Protein from Plants.

One of the most common questions that vegans get is “how do you get your protein?” All plant foods contain protein, although fruits are quite low in protein and oils do not contain any. A vegan varied diet will provide your daily requirement of protein.

How much protein do we need?

The two biggest misconceptions about plant based protein are that plant foods lack some of the essential amino acids, therefore making them incomplete, and that grains and beans must be consumed together at the same meal to make the essential amino acids complete. All plant sources of protein contain at least some of every essential amino acid. Some grains, beans and nuts have a lower percentage of at least one essential amino acid, but when consumed throughout the day, their amino acid complement each other and produce a mix that is complete. There is no need to combine grains and beans at each meal because the body maintains its own storage supply of the essential amino acids. As we need to replenish that storage with all the amino acids, it is very important to eat a variety of plant foods.

Jack Norris and Virginia Messina, both registered nutritionists, recommend a protein RDA of 0.9 grams of protein per kg of healthy body weight (or 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight).
More information on protein on a vegan diet: VeganHealth.org.

High Protein Foods.

Although many plant foods have good protein sources, legumes are especially rich in protein, especially the essential amino acid Lysine. Legumes include beans, peas, lentils, soyfoods and peanuts. A diet that is centered around grains, vegetables and nuts might be low in Lysine, so we recommend that you get at least three to four servings per day of legumes.

Soya chunks (also known as TVP) and seitan (wheat gluten) are often referred to as mock because once cooked, they have the taste and texture very similar to flesh. They are very popular in Asian cuisine. If you prefer to eat high protein foods that do not taste/look like flesh, use instead tofu, tempeh (fermented soya) and beans.

Tofu

tofu-guide
Tofu has long been a staple of Asian cuisine since it was first used in China around 200BCE and is one of the best protein rich plant foods. Tofu comes in different forms: firm, extra-firm, soft (known as silken tofu). Tofu is made by adding a coagulant such as calcium sulfate/ nigari or lemon juice to soy milk and then compressing the resulting protein solids until the required consistency is achieved.

Sometimes, it will be packed in a container with water to keep it fresh and refrigerated. Firm tofu can be baked, grilled, and used in stir fries. Silken tofu is used as a cream for desserts or sauces. Tofu does not have much flavour on its own, but it absorbs the flavour of other ingredients.

Tofu is easily digested, rich in B vitamins, rich in mineral nutrients, free from both gluten and cholesterol. We recommend that you use tofu made with calcium sulfate as it is an excellent source of calcium.

Where to buy:

  • Many health food stores (expensive),
  • Many supermarkets (average price),
  • Asian supermarkets (Great value).

Textured Vegetable Protein

tvp-guide
Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is also referred to as mock meat  or soya chunks. It is made from defatted soy flour that is cut into chunks or small flakes and then dried.

TVP is used as replacement in many traditional animal based meals, such as stews, lasagna, etc., as it has a fibrous consistency which is very similar to flesh.

TVP is easy to find, not expensive and can be cooked in many different ways. TVP is high in protein and low in fat.

All you need to do is just soak them in really hot water for about 10-15 minutes until they soften & become really spongy. They will absorb any flavour they are being cooked with.

Where to buy:

  • Many health food stores,
  • Asian supermarkets,
  • Polish supermarkets,
  • Some supermarkets.

Seitan

seitan-guide
Known as kofu in China, seitan in Japan and wheat meat in the US, seitan is the gluten from wheat flour. It is obtained by rinsing the wheat dough until the starch and bran have been washed out. Because it is made from pure wheat gluten, it is not suitable for those who have wheat or gluten allergies/intolerances.

It is used in many recipes as a meat substitute and is also made into vegan sausages, burgers, nuggets, etc., due to its texture and taste that are very similar to flesh.

Seitan is high in protein and contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. 100g serving contains 118 calories, 18% protein and less than 1% unsaturated fat. It also contains a modest amount of B vitamins and iron.

Seitan was a staple food among vegetarian buddhist monks in China who discovered this method to extract the gluten from wheat flour. It has been eaten in China, Japan, Korea, Russia and the Middle East for thousands of years.

Where to buy:

  • Many health food stores (expensive),
  • Asian supermarkets (cheap, labelled as “Mock”).

Tempeh

tempeh-guide
Tempeh originates from Indonesia. It is made from fermented soybeans and sometimes a combination of other grains such as lentils, rice, millet, quinoa or barley.

Unlike tofu, which is made from soybean milk, tempeh contains the whole soybeans.
Cooked soybeans are fermented with Rhizopus mold, which binds the soya beans into a compact block.
Tempeh contains amongst others, many B vitamins and has a high protein content. It can be fried or baked.

Where to buy:

  • Some health food stores (expensive),
  • Asian supermarkets (great value).

Quinoa

quinoa-guide
Quinoa is referred to as a grain, although it is the seed of a leafy plant that is distantly related to spinach.

Quinoa is often called a supergrain because it is high in protein, minerals and vitamins. Quinoa is gluten-free.

Quinoa, which originates from South America, is often referred to as the gold of the Aztecs as it sustained the ancient Incas and Aztecs and has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years.

Quinoa is more expensive than most grains, between 3 & 4euros for a pack of 250g. However, during cooking, it increases about 3 to 4 times in volume, so you do not need to use a lot of quinoa to make a substantial meal.

Quinoa should be rinsed thoroughly before cooking to remove any powdery residue of saponin. Place the quinoa in a fine strainer and hold it under cold running water for a few seconds; drain well.

Where to buy:

  • Most health food stores (expensive),
  • Most supermarkets (about 2.50eur for 300g).

Mimicking with mock meats

Whether you miss the taste of your previous animal-based meals, want to reproduce the same meals that you used to eat for convenience or simply because you would like to experiment with new foods, there are many convenience foods made with seitan and soya chunks which can be bought at the frozen and refrigerated sections of your local health food store and supermarket. You will find vegan burgers, hot dogs, sausages, sandwich slices, etc. If you are not happy with the taste of some products, try different brands as they all have their own flavour.

Experiment with legumes

Legumes are among the most nutritious foods and also cheapest source of high protein. You can either cook beans from scratch or buy them canned. Start with easy meals such as:

  • Mexican salad: Make a salad with kidney beans, corn kernels, tomatoes, bell pepper, chopped red onion and dressing sauce made with olive oil and lemon or mustard.
  • Mexican refried bean dip: kidney beans, pinto or black beans blended or mashed into a paste. Add the garlic, chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce, spices and olive oil. Eat with a salad or fill a corn pancake with the dip.
  • Hummus: Blend chickpeas with one garlic clove, a tbsp of tahini or sesame seeds, lemon juice, a bit of water and olive oil. Use it as a spread for sandwiches or eaten with a salad.
  • Baked beans: Cook cannelli or white beans with tomato sauce. Add a bit of curry, a garlic clove and chopped onion and olive oil. Excellent with a bowl of brown rice, quinoa or millet.
  • Dahl: Cook red lentils with a chopped carrot, some turmeric, curry powder and one garlic clove. Simmer for 20min. When cooked, blend into a cream. Excellent with rice.