Ever since I started this vegan journey, the first question/concern I hear is... "Where do you get your protein?!" And that was exactly my question when I started this, until I learned that there are a million other protein sources besides animal meat. I have also learned that we THINK we need way more protein than our bodies ACTUALLY need. For all those non-vegans/vegetarians, I'm not going to say don't eat meat (if you do, get grass-fed, organic, naturally raised meat), but I do want you to know how much protein our bodies actually need and what are the best sources of protein, and then you can use that information to decide what you want to eat.
The multi-billion dollar cattle and dairy industry, which consists of some influential farming politicians, has ingrained it into our minds through the food pyramid (established by a governmental agency) and advertising that animal protein is the best source of protein. Bodybuilders also show off their bulky muscles, which are a result of high animal protein and a bunch of other crazy chemicals. So, as a result, we think we need lots of protein and the best source for that is from animals. But, surprisingly, plant protein is the best source of protein. Animal protein has all of the essential fatty acids that our bodies need, but that comes at a price... we also get the saturated fat, cholesterol, and chemicals that our bodies do not need. Saturated fat and cholesterol are well linked with many chronic diseases. Animal protein actually raises blood cholesterol levels, while plant protein lowers it. Also, animal protein may give you the bulked-up look, but it doesn't benefit your long-term health. In fact, animal protein creates short-term muscle, whereas plant protein not only contributes to your long-term health because plants don't have just protein but SOOO many other nutritional benefits, but also, plant protein creates long-term muscles. So, let's say you get an injury and can't workout for two weeks, animal protein muscles will wither away much faster than plant protein muscles. Check out vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke. Not that you want to look like this, but just proving the point that plant protein is definitely sufficient for our bodies! He does use protein powders to get that extra bulk, but they are plant protein powders...I'm still on the search for the best one for days when you have those really good workouts.
So what about all these high-protein, low carbohydrate diets like Atkins?? Bottom line, they are not good for you. Our bodies need carbohydrates (good carbs like whole grains) to fuel our brain. And our bodies do not need that much animal protein and protein in general. If we don't get enough carbs, we have less energy so we burn less calories. Too few good carbs can lead to a condition called ketosis, which leads to dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, sleep problems, and bad breath. Also, just a side note about diets...I think a diet should be a lifestyle. If you go on a diet for a period of time, once you stop that diet, your body is not going to know what to do, so you will begin to gain the weight back that you tried so hard to lose. So make your diet a life choice... make "diet" a good word!
Okay, now to the exciting stuff! How much protein do you need and where can you get plant protein?? I have a fancy little formula for you (I know your shocked... the accounting major gives you a formula!)
Recommended Protein Intake (from Becoming Vegan):
Step 1) Weight in lbs ____ divided by 2.2 =____ kg. This gives you your weight in kilograms.
Step 2) Multiply your weight in kg ____ x 0.9 = ____ grams. This gives you your recommended grams of protein intake.
You can get your plant protein from any dark, leafy green vegetables such as kale (kale chip recipe below), spinach, broccoli (spinach and broccoli have more than 40% protein!) and avocados and more. Most vegetables have 9-10% protein. Also, you can get protein from legumes (lentils, any kind of beans, garbanzo/chickpeas), tofu, tempeh, or any other veggie "meat" (links below about these products!). Nuts, seeds, almond and peanut butter, and non-dairy milks (almond milk is my favorite) are other sources of plant protein. Also, whole grains such as brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread or pasta, barley, millet, quinoa (so yummy!) and berries are also good sources of plant protein.
I hope you find this informative and not too overwhelming. It definitely takes some time to change the mind-set of not having meat as the main dish, but rather a side dish, or like me, not at all. But if you have any questions about ANYTHING (like recipe ideas so you can incorporate more veggies) just ask! I have posted a list of blogs below that have great recipe ideas. Enjoy!
With Love, Health, and Happiness,
Recipe Blogs that I Like
Check out my Blog List to the right of this post. There is a list of several blogs that are so helpful and very fun to read.
VegCooking - Here is eight weeks of ideas and recipes for every meal. You can also type in any ingredient or meal that you want to eat in the search tool, and it will give you a ton of recipes.
Vegan Recipes Blog Search - This site is really cool, you can just type in any recipe you want, lets say "soup" or "casserole," and it searches through all of the vegan blogs to find recipes!
What can I do with tofu?
Tofu scramble and tofu "egg" or "chicken" salad are some of my favorites. Let me know if you want any of those recipes. Tofu has such a neutral flavor that it takes on any flavor that you marinate it with, so slice up some tofu, marinate it in BBQ sauce and put it on the grill! You can fry it too, just use high heat safflower oil (it has the good fats) and dredge the tofu in 100% whole wheat flour and cereal crumbs first, and dip into a honey mustard sauce! Squish most of the water out of the tofu before preparing it (just use two plates and some paper towels, and mash down on it pretty hard).
What is tempeh?
Sam and I actually made tofu "eggs" benedict with tempeh bacon (it really tastes like bacon) and a non-dairy hollandaise sauce for my family for Easter, and it was delicious! Let me know if you want this recipe.
Delicious Veggie "Meats"
Gardein: Best "chicken" tenders and breasts ever! I'm not kidding, they taste just like chicken strips. You can get these products at Central Market and some at Tom Thumb.
Amy's Products: We love the veggie burgers and the breakfast burritos. My mom also takes their meals to work to heat up for lunch.
Lightlife: This brand has a lot of veggie "meats" including hot dogs, deli "meats," and more.
*These are all still processed food, so I don't recommend eating them for every meal, but a few times a week is perfectly okay. Sam and I usually have one of these products at least once a week when we need a quick dinner. For the Superbowl, we did Lightlife's veggie dogs with Amy's veggie chili and onions, and Ezekiel* hot dog buns...delish!
Ezekiel: Their bread products are made from sprouted grains, which are so good for you. You can find their bread products in the freezer section, and you just keep them in the refrigerator, and heat them in a toaster or microwave before you use.
Kale Chip Recipe - You Just Have to Try It