For long-term vegans, ‘where do you get your protein from’? Is one of the most annoying questions, partly because it is so commonly asked. There seems to be something of a myth that meat provides the only adequate source of protein. This is simply untrue! Vegans can get sufficient amounts of protein from a variety of sources, providing they eat a varied and balanced diet. Plant-based sources of protein are just as good (if not better) than protein from animal products. This is because they often contain a variety of other vital nutrients as well as protein.

According to the British Heart Foundation, meat-heavy diets are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes and shortened life expectancy. We have something of an obsession with protein in the UK, with the average person eating almost double what they need daily.

So, how much protein do our bodies actually need? According to the British Nutrition Foundation, most adults require approximately 0.75g of protein per kilo of body weight each day. For the average male, that equates to around 56g. For the average female, that’s around 45g. For meat-eaters, that is about two portions of meat each day. These quantities can be easily met with a healthy vegan diet, and we will explain how shortly. Firstly, let’s take a look at why the body needs protein…

Why do people need to eat protein?

Protein is a macronutrient that is made up of amino acids. While some foods are considered complete sources of protein because they contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need, others are considered incomplete sources of protein because they have some, but not all, of these essential amino acids. However, this does not matter, providing we eat a variety of protein-rich foods to ensure we get all the nutrients we need. This is one reason why it is important to eat a varied and balanced diet.

Our muscles, organs, bones, cells and connective tissue are all built using proteins, which means that protein is essential for the basic structure of our bodies. We require protein for our body’s growth and repair processes, and it also supports our body to carry oxygen and fight infection. In addition, it is a good source of energy, providing 4kcal per 1g consumed.

Protein is made from over twenty different amino acids which are not stored in our bodies. Our bodies can make amino acids in two different ways – from scratch or by modifying other amino acids. However, there are nine amino acids which are known as the essential amino acids, and we must get these from foods because they can’t be manufactured in our bodies.

Animal products, including meat and dairy, are considered to be complete proteins because they contain all of the essential amino acids. Most plant-based sources of protein are not considered complete protein sources because they contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids. This is a major reason why people believe that vegans lack protein in their diet. However, vegans can still get all of the essential amino acids by consuming a variety of plant-based protein sources as well as the few plant-based complete sources of protein. Providing vegans eat a variety of protein-rich foods, the body will have all the essential amino acids it needs.

Plant-based protein sources

There are a few plant-based foods which are considered complete sources of protein. These are: soybeans, hempseed, chia seeds, quinoa, buckwheat, spirulina and blue-green algae. Consuming some, or all, of these foods as part of a balanced diet can make it easier for vegans to ensure they are getting all of the essential amino acids they need to support their health.

There are plenty of other plant-based sources of protein, including:

  • Soy-based products such as tofu, tempeh and edamame
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts including peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios etc.
  • Seeds including sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds etc.
  • Beans including black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, fava beans etc.
  • Rice
  • Vegetables including broccoli, kale, mushrooms, peas, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, spinach etc.
  • Seitan
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Avocado
  • Plant-based protein powders
  • Plant-based meat substitute products, including plant-based burgers, sausages, chicken style pieces etc.

This list is not exhaustive, but, as you can see, there are plenty of foods from which vegans can get protein! The great thing about many of these plant-based foods is that they not only contain protein but also provide many other vital vitamins and minerals to support good health. Eating a variety of these foods can ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs to function well.