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Along with carbohydrates and fats, protein is an essential macronutrient in a balanced diet.
But while we often associate protein with animal products, Registered Dietitian Practitioner Dr. Joyce HaddadDirector of The mission of a dietitiansays there are many ways for vegans to get their recommended intake.
With a little nutritional smarts and some planning, here’s how you can easily reach your daily protein goals on a plant-based diet.
1. Eat it all day
Protein is made up of amino acids which are essential “building blocks” for our muscles, bones, hormones and enzymes.
There are nine essential amino acids we need to consume for optimal health, and although meat products tend to contain all nine amino acids at once, most plant foods (except soy, quinoa and amaranth seeds) do not contain the full spectrum. .
So how can you make sure you’re hitting the right protein mark? Eat a wide variety.
“We used to think that every vegan meal should contain a variety of different proteins, but now we know that as long as there’s variety throughout the day, that’s what counts for a complete protein mix. “, says Dr. Haddad.
“So eat multiple types of legumes and multiple types of nuts, seeds, and grains. Only when eaten in a variety throughout the day can these amino acids become ‘complete’.”
2. Keep protein handy
A well-stocked pantry and refrigerator will ensure you always have the protein products ready to eat.
“The first category would be legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas,” says Dr. Haddad.
“Then you have nuts and seeds, soy products, like tofu and tempeh, and wheat grains that aren’t overly processed.”
Canned legumes and tofu packets are a no-brainer for plant-based meals at a glance, as are Gold & Green Pulled Oats which simply combines Nordic oats, beans, pea protein, oil and salt to create a flavorful protein base for tacos, casseroles and pasta dishes.
“Ready-to-eat plant-based foods can be very convenient,” says Dr. Haddad. “But always take a look at the ingredient list and see how many ingredients are there and prioritize whole foods.”
3. Aim for balance
As important as protein is to our bodies, Dr. Haddad says it’s just part of the nutritional “matrix” we need for stable energy and body repair.
“There is a misconception that we need a lot of protein in our diets, but the average person needs less than one gram per kilogram of body weight – so a 70kg person needs less than 70 g per day,” she explains.
With half a cup of lentils or beans containing 8g and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter containing 7g, you can easily do the math to start meeting your protein needs.
“It’s actually quite easy to get enough protein in a day. Try not to focus on prioritizing just one nutrient, because we actually need all the nutrients for optimal absorption,” explains the Dr Haddad.
4. Twist your treats
Boost your protein with vegan treats like black bean brownies. Photo: iStock
As plant-based eating grows in popularity, so does recipe innovation in the space.
“There are great ways to use beans and lentils to make sweet things, like black bean brownies and red lentil pancakes – you literally soak the lentils overnight in water, then you mix them into a batter and fry them like a pancake. Serve them with syrup or fruit,” Dr. Haddad suggests.
“Flax seeds and chia seeds are also a great alternative to baking eggs.”
5. Sprinkle protein
Every vegan should have a stash of nutritional yeast on hand to easily add flavor and protein to meals.
“Nutritional yeast can be used in place of broth in soups and stews and as a flavoring on most savory dishes, such as avocado on toast with seeds,” says Dr. Haddad.
“It tastes salty and cheesy and contains vitamin B12, which is otherwise completely unobtainable from vegan foods, and is another ‘complete protein’.”
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