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How to get enough protein when you're vegan or vegetarian

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When you introduce yourself as a vegetarian or vegan, the uninitiated might look puzzled. 

“But how do you get enough protein if you don’t eat meat?” They ask, knitting their brows. 

Little do they know that there are plenty of plant-based protein sources, and many of them are much healthier than your average burger. At KBK, we’re committed to creating healthy, well-balanced meals, and we want to help you do the same. We’re going to have a look at the amount of protein you should be getting to stay healthy, and what you can eat to hit those targets. 

 

Why is protein so important?

cheese and salad on plate

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, protein is fundamental to good health. This is because it is essential to the growth and repair of your body. All of the cells and tissues that make your body what it is contains protein to function; after water, protein is the second most abundant compound in the body. 

Protein is also a good source of energy, providing 4kcal per gram of protein.

 

How much protein should you get a day?

The amount of protein your body needs will vary depending on how much you weigh and how much exercise you do. For sedentary adults between 19 and 50 years old, the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 0.75g of protein per kilogram, per day. This works out at approximately 56g/day for men and 45g/day for women, but it’s easy to work out how much protein you need based on your weight. 

 

person standing on scales

 

For example, if you weigh 55kg: 55 x 0.75 = 41.25

 

This means you’ll need 41.25g of protein a day. 

 

Multiplying by 0.75 gives you the lowest amount of protein you need; children and breastfeeding women will have higher protein requirements, and so will you if you are hitting the gym regularly. A study carried out by Canadian and North American Dietitians and Sports Scientists found that protein intake between 1.2g and 2g per kg of body weight was ideal for athletes to ensure best performance. 

The average protein consumption in the UK is higher than the RNI at 88g/day for men and 64g/day for women, and any excess protein will be used as energy. 

 

What are the best sources of vegan and vegetarian protein? 

We’ve already had a look at the best sources of lean protein for meat-eaters, but now it’s time to do the same for the plant-based side of the spectrum. 

 

Which foods are high in vegetarian protein?

Vegetarians eat a plant-based diet that also includes some animal products such as dairy and eggs – and these can be a great source of protein. However, make sure you keep an eye on the fat content!

 

Eggs – 7g protein per hard-boiled egg

eggs as a vegetarian protein source

Eggs are cheap, easily available and a great source of protein. They’re also incredibly versatile; poached, fried, scrambled or hard-boiled, you can get all the value in multiple different ways. The protein is fairly evenly distributed between the white (~4g of protein) and the yolk (~3g of protein).

Each egg contains on average 5g of fat, most of which is concentrated in the yolk. To cut down on fat, avoid using large amounts of oil and milk in cooking, and try separating the yolks for omelettes and scrambled eggs; one yolk to three whites still makes a great breakfast! 

 

Milk – 3.4g protein per 100g cow’s milk

As well as containing protein, milk and other dairy products are vital sources of calcium, as well as vitamins A and B12. If you’re following a strict diet, you’ll be glad to know that there is no significant difference in protein between skimmed and whole milk. 

 

Cheese – 25g protein per 100g of cheddar

Cheese stall

Just like milk, cheese has the extra calcium and minerals of other dairy products, but you’ll need to be aware of the fat content. Cheddar contains 33g of fat per 100g so even though it’s a good source of protein, best not chow down on a packet a day! 

 

Which vegan foods are high in protein?

Moving away from animal products, let’s take a look at vegetarian and vegan-friendly protein sources.  

Grains and pulses – 19g protein per 100g of chickpeas

dried beans and lentils

Diets that relied on grains and pulses gained a bad rap in the 90s, but plain boiled lentils are a thing of the past. Blitz up your own hummus, throw some lentils in a dahl, or stir some kidney beans into a veggie chili for a tasty and healthy meal.

Each one has varying degrees of protein, so check the packet when you buy if you want to pack in as much as you can. Grains and pulses have the added benefit of being very low in fat. 

Tofu and Soy products = 8g protein per 100g tofu

Made from the curds of soy milk, tofu is a great source of vegetarian protein and it comes in three different textures – silken, firm or extra firm – and is a really versatile food. 

You can fry up silken tofu into vegan scrambled eggs or pop a packet in a food processor with some cocoa and maple syrup for a decadent chocolate mousse. Add some Firm and extra-firm tofu as meat alternatives in curries or stir fries – try baking it first to give it a crunch! It’s also low in fat, so you don’t have to skimp on how much you add. 

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy product that is made from fermented soybeans. It can be a little more difficult to find than tofu, but it has a delicious chewy texture and goes wonderfully crispy when fried. It also contains a whopping 19g of protein per 100 grams, but it does have a higher fat content than tofu. 

tempeh skewers are a source of vegetarian protein
Try tempeh skewers with satay sauce and lime juice

Dairy-free milk – 3g protein per 100g of soy milk

Soy milk has almost the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, but other dairy free options like, almond, rice and coconut milk have very little protein at all. The amount of protein will also vary per brand, so make sure to check the label or choose protein-fortified plant-based milks to be able to get the same benefits as soy or cow’s milk.

 

Nuts and seeds – 18g protein per 100g of cashews

nuts and seeds as a snack

Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein, and a great hunger-abating snack. However, they are also extremely high in fats, so make sure you are limiting your intake if you are trying to lose weight. Different nuts and seeds will contain different amounts of protein, so check the nutrition information on the packet. 

 

What are the best plant-based lean protein sources?

As we’ve seen, there are some great vegan and vegetarian protein sources available. If you are looking to get lean, you want to find the food with the highest amount of protein and the lowest amount of fat. 

 

Tofu, grains and pulses are the best way for you to get all the lean protein you need to be able to live, eat and exercise healthily. But that doesn’t mean you have to cut everything else out of your diet! Eating small amounts of high-fat foods can help stop you craving – keeping you healthier in the long run. 

 

If you want an easier option, why not take a look at our Vegetarian and Plant-based meal prep delivery options? Our professional chefs have done all the hard work for you and created breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that have all the protein you need to hit the gym and still feel great afterwards. Restaurant quality food delivered to your house – who could say no to that? 

 

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