Protein: The Basics

Whenever any sort of diet is mentioned, the first thing people talk about is protein. Especially, if you are vegan.

Where does your protein come from?

How will you ever get enough if you don’t eat meat?

I have heard it all. And matters can be a little more tricky if you are following the FODMAP diet, particularly during the elimination phase. So I am here to clear up a few facts about how much protein we really need and why as a vegan you are going to be just fine.

How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

For an average man it is around 55g per day

For the average woman about 45g per day

If you want to be a bit more specific you should eat 0.8g for every kg of body weight (1)

For example a person who weighs 70kg should aim to eat 56g of protein each day.

A good rule of thumb is to aim to spread your protein consumption throughout the day to help with energy balance and to keep muscle growth and repair at its optimum.  Having a good source of protein with every meal aids with satiety and will keep you fuller than just carbs or fat alone (2).

Popular opinion would have you believe that if we don’t focus on eating as much protein as possible, we will waste away. Particularly, if you go to the gym. However, for most people this is untrue. If you are a serious weight lifter and are working to actively increase your muscle mass substantially, a bit more protein might be required. It is more important to focus on a balanced diet to provide you with all the essential macro and micronutrients.  Currently there isn’t a lot of evidence to say that huge increases of protein leads to substantial muscle gain. If you decide to drastically increase your protein intake and don’t look at your overall diet, excess protein will be passed out in the urine or stored as fat.

As a vegan, your protein sources may have changed and it is important to find and incorporate a range of sources of protein in your diet. But if you focus on adding in these foods, eating an adequate amount of calories each day and enjoying a variety of foods, you will be including enough protein in your diet.

If, however, you find that you are struggling to include enough protein. Or you have reduced your calorie amount or you are a bit short on time. A vegan protein powder can help to increase your protein intake. Don’t go overboard and have three protein shakes a day. Try adding a scoop to your breakfast or mix in with a smoothie.

Why Do We Need Protein?

There are 3 macronutrients that are essential to human health. Carbohydrates, fats and protein. Each has different functions in the body. Protein is a key component to aid growth and repair. It is comprised of amino acid building blocks, essential and non-essential. There are 11 essential amino acids and 11 non essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are ones that we can not make ourselves and must acquire from our diets. Non-essential amino acids are ones the body can make, but don’t let the name fool you, these are still important amino acids needed for the body to function.

Protein is necessary to maintain muscle function, mobility and for the treatment of non communicable diseases such as; osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, sarcopenia (age related muscle loss), heart disease and obesity (3).

Protein is particularly important as we move into old age, where it is suggested that protein intake is increased to help prevent sarcopenia and the deterioration of healthy tissue (3) .

Vegan Sources of Protein

Everyone should aim to consume a range of foods such as legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds. All of which are excellent sources of protein.

  • Tofu/tempeh
  • Green leafy vegetables e.g broccoli
  • Yogurt
  • Chia seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Edamame beans

If you are struggling with IBS, foods such as leafy greens and lentils are known triggers for IBS. Make sure to stick to the portion sizes and adjust around what your IBS can tolerate.

A Day of Vegan Protein (and its FODMAP friendly)

This is just an example of a day of vegan eating. It is also suitable for those following a low FODMAP diet. Adjust to your tastes and food preferences and if you are currently following the low FODMAP diet remove or add food depending on your tolerance levels and try to follow portion sizes where possible.

DayofVeganProtein

Takeaway

Focus on a food first approach. Try foods you haven’t eaten before, incorporate a range of sources of protein in your diet alongside other nutritious and filling foods and your protein intake should be more than adequate.

If you do decide to try a protein powder – look for those with a wide range of amino acids included in them.

 

 

References

  1. Public Health England, 2016. Government recommendations for energy and nutrients for males and females aged 1 –18 years and 19+ years.
  2. Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R.D., Wolfe, R.R., Astrup, A. and Westerterp-Plantenga, M., 2008. Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 87(5), pp.1558S-1561S
  3. Layman, D.K., 2009. Dietary Guidelines should reflect new understandings about adult protein needs. Nutrition & metabolism, 6(1), p.12.

Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

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