Many people turn to a vegan diet in search of better health and love it so much they can’t imagine ever going back. No matter what the reason, a common challenge for non-meat eaters is keeping their carbohydrate levels within a moderate range and making sure to get enough protein, every day.
The Mayo Clinic recommends getting 10 to 35 percent of total daily calories from protein, which amounts to between 50 and 175 grams of protein per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Proteins are the building blocks for life; they break down into amino acids that promote both cell growth and repair. Protein is important to a variety of physiological functions, from building and maintaining muscle and bone, to keeping cells functioning properly.
Studies have shown that protein is also important for maintaining a healthy body weight. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that an increase in protein from 15 percent to 30 percent of total calories resulted in sustained weight loss. This could be because protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, helping you feel fuller longer.
Here are some foods that will help you get a healthy amount of protein while eating vegan.
Whichever you prefer, from kidney beans to chickpeas and green peas, they are all a great choice. Full of fiber, protein and magnesium they are versatile enough to eat in salads, soups, veggie burgers, dips or all by themselves. When cooking beans, try adding a piece of seaweed kombu which can help soften them and make them more digestible, thanks to its amino acid profile. Simply add a four to six inch strip of kombu to the pot of cooking beans, it will disintegrate after an hour or two of cooking and any remaining pieces can be eaten.
Hemp and Chia Seeds
These tiny little seeds are protein powerhouses. Hemp seeds contain about 10 grams of protein in 3 tablespoons, and chia seeds are just short of 5 grams of protein in only 2 tablespoons. Both can be sprinkled over salads, blended into smoothies, and made into delicious sauces.
Many think it’s a grain, but it’s actually a seed that packs a giant punch. It provides nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own and is known as a complete protein while containing more than 8 grams of protein per cup. This versatile little seed is most well known in its beige variety, but is also available in red and black varieties, which offer a slightly different taste profile. Quinoa can be eaten alone, added to soups, tossed with vegetables to make a salad, cooked with vegetable juices instead of water to change the flavor, or even served warm with a touch of cinnamon and coconut oil for a great breakfast.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Even though they don’t have as much protein as legumes, seeds or nuts, they still contain significant amounts while also being low in carbohydrates, rich in fiber and antioxidants and alkalinizing to the body. Spinach, kale and broccoli are some of the most protein-rich vegetable choices.
While not the highest in terms of protein count, avocados should be a staple of any vegan diet. They provide all 18 essential amino acids necessary for the body to form a complete protein. They also boast an excellent combination of vitamins C and E, selenium, zinc, carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids that protect against inflammation. Don’t shy away from this fruit because of its fat content; its healthy fats can actually boost your “healthy” cholesterol levels, and help protect against damage caused by free radicals.
Any healthy diet centers around fresh vegetables, and quality protein. Avoid empty calories from processed foods whenever possible, and strive to stay on the higher side of the recommended amount of protein – that will ensure you always get an adequate amount. And always remember to consult with your doctor before making diet and lifestyle changes.