Complete Plant-Based Sources of Protein You Should Know About
There are numerous studies showing positive health outcomes by increasing the amount and variety of plant-based foods in your diet including optimal health, longevity and reduced risk of disease and illness.
Adopting a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you need to go completely vegan or vegetarian. A plant-based way of eating focuses on consuming plant-derived whole foods that are unrefined and minimally processed. Vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, tubers, and legumes are the dietary staples, whilst animal based foods (fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy etc.) make up a small part of the overall diet if you are including them. Plant-based foods are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals and provide an abundance of nutrients for your body. Plant-based meals are often cheaper, nutrient-rich, and environmentally sustainable.
However, where to get your protein or getting enough protein is still a major concern for many people considering shifting to a more plant-based diet. Wholegrains, beans, legumes, tempeh, tofu, nuts, seeds and even vegan protein powders are all great plant-based proteins that are also filled with vitamins, minerals and fiber. With a well structured and varied plant-based diet you can get adequate protein including all essential amino acids.
Protein needs vary from person to person depending on your age, sex, health, body composition, goals and amount of physical activity. Your protein requirements can be met for any goals, whether that be overall health and wellness, fat loss or muscle growth (just google vegan bodybuilders and athletes and you will be amazed).
When adopting a plant-based diet there are two things to be mindful of. Firstly, protein digestibility and secondly complete proteins.
Complete vs Incomplete Protein Sources
A ‘complete protein ‘ is a source of protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. These amino acids are termed “essential” as they can’t be produced by the body, we must get them from dietary sources.
Some plant-based sources of protein are complete proteins, whereas others may be missing one or more of the essential amino acids. These are termed ‘incomplete protein’ sources. Some of the incomplete protein sources can be combined in a meal to create a complete protein. For example – rice and beans – which make a great vegan chilli dish or Mexican inspired meal.
However, there is no need to get caught up in ensuring EVERY meal has a complete protein source. You simply need to ensure you are consuming a variety of protein sources over the day which will meet your essential amino acid requirements. Include some of the below complete protein sources daily to meet your needs.
If your goal is more specific (i.e. muscle growth/hypertrophy), you can track your food intake (using an app such as MyFitnessPal) for a period of time to get an understanding of what macronutrients are in the food you are consuming to get in the right amount of protein for your goals, whilst doing a bit of research to find out which sources contain with amino acids.
Complete Protein Sources
(g = grams of protein / per):
Quinoa, cooked (8g /1 cup)
Tofu, cooked (8-10g /100g)
Tempeh, cooked (18g /100g)
Buckwheat, raw groats (23g /100g)
Rice & beans, cooked (10-15g /1 cup)
Soybeans, raw (36g /100g)
Hemp seeds (11g /30g)
Chia seeds (4g /2 tablespoon)
Spirulina (4g /1 tablespoon)
Incomplete Protein Sources:
Grains (approx. 5g /100g cooked)
Nuts and seeds (average 6-9g /30g)
Legumes/beans (average 7-9g /100g)
Vegetables (Green Peas = 7g /1 cup. Spinach & Broccoli = 3-4g /1 cup)
Nutritional Yeast (4g /1 tablespoon)
Plant-based vs. animal protein sources
The protein digestibility between plant-based foods and animal protein sources differ slightly, with 70-90% digestibility from plant-based foods and 85-100% for animal proteins. When consuming a solely vegan diet, your protein requirements may increase slightly.