Guest blog by Sam Hadadi
With body coaches across the country saying that we should up our protein to build strong, lean muscle, it seems that we’re all adding whey supplements and extra meat to our daily diets.
Of course, we know that protein is fantastic for making us look fitter, stronger and healthier. Yet where do you get your protein sources from if you don’t eat meat, or even dairy? If you can’t reach for the whey or the chicken, where do you go?
While it can seem trickier to build up muscle on a vegan or vegetarian diet, fret not – it is possible. In fact, there’s protein in more foods than you may think - there’s even protein in green beans.
In fact, the world is starting to wake up. There are now plenty of vegan athletes and bodybuilders, while vegan recipes flood health food blogs across the globe. Heck, popular plant-based foods have even started to work their way into the mainstream too.
So, if you’re on a vegan or vegetarian diet and looking to up your protein intake, it can be done. Whether you want to run, swim, dance or lift, then you can pack in the protein on a plant-based diet.
Simply read on for our guide on why we all need protein, then check out our top Lucy Bee sources of vegan and vegetarian proteins. Eat up!
Quite simply, protein is the building block to life. Essentially long chains of amino acids all sewn up, proteins are crucial in helping our body to perform effectively and healthily.
By eating up our protein, we allow the body to build and repair cells, tissue and muscle. It can boost brain function and help to energise us. It can also help us to get that glowing skin and hair we so desperately want. Since it keeps us fuller for longer, protein can even help to aid weight loss.
You see, as a macronutrient, protein – along with carbs and fats – is crucial to our diet. Without it, we can’t survive.
So, if you don't dine on a juicy burger or a steak the size of your face, where do you turn? Is it possible to build muscle, let alone bulk, on plant-based protein alone?
Thanks to 'Meat-free Monday' and celebrity vegan lovers across the globe, long gone are the days where veganism was associated with scrawny hippies. With our know-how, you can look gorgeous and healthy on a vegan or vegetarian diet, too.
Here are favourite vegan and vegetarian sources of protein on the market:
We all know that devouring our greens can give us a healthy dose of nutrients and fibre, but did you know that they’re high in protein too? Yep, both Popeye and our mums were right – eating your greens can make you big and strong. Just one cup of spinach has about 7 grams of protein, while one cup of boiled peas has 9 grams.
Pretty much the holy grail of all grains, quinoa is a vegan and vegetarian’s dream food. Incredibly versatile (try adding it into salads, stews, soups, or even cooking up a quinoa porridge in the cooler months) and cheap too, quinoa contains an impressive 8 grams of protein per cup. It also contains all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair. What more do you need?
Nuts and Nut Butters
Here at Lucy Bee, we love snacking on nuts and nut butters. Not only are they rich in skin-loving healthy fats but they also pack a hefty protein punch too! Just a couple of tablespoons of your favourite nut butter will give 8 grams of protein, while an ounce of sesame seeds can boost your intake by almost 6 grams.
A staple of Asian diets around the globe, tofu is a vegan’s best friend. Not only is it incredibly cheap and versatile but it also contains around 20 grams of protein per cup – that’s about the same as three eggs!
Who else is addicted to edamame beans dusted in chilli salt? These soybeans – especially when served straight from the pod – are jam-packed with nutrients and are also rich in protein (around 8 grams per half cup) too. Simply eat as a healthy, vegan-loving protein snack mid-afternoon to enjoy the benefits.
Another soybean favourite, tempeh may sound a bit strange but it’s incredibly good for you. Originally made in Indonesia, tempeh can be grilled or fried up as a meat substitute, meaning it can find its way into curries or sandwiches alike. You can also expect 30 grams of protein per cup – that’s more than your typical hamburger!
While they may not look all that appetising, health food lovers are addicted to spirulina and chlorella for good reason. Spirulina – a naturally forming algae – is almost 60% protein. Meanwhile, ounce for ounce, chlorella has an astonishing three times more protein than meat. Simply add either one into your morning green smoothie for an instant boost.
They may look slightly like frog spawn but chia seeds are packed with heart-healthy omega 3s, as well as plenty of protein (around 5 grams for 2 tablespoons). Simply sprinkle over your morning granola, add to your favourite cakes and bakes, or your favourite smoothie1.
Long associated with hippies, hemp has had a makeover and now has more uses than you’d think. In fact, there are plenty of vegan hemp protein powders on the market, and you can even buy shelled hemp seeds to add crunch to your favourite raw brownies or homemade granola.
Legumes are a brilliantly cheap way of upping your protein levels – and they taste great too. From kidney beans to chickpeas (hummus lovers, rejoice!) and lentils, there are thousands of ways you can use these in your diet. We love adding beans to veggie chillies or curries (see below for our protein-boosting Chickpea Curry!) for a healthy dose of fibre and protein.
Seitan - otherwise known as wheat meat – is made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. An alternative to soy-based meat alternatives, seitan is a great vegan substitute and is often used in Asian and Buddhist dishes. Incredibly, this super food is a massive 75% protein and it’s low in fat and high in iron, too!
So, are you getting enough protein? And how do you know how much is too much?
Well, the guideline for adults2 from the "Reference Nutrient Intake" is to eat 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day. For a typical 11 stone man (70kg), this is less than 52g of protein, while, for a woman, it’s around 45g.
Incredibly, the average daily intake of protein is far higher than this. Thanks in part to the trend for protein-based weight loss diets such as Paleo, Atkins and Dukin, the average daily intake of protein in the UK is 88g for men and 64g for women.
Of course, nutritional advice varies massively and your ideal protein intake will depend on how much exercise you do, as well as your weight, gender and even your fitness goals.
However, before you jump on the protein bandwagon, do be warned – there is a thing as too much protein. If you’re not hitting the gym all that often, then chances are you don’t need to add any more protein to your diet. If you do, it could be stored as fat and it can even put a strain on the liver and kidneys.
Consuming too much protein has also been linked to mortality in middle age and certain cancers3, so tread carefully. If in doubt, use one of the many protein-based calculators online to see how much you should consume.
We love to get your mouths watering with recipes here at Lucy Bee, so we thought we’d whet those vegan tastebuds with a delicious, protein-packed curry. This Chickpea and Sweet Potato Curry is a huge favourite for 'Meat-free Mondays and tastes delicious too. We're confidant that it’ll have even the most ardent of meat lovers coming back for more!
1 tbsp. Lucy Bee Coconut Oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tbsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. Lucy Bee Turmeric Powder
1 tsp. chilli flakes
1 tsp. chilli powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. Lucy Bee Cinnamon Powder
400g chopped tomatoes
400ml coconut milk
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander
1 lime (plus one more to serve)
230ml coconut yoghurt
Heat Lucy Bee Coconut Oil in a large pan, then add the onion and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the chilli, garlic, ginger, spices and seasoning, then stir well and fry gently for a further couple of minutes.
Add in the tomatoes, chickpeas, coconut milk and sweet potato, stir and turn the curry down to a simmer. In the meantime, finely chop a small handful of the coriander stems, then stir those in too, before adding the juice of half a lime. Cover the curry with a lid for around an hour, stirring often and adding more seasoning and spices to taste (I usually add a touch more Lucy Bee Cinnamon Powder and chilli flakes).
Just before you're ready to serve, stir through the yoghurt, along with more lime and spices if desired. Serve scattered with coriander leaves and with boiled rice or quinoa and enjoy!
1. Lucy's Very Berry Smoothie
2. Reference Protein Nutrient Intake
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.