Protein is one of three macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fat. Of the three, it has the best reputation, because while many diets try to drastically curtail the amount of fat or carbohydrates in the diet, generally protein is seen as more crucial, and diets make allowances for it. However, just like we all need carbohydrates and fats, we all need protein too. That being said, for vegans, vegetarians, and others with restricted diets, it can be difficult to get enough protein from food sources.
What is Protein?
Protein is the substance that contains amino acids, which provide very important roles in our bodily health. Amino acids are critical for life, and while the body can generate some of these on its own, there are others that can only be obtained from the foods we eat. Therefore, amino acids are classified as essential, which must be found in the diet, and nonessential, which may be produced by our bodies.
Why Do We Need Protein?
The one thing nearly everyone knows in regards to our reliance on protein is that protein builds muscle. Without it, our muscles would break down and we would grow weak and die. However, protein is critical for so much more than simply building and repairing muscle (not that this isn’t very important). It’s also important for various hormones, enzymes, and other parts of the body. Without them, without protein, our bodies simply couldn’t function.
How Much Protein To Eat?
Too much of anything, even good things, is a bad thing. While vegans and vegetarians may struggle to get enough protein in their diets, the rest of America more than likely is consuming more protein than they need on a daily basis. This can lead to health problems. Ideally, it’s best if one follows a regimen to consume a balanced level of nutrients, protein included. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), at least .13g/lb of protein per bodyweight daily is necessary to prevent muscle wasting and stay healthy. The maximum level of daily protein is .30g/lb. Mileage may vary.
How To Get Protein?
The obvious source of protein is meat, but as mentioned earlier, this option is not on the table for vegans and vegetarians. Fortunately, there are plenty of vegetables that can provide significant levels of protein. In fact, it is possible to get all of your protein needs from vegan sources- but even if you don’t, getting more of your protein from vegetables and healthier meats will do your body and the planet some good.
10 Meatless, Protein- Rich Foods:
Eggs and red meat are good sources of protein and nutrients, but they also contain modest levels of fat. Too much red meat in the diet can lead to health consequences. Also, meat, and even eggs are not an option for vegans, who must, therefore, get their protein elsewhere.
10. Almond ButterRelated: 9 Signs You May Have a Protein Deficiency and How You Can Fix It
As the name might suggest, almond butter is made from almonds and includes about 10g worth of protein per 50g. It is also a good source of healthy fats, biotin, vitamin E, and manganese. Taken without salt, almond butter can be thought of as a replacement for peanut butter, used in smoothies and sandwiches. In fact, if you’re looking for a recipe to make your own, here’s one you can try. It doesn’t take long to make at all. Almond butter also possesses significant levels of Zinc, which can be thought of as a transport mineral for the body’s resources.
9. Hemp Hearts
You’ve probably heard of hemp as a plant closely related to marijuana. You can think of it as weed’s straight-laced cousin. Not only will it not get you high, but it has a variety of uses in many industries. For example, did you know hemp is also a solid source of protein and other nutrition? Typically, hemp hearts have around 16g of protein per 50g. They are also a solid option for obtaining omega-3 fats, which are helpful for the brain and cognitive functions, and they even contain some levels of iron and calcium, which help make your bones stronger.
8. Pumpkin Seeds
If you’re one of those people who tosses out all the pumpkin seeds when you’re making jack-o-lanterns for Halloween and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, stop. You’re parting with up to 8g of protein for every 50g you throw away! Furthermore, you’d also be losing out on magnesium, a mineral that is crucial for energy utilization in our body. If you still aren’t convinced, pumpkin seeds are also excellent at helping to kill parasites! Pumpkin seeds provide fat, carbohydrates and potassium, which translate to energy, smoother digestion, and superior heart health respectively. Don’t pass up the power of the pumpkin seed.
