Alyssa is a good friend of mine who I met at the gym a few months ago. Alyssa is super active & has a passion for working out and being in good health so naturally we became friends. She’s my go-to source for getting info on how to get protein as a vegan or vegetarian so I figured I’d let her share with you guys in her own words! Enjoy…
When Kyra asked me to share what I know about getting enough protein while eating a vegan diet a few things came to mind. It brought me back to when I first started eating a vegetarian diet back in 2002 and how I was feeling when I decided to commit to the change. I remember my primary concern was, “What will I eat instead?” And, “How will I stay healthy and get all the proper nutrients I need?” The fact of the matter is, it’s very easy to get all the protein, vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need to survive and be healthy while eating a completely plant based diet. I’m very active. I practice Bikram Yoga regularly, weight train and run so I need to make sure I get my protein and nutrients in order to keep strong.
When I first started my journey eating a plant based diet it was because of the information I learned and read about factory farming. I don’t believe in how it operates and how the animals and factory workers are treated. Therefore, I choose not to support it. I’m not here to preach about it or try to convince anyone to become vegan. I respect how others choose to eat and in turn I expect the same from others.
When I first started eating a vegetarian diet, I started off slowly. First cutting out red meat, then when I felt ready, chicken and lastly fish and seafood. I continued to eat dairy products and eggs up until about 2007, and then I gradually cut that out of my diet as well. I continue to eat a vegan diet and I feel better than I have in my life. It just works for me and don’t mind the extra effort I have to put into it. In fact, I don’t even notice it anymore.
As a meat replacer I started buying extra-firm tofu. Tofu is made from coagulating soy milk and is of Chinese origin. It has a very mild taste and smell. To prepare it, I drain it and place it between a dish cloth, then place a few heavy books on top. I let it stand for about 30 minutes. This allows much of the water to be pressed out, it makes for a better consistency and it doesn’t fall apart while stir frying. I then cut it into cubes, stir fry it with a little olive or safflower oil until golden brown, and add seasonings or a marinade sauce. 1/5 of a block of tofu contains approximately 8 grams of protein. Tofu is so great because you can put it with just about anything depending on the seasonings you use. I also eat it plain and not cooked as well on sandwiches and salads.
Another great protein source is beans. There are so many varieties and they are also very versatile. ½ cup of chick peas or kidney beans for example has 7 grams of protein. I tend to add beans to salads and in Mexican and Indian dishes as an additional source of protein along with tofu. If I use canned beans I always rinse them off with cold water. Beans contain indigestible starches and by rinsing them off you eliminate some of that starch and sodium thus allowing for easier digestion. Beans are very healthy and contain fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, zinc, copper and iron.
I also, eat a lot of nuts, particularly almonds, peanuts and walnuts. I always buy dry roasted no sodium nuts. I try to avoid excess sodium due to water retention and it’s very dehydrating. Almonds are a great source of protein and “good fat” (monounsaturated fat). 20-25 almonds (1 ounce) have 6 grams of protein, and are loaded with vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc as well as fiber. Peanuts contain 7 grams of protein per ounce. Nut butters are also great sources of the good fats and protein. However, they are fattening and should be eaten in moderation. I absolutely love peanut butter, and always buy all natural, no sodium, no sugar peanut butter. It is minimally processed and tastes so good. A great way to get a “complete protein” is buy spreading peanut butter on whole wheat toast or crackers.
Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids in the correct proportion necessary for proper health. Generally, complete proteins come from animal sources, and incomplete proteins are derived from plant sources meaning that they have amino acids but not all that the body might need. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right variety of proteins or else you may be nutritionally depriving your body of all that it needs. A few of my favorite complete proteins include, soy protein isolate in the form of a powder for protein shakes (23 grams of protein per serving), pea protein powder for shakes (25 grams of protein per serving), hempseed (11 grams of protein per 2 Tablespoons) and quinoa which is a whole grain (5 grams of protein per ¼ cup). It’s a great substitute for rice or pasta and is gluten free.
Other easy substitutes for meat if you want a quick way to get your protein at meal time are the products made from TVP (textured vegetable protein), soy protein, and seitan which is derived from wheat. I try to avoid eating too many of these products (veggie burgers, meatless meatballs, sliced faux meat) due to fact that they are high in sodium and processed, but as a newcomer to this lifestyle I think they can help with the transition. Tempeh is another form of protein derived from soybeans. I typically don’t buy it because of the taste but, I have friends that enjoy eating it.
A few other tips I recommend to someone consuming a plant-based diet are making sure to take a multivitamin and getting enough B12. B12 is found only in meat, fish and dairy although it’s sometimes added to foods and cereals like raisin bran. B12 is needed to make healthy blood cells, maintain a healthy nervous system and have adequate energy. Blue green algae supplements are a great source for B12 and vitamin A. I also use nutritional yeast for additional B12 and it contains 8 grams of protein per 2 Tablespoons. I add it to tomato sauce to give it a cheesy flavor.
I hope this is helpful for those of you considering a vegan diet or just having trouble with adequate protein intake. It’s really just a matter of knowing what’s out there and getting used to preparing your meals in a balanced healthy way. I certainly don’t regret choosing this lifestyle and wish you all good health and happy eating!
c/o The Get In Shape Girl
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