Plant-Based Protein Sources
In this article we’re going to look at what protein is and what great sources of plant-based protein are available to us.
If you’re starting to enjoy more plant-based meals each week and want to increase these, then you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough protein. The top 2 questions you’re probably going to ask yourself are:
Where will I get my protein from?
How much protein should I eat?
Firstly let’s look at what protein is. Then we’ll look at how much protein we’re supposed to eat, and then look at the different food groups and how much protein there is in some of the most common foods available to us.
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What is Protein?
Protein is essential to our bodies growth, structure, repair and is needed in order for us to function properly. It forms the structure of our cells and also acts as hormones, enzymes and antibodies. Our muscles, immune system and organs are made up of mostly protein.
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acid molecules and are commonly referred to as the building blocks of life.
There are many different kinds of amino acids and 22 of them play an important role in our health. They fall into 2 main groups called essential and non-essential amino acids.
What are the Essential Amino Acids?
There are 9 essential amino acids that our bodies can’t manufacture by themselves and so we need to get these directly from the food we eat.
What are the Non Essential Amino Acids?
Non-Essential amino acids are those which our human bodies will happily make on their own. These are split into 2 groups. Non-Essential and Conditionally Essential. Conditionally essential amino acids are so called because they’re considered essential during times of stress and illness.
However, they are still considered essential in children who aren’t able to synthesise enough to meet their needs.
Where do you get protein from?
One of the reasons we're taught that protein in meat and animal products is essential is because these foods contain all 9 of the essential amino acids called Complete Proteins.
While protein can be found in meat and animal products including eggs and dairy, it's also found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, tofu and grains.
So happily, thinking that you only get good quality protein from animals is a complete myth.
How much protein should we be eating?
In the UK, the recommended amount of protein per day to eat averages out at around 55g for men and 45g for women. So if you’re eating 3 main meals per day that’s about 18.33g per meal for men and 15g per meal for women. The calculation to use is 0.75g per kilo of body weight.
Don't forget that all our needs will be different depending on our age, our weight, how much physical activity we do etc. We're all individuals, after all. The thing is, to make sure we have enough for our bodies to work properly so that we can stay fit and well.
The important thing to remember is to make sure that you're eating a wide variety of different foods every day. So by including plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy plant-based foods you’re more likely to be getting all the nutrients your body needs.
Great Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Beans, peas and lentils
Beans, peas and lentils are some of the most nutritious foods around containing plenty of plant-based protein, fibre, B vitamins, and minerals.
They easily take on the flavours of other foods which makes them versatile in the kitchen. You can swap them for meat in dishes, they make perfect comfort food and are absolutely delicious, for example, in curries, soups, and salads.
When you're starting out with a plant-based diet it's tempting to try preparing meals using raw beans, peas and lentils straight away (after soaking and sprouting them first). Personally I found it overwhelming trying to do everything from scratch and I decided to break the learning and experimenting down into easier tasks.
So, while you're experimenting with new recipes and ingredients I encourage you to do the same to find what works best for you. To begin with, it's far quicker and easier to buy these in your local health food store or supermarket either cooked or prepared for eating raw.
Of course, by all means, do get into a raw food diet by soaking, sprouting and preparing your dishes from scratch if you want to but, we’re not necessarily going for perfection here.
And please do your research and make sure that the foods you are sprouting are suitable to be eaten raw, if that’s what your intention is. Some foods like most beans and grains contain toxins and shouldn’t be eaten raw at all. If you’re unsure then call or email the producer and ask.
Positive action and small steps repeated over time work amazingly well.
I searched my local Sainsbury’s store for packets of beans. peas and lentils and created the chart below from their packaging to show how much protein some of these foods contain. I show information on Sainsbury’s products only because it’s the store closest to me.
Beans, peas, lentils Protein Per 100g
Dried Chickpeas, cooked 9.4g
Dried Cannellini Beans, cooked 8.4g
Dried Black Beans, cooked 9.9g
Dried Red Lentils, cooked 7.5g
Dried Green Lentils, cooked 7.4g
Dried Yellow Split Peas 10g
Dried Green Split Peas 9.8g
Frozen Garden Peas 5.7g
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Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are highly nutrient dense, high in protein, high in fat too and even though it’s generally regarded as healthy fat we should still be mindful of this.
They’re also naturally high in fibre and a source of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, calcium, copper, manganese, iron, selenium, niacin and zinc.
Raw nuts and seeds are great added to breakfasts, salads and desserts. They're so easy to just throw onto meals at the last minute, such as:
Overnight oats with pecans and blueberries
Porridge with walnuts and cherries
Pine nut and basil pesto over garlic mushrooms
Cauliflower rice with flaked almonds, pomegranate seeds, lemon and fresh herbs.
You see how easy it is? Nuts and seeds team up great too with greens like kale, watercress and spinach.
Nuts and seeds Protein Per 100g
Pine nuts 17g
Chia seeds 21.8g
Hemp seeds 31g
Pumpkin Seeds 33.3g
Sesame seeds 18.2g
Sunflower seed 23.4g
Great sources of plant-based protein
by Juliette Young
Fruit and Vegetables
Yes, that’s right there are even proteins in our fruit and vegetables. Although they’re not as high in protein as other foods they all still count. Some of the higher protein containing veggies are peas, brussel sprouts, spinach, kale and sweetcorn.
I’m going to also give sprouted vegetable seeds and micro greens a mention as I feel that these are really under utilised in our diets and they're SO easy to prepare. And like I said previously, you can also buy them ready prepared for eating raw now in some health food stores and supermarkets.
The rest of this article uses data taken from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release http://www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata. The reason for me doing this is because for some produce if the protein is less than 0.5g per 100g the information on Sainsbury’s products just shows as <0.5g
Some foods and their protein content:
Fruits Per 100g
Vegetables Per 100g
Sweet Potato 1.57g
Sprouted Per 100g
Radish seeds 3.81g
Microgreen Per 100g
Sunflower + basil 2.21g
Sunflower + beet 2.21g
Sunflower + radish 2.21g
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Gluten Free Grains
I like to include some whole gluten free grains / pseudo grains in my meals and I’ll cook these because it makes meals so much simpler.
Pseudo grains are technically seeds but still packed full of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals and they contribute to a healthy balanced diet which is, at the end of the day, what most of us want in order to stay healthy.
Gluten free grains can be added to most meals including breakfast. These include:
Gluten free grains Protein per 100g
Buckwheat, cooked 3.38g
Brown Rice, long grain cooked 2.74g
Millet, cooked 3.51g
Quinoa, cooked 4.4g
If it’s easy, makes you feel great and it works for you then do it. Every small change will add up along the way to a healthier more energetic you.
Anyhow, don’t you think it’s fun trying out new foods and delicious new flavour combinations?
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Grab yourself my plant-based protein cheat sheet to help you with your meal planning.
See at a glance what ingredients you have and might need when planning next weeks meals, drinks and snacks.
Includes nuts, seeds, sea veggies and sprouts.
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Ta ta for now and take care, I’m off to make some tea!
Love Raw Food
mum, dog owner, lover of raw food