7. Nutritional YeastRelated: Are You Eating Too Much Protein? Look For These 7 Signs
If you’ve heard of yeast, it’s likely been used in one of two contexts; yes, it is a component of many types of bread. Nutritional yeast brings in 25g of protein for every 50g, making it one of the strongest non-meat sources of protein on this list. Speaking of nonmeat, nutritional yeast offers a strong cheesy and nutty flavor, which makes it a component for imitation cheese dishes among vegans and vegetarians. Vegans and vegetarians can also protect their B Vitamin supply because nutritional yeast also provides significant levels of B12, a vitamin those with restricted diets have trouble obtaining.
Have you heard of Dulse? In terms of appearance, you might think of it as a cross between seaweed and red lettuce. In actuality, it is edible seaweed. Coming in with 16g of protein per 50g, dulse is a sea vegetable that includes a significant fiber content, which can help the digestive system past waste more efficiently. Furthermore, dulse is rich in potassium, a crucial nutrient for heart health in that it makes blood vessels more flexible, putting less strain on the heart. It also provides iodine, which is necessary for the hormones of the thyroid gland to synthesize properly.
Chlorella is one food that is flying under the radar in more way than one. Not only is it an impressive source of protein, edging out nutritional yeast with 29g of protein per 50g, but it also contains significant levels of other nutrients carbohydrates, fats, and various other vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A, iron, and magnesium, are found in it. As the name might suggest, it’s a green alga. While it packs quite a punch in terms of nutrition, it is not eaten for its flavor and is best eaten as part of a soup, smoothie, or other food.
4. SpirulinaRelated: 7 Longevity Benefits of Eating Plant Protein
Much like chlorella, spirulina is another algae superfood. In fact, it contains nearly as much protein as chlorella, falling just shy at around 28 grams worth for every 50 grams. The nutritional content makes it a significant all-around supplement for vegans and vegetarians because it also contains significant levels of iron, Vitamin K, and even B Vitamins. You will need quite a lot of it if you want it to significantly affect your daily intake, so you may have to get creative to find ways to include it in breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals (or drink a LOT of smoothies).
3. Cacao Nibs
Cacao nibs are a lot like cocoa, but there are some key differences. With a modest 7 grams worth of protein in every 50g, cacao differs from cocoa primarily in that it still has the living enzymes intact which make it beneficial for improving digestion. Furthermore, cacao nibs contain significant levels of antioxidants (antiaging enzymes), and believe it or not, it can significantly improve your heart health. Chocolate gets unhealthy once you add in all the excess fat, salt and sugar. If you must skip to chocolate, opt for high grade semisweet dark chocolate, as it’s the healthiest for you.
2. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are a very popular health food, partially for their protein content, but also for other reasons. Coming in at 9g of protein per 50g, flax seeds also provide significant levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which play significant roles in the body’s health. For those adverse to using eggs, ground flax can stand in as a healthier substitute when it’s time to bake; ultimately, freshly ground flax is the best in terms of the nutrition it provides. Use it in smoothies and salads, or as a component of snacks; make a trail mix with cacao nibs and pumpkin seeds!
Made from sesame seeds, tahini is a staple in middle eastern cuisine. It can be made into a food all on its own, but it is often a component in many other dishes, most notably in the US, hummus. For every 50 grams or so, Tahini packs in about 10 grams worth of protein. Tahini can be made from raw or roasted seeds; the raw variety has less in the way of fat, but both provide significant nutrition, including potassium, calcium, iron, and B Vitamins. Often used as a dip, it can be served on health platters along with vegetables.Related: 10 Delicious Vegetarian Foods That Have More Iron Than Meat
Protein is crucial to the body, even for vegans and vegetarians; supplements, while helpful, are not always as effective as natural food. These foods are important options, particularly for vegans and vegetarians, not only for their non-animal based protein content but also because of the other vitamins and minerals they provide. Some of these vitamins, such as B Vitamins, are difficult to get enough of without animal sources. Even if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian, these foods put new and interesting options on the table. When it comes to protein intake, ensure you get around .13-.30g/lb per day if possible.