How to get enough protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet is a key concern for anyone on a plant based diet. To celebrate National Vegetarian Week in the UK this May, our nutritional therapist Catherine Jeans has some top tips on where to get protein from if you’re excluding meat, fish, eggs and dairy from your diet. You can find out more and discover some wonderful recipes and food tips on Catherine’s How to be a Healthy Vegetarian and Vegan Workshop, taking place on the 22nd May. More details here.
Vegan and Vegetarian Protein: how to get enough
When you switch to a plant based diet, it’s important to realise that you cannot simply cut out the meat, fish, eggs or dairy and hope for the best… it takes more consideration to ensure that you’re getting all the vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fats that you need. I see far too many vegetarians and vegans with health problems who fall into the trap of relying far too heavily on cheese (often on toast or pasta), or in the case of vegans, soya based products… or simply not enough protein at all.
Top 3 plant based proteins
Protein is vital for life… it helps to build all the essential structures in your body, from your organs to your skin, bones to your muscles. In fact, every cell in your body contains protein, and this macronutrient is also vital for cellular repair. It can also be used to make energy. To help you ensure you’re getting all the protein you need on a vegan or vegetarian diet, here are my top 3 plant based proteins, and some ideas on how to use them.
- Quinoa: far too many vegetarians or vegans haven’t discovered the delights of quinoa, but it’s a great protein source as it’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids you need. Packed with protein and essential nutrients, it was the food of the Incas and still used greatly by the people of South America today. It’s actually a seed, meaning it’s gluten free as well, and takes only about 14 minutes to cook in boiling water. I often use it to make salads for lunch, as a rice replacement or to stuff vegetables. You can also buy quinoa as flour, which is great for making pancakes and baking with for added protein, or as flakes which are fab for flapjacks or adding to porridge.
- Silken tofu: anyone who has been to my workshops will know I’m a big fan of silken tofu. It’s like a wobbly version of the harder tofu often used in stir fries, and it’s great for adding creaminess to recipes. It’s also rich in protein, packed with calcium and other essential nutrients and a much purer form of soya than the heavily processed soya milks and soya yoghurts we buy in this country. Try adding some to a fruit smoothie for extra protein, or use to make desserts such as frozen fruit icecream, vegan cheesecakes or mixing with a tin of beans for a lovely bean pate.
- Tahini: this humble sesame seed paste is a bit of a superfood in my mind. It’s not especially high in protein, but it has a better essential amino acid profile than many nuts, meaning more of the protein is likely to be absorbed. You may have come across tahini in hummus, but you can use it for so many other things. I often buy the light tahini, as it has a milder flavour more suitable for children, however much of the husk is removed so you don’t get so much fibre or essential nutrients. Nonetheless it’s a great source of calcium. I mix it with a little honey for my children to have on toast, sometimes adding some green barley grass powder as well for extra nutrition, or I’ll put it into smoothies, biscuits or make into salad dressings. And of course I put as much as I can into my home made hummus!