The vegan diet boasts tremendous health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and reducing the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But many people still worry that they won’t get enough protein from a meat-free diet. While it is a legitimate concern, many meat-free sources of protein are available to you.
The importance of protein
You’ve always heard protein is good for you, and you know it should be included in every meal, but do you know why? Protein is a major component of every cell in the body. In fact, nails and hair are made up mostly of protein. Protein is also needed to build and repair tissue. The body utilizes it to make hormones, enzymes and other bodily chemicals. Protein plays a key role in building bones, muscles, blood, cartilage and skin.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women.
A range of sources
Meat is far from the only source of protein. In fact, these vegan-friendly foods are just a sample of those chock full of this crucial macronutrient.
Green peas. All foods in the legume family are good sources of vegetarian protein. Add 1 cup to your meal for a whopping 7.9 grams, which is almost equivalent to a cup of milk.
Nuts. These crunchy little treats are high in protein, providing 5 to 6 grams per ounce, and low in unhealthy saturated fat. Stick with the dry roasted or raw varieties for the most nutritious snack. Nut butters also offer a good source of protein, but choose brands with the fewest number of ingredients and no added sugar.
Quinoa. While most grains contain only a small amount of protein, quinoa—which is technically a seed—provides more than 8 grams of protein in 1 cup, along with nine essential amino acids crucial for growth.
Chickpeas. Also known as garbanzo beans, these versatile beauties can be added to any fried or crispy snack, used as a salad topping or pureed into hummus. With a whopping 7.3 grams of protein in a half cup, this tasty source of protein should not be skipped.
Beans. There are literally thousands of varieties of beans, and each one is chock full of protein. Including just 2 cups of kidney beans in vegan chili, for example, adds 26 grams—that’s almost half of the RDA for men and more than half for women.
Tofu and tempeh. These foods made from soybeans are an exceptional source of protein, containing approximately 10 and 20 grams, respectively, in just a half cup. If you choose a soft tofu, try mashing it up and mixing it with a variety of vegetables for a tofu scramble to increase your protein intake.
Chia seeds. A great source of protein, chia seeds can be used in a number of ways—blend them up in a smoothie, stir them into oatmeal or sprinkle them on top of salad.
Edamame. Boiled edamame—immature soybeans in a pod—can be served either cold or hot for a snack or an appetizer. Providing 17 grams of protein in 1 cup, this simple source is worth adding to your vegan dietary menu.