Traditional thinking would have us believe that meat is the only truly viable source of protein and many carnivores justify their meat eating practices with just such theories. To me as a passionate vegetarian this is of course complete nonsense! Perhaps it is necessary to time and time again spell out what plant based foods actually adequately cater for vegetarian’s protein requirements. I would certainly never advocate just giving up meat without putting some thought into the age old protein question.
How Much Protein Do We Actually Need?
Experts believe that we require 0.8g of protein for every kg we weigh. This brings us to an average daily requirement of 56g for a man and 46g for a woman, provided they are not doing serious physical work. If you do strenuous physical work, you will require 63g as a man and 52g as a woman. Kids’ protein requirements increase as they grow in both boys and girls, though teenage boys will need a higher intake and teenagers ultimately transition to male/female intake levels.
Why Do We Need Protein?
Proteins contain amino acids and there are two types of amino acids. Nonessential amino acids are produced by our own bodies, while essential amino acids must be consumed through high protein foods. Amino Acids play an important role in the following areas:
- Brain: Amino acids facilitate our brain function.
- Muscle: Amino acids are the building blocks of our muscles,
- Skin and Hair: The body uses protein to repair tissue and hair and nails are predominantly made from protein.
- Hormones and Body Chemicals: The body needs protein to produce important hormones and body chemicals.
- Skin, Blood and Bones: Protein is also needed in the making of skin, blood and bones.
- Mood Regulator: Amino also play an important role in the production of mood balancing hormones.
- Blood Sugar Levels and Appetite: Proteins also keep blood sugar levels steady and give you a prolonged feeling of fullness.
High Protein Plant-Based Foods
Now that we know how much and just why our bodies need protein, let’s take a look at the top plant-based sources of protein:
- Seitan 76g/100g:Seitan is also known as vital wheat gluten and is available online or from good health food stores. You can also find lots of tasty recipes and many prefer seitan over mass produced meat substitutes
- Lentils 26g/100g: The humble lentil comes in at second place and can be cooked in lots of different ways, sprouted or just enjoyed as is.
- Black Beans: 21g/100g: Along with all other types of beans, black beans are a high source of protein and delicious in vegetable curries and stews.
- Chickpeas: 19g/100g: Chickpeas are super tasty and versatile and you can either use them much in the same way as other pulses, make delicious hummus or simply roast them. Roasted chickpeas are a healthy alternative to crisps and available from all good food stores.
- Pumpkin Seeds 29g/100g: Pumpkin seeds are a super source of protein along with all other seeds including sunflower seeds and hemp seeds. They are delicious in breads and cakes and make for an interesting stir-fry ingredient.
- Almonds and other Nuts: The humble peanut comes in at 24g, followed by pistachios and almonds at 21g/100g. Nuts make for a great snack and the recent popularity of nut butters gives you even more nut based protein options.
- Tempeh 19g/100g: Also available online or from your local health store, tempeh is a soya based product and makes for delicious stir-fries, curries and salad ingredient.
- Quinoa, Amaranth, Spelt and Oats: All of these grains are high in protein coming in at between 14g and 19g of protein per 100g
- Tofu: Though a very popular choice with vegetarians, tofu actually only contains 8g of protein per 100g.
- Powerful Green Vegetables: Watercress, soya beans, broccoli, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, asparagus and cabbage are excellent sources of protein. Alfalfa sprouts are also a tasty, high protein ingredient for any vegetarian meal.
As you can see, there are lots of really tasty options and as I say time and again, us humans do not need to eat meat to survive. Us vegetarians can live happily ever after in the sure knowledge that we are doing the best for our health, our planet and all its many beautiful creatures.