In honour of World Vegan Day today, we’ve gathered some of the best protein sources suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Whether we follow a particular diet or not, there are many reasons to celebrate a plant-based approach to nutrition.
For example, the B.C. government’s HealthLink notes that “eating a mainly plant-based diet is recommended to help lower cancer risk.” And hundreds of studies have shown how a plant-based diet can either prevent or heal health problems like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and even cellulite.
Flexitarian Eating – Transitioning to More Vegetarian Options
Perhaps that’s one reason why a report by the Vancouver Humane Society discovered that more than a third of Canadians — just under 12 million of us — have started eating less meat or have even switched to a completely vegetarian or vegan diet.
This World Vegan Day, consider replacing one or more meals a day with a plant-based approach to nutrition. No matter what eating style we follow, it’s important to follow Health Canada’s food guide and ensure we’re getting the right balance of fats, carbohydrates and protein. When it comes to choosing the best sources of vegan or vegetarian protein, we have many options.
4 Types of Vegetarian and Vegan Protein Sources
1 | Love My Legumes
Beans, peas and their relatives are legumes. These vegetables are high in fibre, rich in important minerals like magnesium and potassium, and also carry quite the protein kick. For example, a cup of cooked chickpeas or kidney beans nets us approximately 15 grams of protein.
For those of us who aren’t a fan of beans, peas are also a tasty source of vegan protein. A cup of peas gets us just under eight grams of protein, similar to drinking a cup of milk!
Vegan Food Ideas made with Legumes:
- Toss black bean burgers on the barbecue.
- Blend a can of chickpeas with spices to make hummus — perfect as a spread or as a dip for vegetables.
- Sprout a handful of dried beans in a mason jar for a crisp, refreshing ingredient in salads or sandwiches.
- Mix chilled beans with balsamic vinegar for a tangy bean salad.
2 | Go for Grains
Some health experts say we shouldn’t eat anything we can’t pronounce, but quinoa — a hard-to-pronounce grain — is definitely the exception. A cup of cooked quinoa has eight grams of protein. It’s also gluten free and high in flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that keep us healthy.
The benefits of quinoa are so many that the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization named 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. Try this grain with cinnamon and milk for breakfast, chilled with fresh herbs and veggies for salad, or as a warm side dish at dinner.
Hemp seeds are another nutritional powerhouse. In the 1600s, Nova Scotia became the first place in North America to grow this crop, and Canada continues to be one of the biggest growers of hemp in the world.
Three tablespoons of hulled Canadian hemp seeds gets us 10 grams of fibre. We can enjoy hemp on salads, in baked goods, or sprinkled on top of cereal or yogurt. Hemp oil is also healthy and delicious.
Other protein-rich grains include:
- Rice (5 grams of protein per cup)
- Bulgur (6 grams/cup)
- Oatmeal (6 grams/cup)
- Whole wheat bread (3 grams/slice)
Try adding grains like quinoa to your salads for a boost of vegan-friendly protein and fibre
3 | Never Say “No” to Nuts
On their own, nuts are a portable snack and a source of healthy omega-3 fats, vitamin E, and plant sterols that may help to lower our cholesterol levels. A ¼ cup-sized handful of cashews delivers five grams of protein, while the same serving size of almonds has 8 grams of protein.
When blended into a nut butter, nuts can also lend flavour and nutrition to many different meals.
Ways to add Nut Butters to Meals
- Add nut butter to a smoothie to make it taste like dessert. For example, blend peanut butter with frozen fruit, nut milk and a chocolate protein powder (such as LeanFit’s 100% Whey, which is Kosher and suitable for vegetarians who eat dairy).
- Combine cashew butter with lemon juice for a vegan alternative to sour cream.
- Toss peanut butter into a stir fry, putting a spin on Thai cuisine.
- Stir nut butter into soups and stews for a creamy texture.
- Throw together mangoes and papayas with fresh salad greens, then drizzle with macadamia nut dressing to bring home a taste of the tropics.
A word of caution: Many commercially prepared nut snacks come with a hefty dose of salt. Look for unsalted nuts if you’re trying to watch your sodium intake or don’t want to throw off a recipe when adding nuts to it.
4 | Power Up with Protein Shakes
For on-the-go nutrition, plant-based protein shakes are a convenient snack that empower us to reach our diet’s protein needs. Many vegan protein powders are made from a combination of the above foods.
For example, LeanFit’s completegreen protein is an easy-to-mix protein powder made from pea, hemp seed, flaxseed, brown rice and chia protein sources. A single serving of completegreen protein has 19 grams of protein and 5 grams of fibre to fuel our fitness and health goals, build lean muscles and sustain our energy levels all day.
Whey powders can be suitable for vegetarians if they do not use animal-based enzymes, rennet or other additives. Look for proteins that are certified Kosher, which means that besides the milk used for the whey itself, there are no other animal based byproducts.