Where Do You Get Your Protein?
Posted on 04 March 2015 by Leonie Satori
Vegetable protein foods are abundant in a meat free diet and amino acid requirements can be obtained by including a variety of protein rich foods to ensure adequate nutrition for health and vitality. Healthy meat free meals need not be complicated or difficult to prepare and can easily contain generous amounts of nutrients including adequate protein. Even for meat eaters, including plant based proteins into the diet can be enjoyable and nutritious.
To start with, it is good to get a basic understanding of why we need to consume protein foods. Protein foods help with numerous functions in the human body – they help with growth and repair of tissues, provide components for the manufacture of certain hormones, help with proper functioning of cells in the body and really play an important role in so many functions and processes in the body that it is important that this range of nutrients is not overlooked in the diet. Protein foods often give us a sense of satiety and can help with blood sugar regulation, so it is important to include protein foods with each meal to prevent cravings and drops in energy.
The reason that many people ask “where do you get your protein?” when looking at a predominantly plant based or meat free diet is that plant proteins are not considered to be ‘complete proteins’. A complete protein is one that contains all of the nine essential amino acids or building blocks of protein which are deemed necessary for normal functioning of the body. Most plant proteins foods are considered to be ‘incomplete proteins’ because they may not have all of these nine essential amino acids, however, clever combinations of plant based proteins and including a variety of protein rich foods in a vegetarian diet can more than adequately ‘fill in’ these gaps to ensure that all essential amino acids are consumed.
So, in answer to the original question: “where do you get your protein?” the following list of plant based protein rich foods ensures a good range of nutrients to help with energy, satiety and health.
Beans, lentils and legumes form the basis for a majority of plant based meals. Beans, lentils and legumes can include navy beans, pinto beans, mung beans, kidney beans or my favourite chick peas. Undoubtedly the most versatile of the plant proteins: beans can be included in vegetable burgers, dips like hummous, added to salads or stir fries, soups or hotpots. Beans, lentils and legumes are denser in texture than many vegetables on their own so can help you to feel full and will sustain your energy for long periods of time.
Combining protein rich grains with beans, lentils or legumes is one of the most traditional methods for ensuring a balanced meal with complete proteins, the Ayurvedic dish Kitchari which combines mung beans and rice is the perfect example of this. Millet, amaranth, brown rice and quinoa are good nutritious grains that are both protein rich and easy to prepare. These kinds of grains can be cooked and included in a variety of dishes including porridge, added to soups, stews and included with stir fried vegetables and used in place of pasta or potatoes to form the base of many heavier dishes.
Nuts and seeds are protein packed parcels perfect for a plant based diet. Small amounts of seeds and nuts including sunflower seeds, pepitas, almonds, pecans and walnuts add a delicious dimension to plant based meals, and when soaked overnight before use, the nutrients and protein in these foods are much more readily available for digestion and absorption. Nuts and seeds can be ground and sprinkled on porridge or salads, included in vegetable burgers or veggie loaf to add crunch and texture.
Sprouts are sometimes overlooked in meat free meals, however, sprouts are one of the most essential components for improving nutrition in a plant based diet. While some may associate sprouts with alfalfa, any grain, lentil or bean that has been soaked in water overnight can be considered a ‘sprout’. By far my most favourite sprouts are lentils and mung beans and these can be added to stir fries, salads or soups – the possibilities are endless.
There are also a surprising range of vegetables that have high protein content; spinach, sweet potato, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are perfect examples of vegetables with high protein content and including these and a variety of other vegetables in the diet on a daily basis can help to boost the protein content of a meal.
Protein powders are also a useful addition to the diet for busy individuals and can provide a concentrated boost of plant based nutrition. Spirulina powder is by far the leader when it comes to plant based protein, with sprouted rice protein, hemp protein and pea protein closely following behind. Protein powders are most commonly added to blended smoothies to create nutrition packed afternoon snacks, view our smoothie recipes for some inspiration here.
Dairy products and eggs can also play an important role in meat free meals and in a plant based diet. Including small amounts of quality cheese, free range and organic eggs and natural yoghurt can provide a good amount of protein to support a plant based diet.
Essentially, a meat free or plant based diet with a large variety of types of foods including beans, lentils, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, sprouts and vegetables will no doubt provide adequate nutrition, protein, amino acids and satisfaction for the taste buds. Check out our range of recipe books for some inspirational ways to include meat free proteins into your regular meal plans.
About the Author
Leonie is a Naturopath & Medical Herbalist with a passion for good food, healthy living and of course, herbal medicine. When she is not consulting in her wellness clinic in Lismore or blogging about nutrition, Ayurvedic Medicine or natural health, she is studying yoga, growing her own herbs and vegetables or quietly walking in the natural bush land in Northern Rivers NSW.
Contact our health centre in Lismore to book an appointment with Leonie in our naturopathic clinic.
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