Chances are, you’ve heard of something called a “plant-based diet”. While plant-based eating is growing in popularity, some people are choosing to go with an all-plant, vegan diet. A vegan diet is one that does not include anything coming from an animal (including meat, dairy, and even honey!)
There are several reasons why someone might choose a vegan diet, including health and animal welfare. However, there are also a few challenges that come with consuming an adequate vegan diet with all the necessary nutrients. One nutrient of concern on a vegan diet is protein.
Here are some tips to ensure that you are getting enough protein on a vegan diet:
Know the difference between complete vs. incomplete proteins
There are two main types of proteins: complete and incomplete. Proteins are built with something called “amino acids”. Complete proteins contain all nine of the essential amino acids. Examples of complete proteins include most animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Incomplete proteins contain less than nine of the essential amino acids. Most plant-based protein foods are considered incomplete proteins.
For someone following a vegan diet, making sure you consume foods with all the essential amino acids is important. Combining foods like whole grains and legumes, or nuts and whole grains will ensure you are covering your bases (we’ll explain this in more detail in the next section!)
However, some plant-based foods are also complete proteins. These include quinoa, soy, and buckwheat. Adding these foods to your weekly meal plan can help to ensure you’re staying on-track!
Eat a varied diet to make sure you’re getting the protein you need
For the plant-based foods that aren’t complete proteins on their own, a technique called protein complementation can be used. This is when incomplete proteins are combined strategically to provide all the essential amino acids your body needs.
A common example of foods that can be complemented include rice and beans. Rice is high in methionine and low in lysine whereas beans are low in methionine and high in lysine! Together they balance each other out. Here are some more examples of protein complementation:
- Rice and lentils
- Bread and nut butter
- Bean burrito in a corn or whole grain tortilla
- Hummus made with chickpeas and sesame seeds
- Trail mix with soybeans and nuts
We may not need as much protein as we think
Generally speaking, protein is not a nutrient that is frequently under-eaten in economically well-off countries. The specific recommendations in each country may be different. If enough care is taken to eat a well-balanced diet with lots of variety, consuming the right amount of protein in a vegan diet should not be a problem.
To ensure that you are meeting your needs, make sure to include a source of protein at each of your meals and snacks. Here are some protein-rich meal and snack suggestions for a vegan diet:
- Breakfast - soy milk, whole grain cereal, berries, nuts
- Lunch - tofu curry with veggies and brown rice
- Dinner - tempeh tacos with whole grain tortilla, avocado and fresh salsa
- Snacks - soy yogurt and fruit, dried edamame beans or chickpeas, nut and seed trail mix, vegetables and bean dip
Nutrition: Science and Applications, 2nd Canadian Edition by Lori A. Smolin, Mary B. Grosvenor, Debbie Gurfinkel