One of the biggest questions that people often have when thinking about reducing meat in their diet is how they are going to get enough protein. After all, a healthy diet is one that consists of having a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. It is important to note that a lot of foods are not 100% composed of one certain macronutrient. For example, almonds have protein and fats in them. Broccoli has protein as well as fiber and non starchy carbohydrates.
As a vegan, it will be important for you to be able to recognize some of the best foods that you can eat to ensure that you still get a good amount of protein in your diet. Let’s take a look at some of the types of whole foods that have protein amino acids in them:
- Flaxseed (also known as flex meal)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Peanut butter
- Hemp seeds (also known as hemp seed butter)
- Refried beans
- Kidney beans
- Soy burgers
- Soy bacon
- Hemp bread
- Sprouted grain bread (look for “Men’s Bread” and “Women’s Bread” at the grocery store)
These lists are all whole foods or at least derived from whole foods. They all contain some other traces of carbs and fats in them, so you are not likely to find levels of protein like you would in a chicken breast or some other kind of meat. However, these are all excellent sources of protein!
When deciding on a meal plan that involves lots of whole foods and vegetables, you should definitely look to incorporate a lot of variety. For example, don’t make 100% of your protein intake come from veggie burgers. Ideally you could have a nice mix of vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes that are all good sources of other types of nutrients as well.
What About Protein Supplements?
Another thing to note is that there are lots of types of vegan protein supplements as well. This mostly comes from different types of protein powders. If you go to any health food store you are likely to find a large variety of vegetarian protein supplements. There are several types, but the main ones that you will find are composed of rice, hemp, soy, or pea protein. You can mix them in water and put them in a blender for a fast serving of protein. You can also combine them with other types of veggies and put them in a blender and make an entire meal out of it.
As you can see, there are still lots of good meat alternatives for anyone that wants to try a vegetarian lifestyle. You can find an entire list of recipes that include the right servings of protein in our number one recommended vegan meal plan. Enjoy!
Nutrient Deficiencies for Vegans
Becoming a vegan does not necessarily mean that giving up all animal foods automatically makes you a very healthy person. In order to become vegan and be as healthy as possible, you will have to develop a basic understanding of how you can maintain a fully balanced diet.
There are several types of nutrients that are often missing in a plant based diet. There are certain strategies to balance out each of them, so let’s take a look at what they are:
Vitamin B-12 (also called cobalamin). This water soluble vitamin has a lot to do with the function of the nervous system and the brain and the forming of blood. If someone is severely deficient of vitamin B12, it can cause damage to the nervous system. People with this deficiency may experience things such as fatigue, depression, and poor memory. Since B12 is found in the highest amounts in some animal foods, a vegan will have to use a supplement to make sure they are getting enough. This is discussed in detail in Easy Veggie Meal Plans.
Calcium. Most people will think that calcium is most abundantly found in milk and dairy products. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, a lot of people will claim that milk will actually deplete your body of calcium because its acidity will make the body tap into reserves in the bones. Either way, vegans can get plenty of calcium in foods such as leafy green vegetables, calcium set tofu, nuts, and legumes. However, some foods in a vegetarian diet can hinder the absorption of calcium, so this is something to be aware of.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids. These are commonly found in meats such as beef and fish. However, non meat eaters tend to have a lower level of healthy fatty acids. They can still get a good amount from things such as seaweed, canola, walnuts, hemp, flax, etc. These healthy fatty acids are important to the prevention of some chronic diseases, so it is important to make sure they are a part of your diet.
Protein. This is perhaps the most common item that most meat eaters wonder about when switching to a vegan diet. There are lots of types of protein out there that does not include eating meat. The tough part is that you have to find a good way to balance it all out.
For example, beans have a high level of protein, but they also have a high level of starchy carbohydrates. If you eat a lot of beans, then your carbs are going to be very high. Nuts have a lot of protein as well, but they are also higher in calories. If you eat too many nuts as a way to get all of your protein, you may take in far more calories than you may think. There are lots of ways to still take in enough protein by using soy based proteins (in the right quantities), brown rice protein supplements, pea protein powder, and more.
Being vegan means a lot more than just cutting out meat. It is about being more aware of what type of diet you are eating and becoming informed about the types of nutrients that are in plant based foods. For an complete guide on integrating more plant based meals into your diet, check out Easy Veggie Meal Plans for more information.