins. For a vegan, who doesn’t even have dairy and eggs to support their protein intake, things can get messy.
So what if you don’t meet your protein requirement?
If you take less protein than your daily requirement you might start losing your muscle mass, gaining weight (as your diet would like be leaning heavily on carbs), probably have tiring afternoon and late evenings, etc etc.
Moreover, things can get ugly if you do weight training and are physically active through the week. You are unlikely to improve your strength or performance with inadequate protein. Read about how much protein you need in our previous article.
Here I have compiled a list of foods for vegans and vegetarians specifically along with sample diets to see if the daily protein requirements can be adequately met. The trick is to make sure, you have a high protein source in every meal. Here goes:
Good Protein Sources for Vegans
Beans like Chickpeas, Lima Beans, etc have similar protein content to Red Kidney Beans and can be used alternatively for taste and variety.
There are other great sources of protein like Qunioa, Sea Vegetables, Quorn, Tempeh etc which are easily available abroad but are imported in India. I believe that one should have as much from local produce as one can manage (more on that in a separate post).
A quick word about Soy: This was regarded as the superfood that lowers cholesterol, prevents breast and prostrate cancer, aids weight loss, etc. As is mostly the case, some of these claims were made based on preliminary studies while others were mere extension and conjecture. It has recently come to light, that Soy might not be all that super after all (Ref1).
If Soy has been a part of the diet plan in your family for generations, continue with it. 2-4 servings of Soy in a week should be ok but don’t go overboard, as there are likely to be no additional benefits but there is no surety of no harm.
Oats in Soy Milk – 25.2g
2 whole wheat toast with chunky peanut butter – 12.8g
Brown Rice with Kidney Beans – 18g
Lentils with Spinach – 11g
Total – 67g
~adding nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc), seeds (flax, chia, hemp seeds) to the meals and snacks is likely to make up for the deficit. But you see things can get difficult for a vegan.
Read Related: Are You Taking Enough Protein?
Good Protein Sources for Vegetarians (Vegan + Dairy):
Dairy and dairy products add a lot of options in your diet and increase its protein content. Although cheese can be a brilliant add-on to any of your meals, if you are watching your calorie intake, then consider swapping it with cottage cheese.
Oats in Cow’s Milk – 25.5g
2 Whole Wheat Toast with Chunky Peanut Butter – 12.8g
Brown Rice with Kidney Beans and Yogurt – 28g
Milk with Protein Shake – 23.5g
Lentils with Spinach and Cottage Cheese (Paneer) – 31.4g
Total – 121.2g
Good Protein Sources for Vegetarians (Vegan + Dairy + Eggs):
With eggs, your breakfast/ lunch options grow manifold. Some people are hesitant to eat egg yolks mostly because of their concern for cholesterol. Our bodies need about 2000mg of cholesterol per day. It is required in the body to form structural components of cells, by the liver to create bile which aids in digestion of fats and most importantly it is the precursor to hormones formation. So, if the body does not get cholesterol from food, it produces its own cholesterol. An egg yolk has about 150-200mg of cholesterol.
Egg White (1 large): 3.6g
Whole Egg (1 large): 6.0g
A lot of people who do weight training have as much as 10-12 egg whites in a single day (boiled or as an omelette). You want to make sure that the eggs you buy come from a free range farm and not from caged hens. There will be a huge difference in their nutrition value.
Despite all your efforts, you might not be able to meet your daily requirement from whole foods. In this case, it is ok to supplement your diet with protein shakes.
If you do decide to have protein shakes, be careful which ones you choose, as some use very low quality sources, have high sugar content and process it to its last molecule. Find out more about protein shakes here: All You Wanted To Know About Protein Shakes (Part 1)
Sources: Wikipedia, MyFitnessPal, CalorieCount and FatSecret
Ref1: Sacks FM, Lichtenstein A, et al. Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health. An American Heart Association science advisory for professionals from the nutrition committee. Circulation. 2006.