Protein is considered the "building block of life," it's needed for just about every bodily function. It's needed for building and repairing muscles, as well as general function of all the tissues in our body.
Proteins consist of 20 different amino acids, some of which are not produced in the body and must be consumed through food. And, if you're vegan, it can be harder to eat enough protein, so it's possible you're skimping on daily requirements. However, don't discount plant-protein, as there are some clear benefits.
"For adults, a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein is needed for every kg of body weight. Many sources with a higher level of protein come from animal products. So there is concern that vegetarians and vegans have to monitor their protein intake closely in order to make sure that they are getting enough to support the many functions of the body," says Shannon Cook, owner of and Nurse Practitioner at Slimmer Solutions, in La Verne, CA.
However, there are several plant sources that contain a significant amount of protein to keep you full and fuel your muscles and cells.
Tofu has about 10 grams of protein per 4 ounces. It is also a great source of iron, calcium, and other minerals, she says. It's easy to cook tofu and use it in meals. For instance, prepare a and soy sauce, or grill it for a sandwich or burger.
These versatile, little black beans contain about 15 grams of protein per cup once cooked, which is a lot. "They contain many minerals that help maintain healthy bones such as calcium, iron, and phosphorus," she says, and this can help lower risk of osteoporosis and help you recover post-workout.
"They also help lower blood pressure, since they are low in sodium and contain potassium, magnesium, and calcium," she says. Try this black bean soup to warm up on a chilly winter night.
"Lentils contain approximately 18 grams of protein per cup once cooked. They are also a great source of fiber and iron," she says. The fiber will also keep you fuller longer. Use lentils in a salad with some chopped and shredded vegetables, like carrots, celery, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
"Quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein per cup once cooked, which is unlike most other grains, that only contain a small amount of protein," she says. "It contains all nine essential amino acids that the body can't produce on its own," she adds, making it a powerful in terms of protein. Getting complete proteins in plant-based sources can be tricky, so quinoa is an excellent option.
"Seitan contains a whopping 21 grams of protein for every 3 ounces. It's also low in fat and a good source of iron," she says. It even has a meatier texture, so it'll resemble the texture and taste of meat more, for those vegans who like a denser, firmer type of protein.
Even better than Seitan, tempeh contains 31 grams of protein per cup. "It helps to lower overall cholesterol, which in turn, helps prevent cardiovascular disease," she says, so eating tempeh can be great for heart health, as well. And, "a study in Malaysia also found that, in postmenopausal women, calcium from tempeh was as equally well absorbed as calcium from cow's milk," she says.
"Chickpeas contains about 15 grams of protein per cup once cooked. These can be used in a variety of dishes, such as salads and hummus," she says. Simply blend them up, use straight from a can, or roast them. The possibilities are endless. "They are also high in fiber and low in calories," she says, making them a filling snack.
A veggie burger has about 13 grams of protein per patty, which is pretty good. "They are low in calories and fat but rich in fiber," she says, so they can tide you over until your snack. Plus, veggie burgers are pretty neutral in taste, so you can play around with different condiments, sauces, or spices.
"Nut Butters (almond butter, cashew butter, and peanut butter) contain about 8 grams of protein for 2 tablespoons. Along with protein, the nut butters also contain healthy fats, that improve body function and don't contribute to heart disease," she says These fats, unlike saturated, are good for your heart, and they can reduce inflammation, she says. What's more, you can even make your own almond butter.
"Edamame contains about 8.4 grams of protein per half cup once boiled. It contains calcium, Vitamin C, and other key nutrients. It also promotes a healthy complexion and can boost energy," she says. Snack on them at the office or throw in a salad or stir fry.