Protein for Vegans
Veganism is an emotive subject (I should know, my sister is one!), and plenty of people go vegan for perfectly valid reasons, whether they be environmental, ethical, or simply personal preference.
Others simply go vegan because it has become trendy, and because they can still eat Oreos.
A full article on veganism is coming soon, but for now, let's concentrate on the protein considerations for vegans.
If you are a vegan, or are considering going vegan, protein is an important area of your diet to pay attention to, since clearly you won't be consuming high protein foods such as meat, fish, or eggs, and your body still has a requirement for protein (for the reasons we talked about in the main Protein article).
The best protein sources for vegans are:
Soy, which is a complete protein (meaning a full amino acid profile), and can be consumed via soy beans (aka edamame, 36g protein per 100g fresh/ 9g per 100g canned), tempeh (made from fermented soy beans, 15g protein per 100g), or tofu (made with curdled soy milk, 9-12g protein per 100g).
Quorn (a complete protein. The mince, for example, contains 15.9g protein per 100g). Bear in mind though that only the packets marked 'vegan' are actually vegan! Most quorn contains eggs.
Pulses, for example:
Black beans (21g protein per 100g)
Chickpeas (19g protein per 100g)
Puy lentils (11g protein per 100g)
Red lentils (9g protein per 100g)
Peanuts (26g protein per 100g)
A consideration for vegan sources of protein are that pulses are predominantly sources of carbohydrates (in the case of beans) or fats (in the case of peanuts), which happen to also contain protein.
Another is that pulses are not complete proteins, meaning that they are low in some amino acids, and therefore need to be eaten in combination with other protein sources, particularly when exercising.
Combining legumes with nuts and seeds or wholegrains provides a complete source of protein. However, the leucine content of these combinations of proteins will still be lower than that in meat, fish, dairy and eggs, and therefore would need to be eaten in larger quantities in order to hit the same amount of leucine. Leucine is important as it is the ‘trigger’ for Muscle Protein Synthesis (see Protein article for more).
Eating more of these foods would also necessarily increase carbohydrate and/or fat intake, and would therefore need to be balanced with a person's overall intake of macronutrients and calories.
Because of this, some vegans struggle to get sufficient protein in their diet, and may need to consider supplementation. Because neither pea, rice, nor hemp (which aside from soy, are the most common vegan protein supplements) are 'complete' proteins in terms of their amino acid profile, vegans should ideally use a protein blend (for example, pea and hemp, pea and rice or protein blends of all three).
Good brands of complete vegan protein blends include MyProtein Vegan Blend, Vega Sport Performance Protein, SunWarrior Warrior Blend, VPro by Nutrakey and VivoLife Perform.
Once again, it's also worth bearing in mind that, even if a vegan blend results in a complete protein, the leucine content will likely be lower than that in meat, fish, dairy and eggs, and therefore may need to be eaten in larger quantities in order to hit the same amount of leucine.
While it is not impossible to hit protein and amino acid requirements on a vegan diet, some people do find it difficult. The recommendation would therefore be one of the following:
Selecting vegan foods (or supplements) that contain a complete spectrum of amino acids
Combining two or more 'incomplete' protein sources to form a complete protein. For example, beans and grains, or lentils and rice.
The easiest way to increase protein intake as a vegan, and keep within your overall calorie requirements, is with supplementation. If you don't choose to supplement, it becomes trickier, since as we mentioned before, most vegan sources of protein are higher in carbohydrates or fats.