Eating mainly plant based whole foods I’m often asked where I get my protein. People are often surprised when I reel off a whole list of sources! If you have thought about adding some variety to your protein sources but don’t know where to start, then this should help give you some ideas to begin your journey to a healthy varied diet.
What are proteins?
There are three essential chemicals called ‘macro-nutrients’ that we need to eat in large quantities to function – Carbohydrates, Fat and Protein. Proteins contain essential building blocks (called amino acids), which are critical for a healthy functioning body, not just nice shiny hair!
There are 20 different amino acids, 8 of which our bodies cannot produce and therefore we need to consume them in our diet. Some protein sources are ‘complete’ and contain all 8 amino acids. Others however do not contain the full compliment and need to be consumed from more than one source. This is particularly important to note if you are vegetarian/vegan.
How much protein do we need?
Depending on where you look (and what diet is in fashion!), there is varying advice on the proportion of protein required in your diet. The British Nutrition Foundation now recommends the consumption of 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight per day (dependent on age and activity levels). This equates to around 10-15% of your calorie intake per day (along with 50-55% carbohydrate and 25-30% fat). It is not advised to consume more than the recommended amount for your age, weight and activity levels, as there is rising evidence to suggest that too much protein can lead to negative impacts on health.
Where do you get protein from?
It’s not just about quantity its quality too – it is recommended you get your protein from a variety of sources, to reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol and increase the variety of vitamins and minerals. Meat, fish and animal-derived products (e.g. milk) may be the first sources you may think of, but did you know there are many plant-based sources too?
Here are 7 ideas to get you started!
Soybeans are top trumps with 36g of protein per 100g, this is more than the equivalent amount of beef or chicken! All other beans are around 21g per 100g so you can pick and choose as you like. Brilliant as an alternative to beef in a chilli.
Brazil and peanuts are up there with 26g per 100g, with the other nuts not far behind at 21g. Great for snacking, careful though as nuts are high in fat (good fat) so keep the portions small.
At 9g per 100g, lentils can happily ‘beef’ up your stew/curry or why not make a lentil burger?
I love chickpeas, so versatile! At 21g per 100g they can be made into hummus, a healthy alternative to spread, or be the star of the show in a curry.
Quinoa is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids, it also has almost 50% more protein than brown rice!
Seeds e.g. pumpkin and chia are an excellent source of protein at around 17-18g, and an alternative source of omega-6. Hemp seeds trump the lot with nearly 37g of protein per 100g. Sprinkle on your cereal in the morning or have as a snack.
Spinach has one of the lowest levels on this list (just 2.9g) but are a great compliment to some of the other incomplete proteins to ensure you are getting all 8 amino acids. Spinach is also an excellent source of a wide variety of vitamin and minerals…what a superfood!
Founder of BirdSol Fitness | Nutrition | Adventure | Well-being