Is protein really that important?
When was the last time you woke up in the morning, gasping for some protein, unable to move until you got your fix?
Never, right? So what’s the hype with protein, and especially with vegan protein?
We’re constantly being told that we need to get more protein into our diets, and that the best sources are from red meat and other animal products.
Protein is important of course. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are essential for muscle development, growth, building cells, repairing tissue and much more. There are also two types of amino acids. Essential and non essential.
The non essential ones our body can make, however essential amino acids we need to get from our food.
Before we talk about different protein sources, let’s look at the biggest misconception around protein, the amount.
So how much do I need?
Leading experts such as Dr Garth Davis and Dr Michael Greger have discussed, at length, the right protein sources, as well as limiting our protein intake. This is to avoid diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and more.
For an average guy (like me) that is 6 foot, slim to medium build and is fairly active, the average daily intake should be around 56 grams of protein. If I was training hard to build muscle, then it may be more like 75 grams a day, but ideally sitting around 10 percent of calories for each day is perfect.
For Courtney, a slim girl that is around 5 foot 4, also fairly active, the average daily intake would be approximately 42 grams. Again more if she was training all the time.
So what does that look like in terms of food?
Can we easily meet those requirements with vegan options?
Vegan sources of Protein
The best thing about a healthy plant based diet is that you can get all of the macros you need. That’s protein, carbohydrates and fat. Plus you don’t need to be eating exotic superfoods to achieve this. In fact everyday foods like greens, beans, lentils, sprouts, nuts, seeds and soy products (to name a few) can give you plenty of protein.
So let’s look at some vegan protein sources to help you hit your daily targets. So for around 50-60 grams of protein each day, I could go for the following:
Breakfast, a smoothie consisting of almond milk, 3 frozen bananas, 1 cup of frozen berries, a handful of spinach, 3 medjool dates and a tablespoon of peanut butter. That would give you about 13 grams of protein.
For lunch, you could have some marinated tofu in a wholemeal wrap with some greens, sprouts and other veggies. Adding hummus or pesto would also up the protein count (and be delicious). That would come to around 30-40 grams of protein as the tofu and hummus are very protein rich.
For Dinner, you could make a simple curry dish, or a rice or noodle based dish. Again, a variety of veggies will easily get you 20 or more grams of protein and that easily puts you over the 50-60 we were aiming for today.
That’s also not including snacking on fruit (which also has low levels of protein) or nuts or other snack bars etc during the day.
Using something like cronometer.com is a great way of tracking your protein intake and other nutrients.
The Protein Showdown
So let’s check out some comparisons of animal based protein sources versus vegan protein sources.
A couple of other things to consider.
It takes a lot longer to break down animal proteins, compared to plant proteins. The protein needs to be broken down into amino acids. The less work our bodies have to do to obtain and utilise those amino acids, the better.
Secondly, don’t forget about what else is in that protein rich meal. For example, if you’re eating meat, then you’re also getting a decent helping of cholesterol and saturated fat. This can lead to our biggest killers such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
So what is the hype with protein and vegan protein sources?
Advertising companies are constantly talking about animal based protein. It’s no wonder so many people are suddenly concerned with their protein levels.
As we’ve discussed though, we don’t need to be concerned about our protein levels, and we can certainly get all of the protein (along with many other important nutrients etc) from plants.
Also, unless you’re an athlete or training for a specific goal we don’t think it’s necessary to track your protein intake every day. It’s nice to get an idea of where things are at, but the best thing to do is eat a wide variety of plant based foods and you’ll soon realise that protein isn’t a concern at all.