One problem faced by vegans is getting complete proteins when choosing plant based protein options. Protein is made of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, but only nine of those are essential amino acids. That means the body can’t make them and you have to get those amino acids from the food you eat. Histidine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, lysine, methionine, and valine are the nine essential amino acids. If a type of food contains all the essential amino acids, it’s considered a complete protein. That’s not easy to find when choosing plant based options.
While it’s hard to find complete proteins in plant based foods, it’s not impossible.
Getting complete proteins from one plant based source is tough, but there are foods that provide it. Three types of food that provide this are quinoa, buckwheat, pistachios, hemp seed, chia seed and soy. Some of these can be used as a main dish, while others, like pistachios, are more add-ons to salads or used as snacks. Quinoa is a great substitute for rice that adds a nutty flavor, fiber, and the protein you need.
You can combine sources of protein to get a complete protein.
Beans and rice are probably the best known combination, but there’s also peanut butter and whole grain bread that rounds out the essential amino acids. While it was once thought you had to eat all the proteins at once to get a complete protein, it’s now known that it doesn’t have to be all at one meal. You can eat various sources of protein throughout the day to fill your daily need of essential amino acids.
Soy products are probably the most versatile.
There are many ways to use soy. Tempeh, soy that’s been cooked and fermented, is one way. Just a half cup of it has 15 grams of protein. Soy milk is another way to get your protein from soy. Tofu and other soy products are also available. One soy product growing in popularity is edamame—immature soybean pods. Comparing the amount of protein in these products, tofu beats out edamame in protein content, containing ten grams of protein for a half cup, compared to eight and a half grams for a whole cup of edamame.
- Using edamame in your cooking can increase your protein intake and add versatility. They can be steamed, used fresh or roasted and added to stir-fry, used as snacks or as a topping for a Buddha bowl.
- Lentils and beans are a great protein source that are relatively inexpensive and could fill out anyone’s meatless Mondays. Lentils not only contain 8.84 grams of protein per cup, but also provide other nutrients like potassium.
- Have you heard of the latest food craze, protein breads? Ezekiel bread is one example. It’s completely vegan and a great source of protein. Coat it with nut butter and some fresh fruit and you have a great snack or main dish.
- You don’t have to be vegan to increase your protein intake with vegetables. Kale is one good source with 2 grams per cup and so is broccoli, with a huge amount of 4 grams per stalk.
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