As National Vegetarian Week approaches, it's time to go green and celebrate plant-based foods!
For those who have always relied on meat for their protein fix, the world of vegetarian protein can seem like a bit of a mystery. With cauliflower being treated like a steak and peas transformed into milk, it's easy to be sceptical. How can plant-based protein compare to the likes of grilled chicken or baked salmon? And can a plate of legumes really aid in muscle growth and repair?
The reality is, regardless of whether you're a vegetarian or not, there are a variety of whole-food vegetarian protein sources that can enhance any diet. The key is simply knowing which ones to add to your shopping basket. Here are some of my favourite plant-based proteins, and some easy ways to add them into your diet.
But First, How Much Protein Do We Actually Need?
So, how much protein do you really need? Good question. Determining your optimal protein intake varies from person to person and is based on your current weight. To calculate your daily protein needs, aim for consuming between 0.8-1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For instance, if you weigh 68 kilograms, you can multiply that number by 0.8 or 1, which means you should aim for 54-70 grams of protein per day, distributed throughout your meals and snacks. Keep in mind that this is just an estimate and your recommended range may be influenced by other factors such as exercise, breastfeeding, or health conditions.
Quinoa is a powerhouse when it comes to vegetarian protein. This naturally gluten-free seed contains all nine essential amino acids that are crucial for building and repairing muscle tissue, making it a complete source of plant-based protein. In addition, quinoa is a great source of complex carbohydrates, fibre, and numerous nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E, and B vitamins. With almost twice the amount of fibre compared to most other grains, a single cup of quinoa provides over 5 grams of fibre, which is around 16% of the recommended daily requirement of fibre.
If you’d like to include some quinoa in your next meal, why not mix up a refreshing quinoa salad with chopped veggies and a simple vinaigrette, or enjoy a hearty quinoa and roasted veggie bowl with a dollop of hummus? For a Mexican twist, try quinoa and black bean enchiladas, or savour a comforting bowl of quinoa and lentil soup. These recipes can be prepped in advance and stored for days, making mealtime a breeze!
2. Tofu + Tempeh
Tofu and tempeh are both great options for adding plant-based protein to your meals. These versatile soy-based foods are packed with protein, with tofu containing about 10-20 grams of protein per 100 grams, and tempeh containing even more - up to 20-25 grams per 100 grams. Plus, they're rich in important nutrients like iron and calcium, making them great choices for vegetarians and vegans.
They're perfect for grilling, frying, or baking, and they soak up whatever seasoning or sauce you add, making them a flavour chameleon. Tofu can be sliced and grilled, baked, or stir-fried with vegetables and sauces. It can also be crumbled and used as a substitute for ground meat in tacos, chilli, or pasta sauce. And tempeh can be sliced and pan-fried or baked, and used as a meat substitute in sandwiches, salads, or wraps. The possibilities are endless!
Pulses refer to the edible seeds found in pods, made up of beans, peas, and lentils. They offer a delicious, low-fat, and cost-effective way to add plant protein to your diet, while also providing a range of options to keep your meals exciting. Examples include lentils, such as puy, green, and red varieties, which pack around 8-9g of protein per 100g. Chickpeas, including the beloved hummus, provide 7g of protein per 100g. Garden peas deliver about 7g per 100g and while beans - such as black-eyed, pinto, butter, cannellini, soya, edamame, and kidney - offer 7-10g of protein per 100g – now that’s plenty of protein!
Looking to add some pulses to your diet? It's easier than you think! Start your day off right by adding chickpeas or black beans to your morning scramble. For lunch, whip up a satisfying salad with lentils, veggies, and a tangy vinaigrette dressing. Need something comforting for dinner? Try a hearty soup made with split peas, carrots, and onions, or a vegetarian chilli with kidney beans. Want something different? Make a spicy curry with chickpeas and veggies, or a delicious black bean burger.
Seitan often takes a backseat to tofu when it comes to vegan protein, but it actually contains more protein and is lower in fat content than tofu. With a texture that closely mimics meat, it's a fantastic option for those looking for a plant-based alternative. Not only is seitan incredibly versatile in the kitchen, but it also boasts an impressive 25 grams of protein per 100 grams, compared to tofu's 8 grams per 100 grams. So if you're looking to switch up your protein game, give seitan a try!
There are many ways to use seitan in recipes to add a protein boost to your meals. For a quick and easy meal, simply slice it up and add it to stir-fries, salads, or sandwiches. It can also be used as a substitute for meat in traditional dishes like stews, pot roasts, and even kebabs. For a plant-based twist on classic comfort foods, try making seitan-based versions of meatloaf, barbecue ribs, or even fried "chicken" sandwiches. With its meaty texture and high protein content, seitan is a great option for those looking to add more plant-based protein to their diet.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is often touted as a superfood due to its high nutritional content. It's a complete protein source, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. In fact, gram for gram, spirulina is one of the most protein-dense foods on the planet! As well as its rich protein content, spirulina is also packed in vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins, iron, and antioxidants.
Add a scoop of spirulina to your morning smoothie, sprinkle it over your avocado toast, or mix it into your favourite dip for an easy and delicious way to boost your health.
If you're looking for a convenient way to increase your protein intake, protein powders may be just what you need. Here at Nutravita, we offer plant-based protein powders that are packed with protein to help you meet your daily needs. The base of our Vegan Protein blend is made using pea protein, brown rice protein, and hemp protein, and it also includes digestive enzymes to help you get the most from the protein. Through harnessing the power of plant-based pea protein, each of our blends are packed with all 9 essential amino acids, which offer a range of health-boosting benefits!
We have sourced high-quality cocoa powder made in the UK to provide a subtle but incredibly tasty chocolate flavour. This product is perfect to use in a protein shake, smoothie or even sprinkled on your morning porridge.
When it comes to flavouring, we have used only the best quality Madagascan vanilla seeds to provide a subtle but incredibly tasty vanilla flavour. This product is perfect to use in a protein shake, smoothie or even sprinkled on your morning porridge.
Written by Riya Lakhani ANutr
Riya Lakhani ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.