What is protein?
Proteins are the ‘building blocks’ of the body and are essential for growth and development, as well as many other functions within the body.
Along with carbohydrates and fats, protein is one of the main sources of energy in the diet.
Main sources of protein
Protein needs can easily be met through a variety of plant foods.
Consuming a reasonable variety of protein-containing foods, as part of a diet which includes enough calories overall, is all that is needed to ensure a healthy protein intake.1
Main sources of protein in a vegan diet include:
- Pulses: peas, beans (aduki beans, blackeye beans, chickpeas (and chickpea flour), kidney beans), lentils, soya foods (tofu, tempeh, soya mince, soya milk)
- Nuts: cashews, almonds, peanuts, pistachios (note that some nuts such as chestnuts and macadamias are poor sources of protein and others such as Brazil nuts, walnuts, pine nuts, pecan nuts and hazel nuts are mediocre sources)
- Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, sesame
- Grains: wheat, oats, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth, pasta, bread, seitan (wheat protein) (note that rice is a relatively poor source of protein)
Cereals contribute around 22% of protein in average UK diets (mainly from pasta, rice, bread and wholegrain breakfast cereals).2
Most common plant foods provide useful amounts of protein. A few plant foods contain relatively low amounts of protein, such as most fruits and some root vegetables.3
Including protein in meals
A balanced main meal should include a protein element.
- As a general rule, to ensure that a meal is balanced, check that it includes carbohydrate, protein and vegetable ingredients.
- Remember to avoid the pitfall of regularly serving main meals which consist just of carbohydrates and vegetables and no protein-rich ingredients (e.g. pasta and tomato sauce or vegetables, vegetable stir fry and noodles/rice, vegetable chilli or curry and rice, salads without a protein or carbohydrate element).
- This can be as easy as including a handful of nuts or some tinned beans with a pasta and sauce dish, or adding tofu pieces, cashew nuts or pumpkin seeds to a stir fry
More detail on incorporating protein ingredients into meals
Sports supplements: Protein powders
A well-planned vegan diet can supply all the protein and other nutrients required by athletes.
However, for those who wish to supplement their dietary intake using protein powders for convenience, there are various vegan-suitable protein powders available. These are often made from soya, hemp, pea or nut protein. Search the Animal Free Shopper for details of individual products available in the UK, alternatively an internet search for “vegan protein powder” will locate various suitable products.
Further information on vegan sports nutrition, including protein needs, see Chapter 16, ‘The Vegan Athlete’, of the book Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina.4