By Tori Taylor, July 25 2019 —
When it comes to vegan living it seems like everyone and their dog chimes in with an opinion. One of the top critiques is that you can’t possibly get enough protein — especially if you’re an athlete. This is a frequently debunked myth — you can absolutely thrive on an entirely plant-fueled diet. It requires education but is really quite simple. Taking the time to learn about the food you put in your mouth and the specific nutritional needs of your body is always a good thing.
There has been growing evidence in support of athletes switching to vegan diets to lower their risk of heart disease and improve their overall performance. Following a lower-fat, plant-based meal plan may support a leaner body composition. It may offer more anti-inflammatory benefits allowing for speedier muscle recovery times and more effective training. As well, eating vegan may lower cholesterol and high blood pressure which will protect the heart while being physically exerted regularly.
The days of powering back vomitous veggie dogs and emotionally-chilling cheeseless pizzas are in the past. The vegan market has exploded and so will your tastebuds. There are animal-friendly substitutes for all our crowd favourite comfort foods. Don’t think, “It’s new, it’s different, we hate it.” Leave that geriatric impulse to judge behind you and let’s kick off this vegetable kingdom roll-call.
Texturally, this closely imitates meatless products. Seitan is made entirely from wheat protein. With 25 grams of protein per 100 grams, it’s the highest on this list in protein. It’s also a great source of phosphorus, calcium, selenium and iron — very important micronutrients for staying healthy. Because of how closely seitan imitates the texture of meat when it is cooked it can be grilled, sautéed or fried into any recipe where you would have otherwise used meat.
Tempeh and Tofu:
Soybeans, we see you. As a whole source of protein, these beans offer a vegan option packed with all of the essential amino acids needed. Tofu and tempeh are almost the same product, with one important difference — tempeh is fermented and tofu is not. When given the choice between the two it is always best to grab tempeh. The fermented soy offers probiotics and the benefits of fermentation. Both of these soy by-products contain calcium, vitamin K and 10–19 grams of protein per 100 grams. Use tofu and tempeh just like you would chicken. My favourite way to use tempeh is grilled in a sandwich or sautéed in a stirfry.
Chickpeas and Beans:
It might make you hap-“pea” to know that legumes are easy to prepare, cheap to buy and have always “bean” a vegan’s best friend. Chickpeas and other bean varieties can be bought dry in the bulk section of the grocery store or in cans. They contain around 15 grams of protein per cup cooked. In addition to the protein, beans offer a rich source of fibre, iron, complex carbohydrates, potassium and a wonderful list of micronutrients needed for optimal health. One of the best ways to enjoy a medley of beans is in homemade chili. A salad with vinaigrette, lime juice, garlic and a variety of beans is also an awesome choice during the summer when hot chili might not be what you’re craving.
Hemp and Chia Seeds:
Hemp seeds come from the marijuana plant but they contain no THC and chia seeds come from the salvia hispanica plant. Hemp seeds are another plant option for a complex protein. They are easily digestible and contain all of the needed amino acids. As well as 10 grams of protein per ounce. They also contain iron, zinc, magnesium and omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids. Add hemp seeds to smoothies, salads, stir-frys or anything you’d like some extra texture in. Chia seeds are high in protein and fibre which make them a well-rounded nutritional addition. They are great for the entire body. These tiny little teeth-decorating seeds contain six grams of protein and 13 grams of fibre. They can be added to smoothies or salads. You can also put a tablespoon into water or juice or a nut milk and enjoy as a pudding after being let to sit overnight.
Nuts and Nut Butters:
Nuts are high in protein, essential fatty acids and B vitamins. They are great for elevating your mood and satisfying hunger cravings. Depending on the nut, one ounce contains five to seven grams of protein. If you are looking for good quality nut butters focus on finding brands with minimal ingredients — no added sugars, oils or salts. You don’t need to feel like giving up meat is a sacrificial act because there is “nut”-ing second place about a thick slice of whole-grain toast covered in cashew butter.
There is no need to feel like you need to be entirely plant-based in your diet. Feel free to experiment with what works best for your body. Try meatless options. Add more legumes to your diet. Eat higher protein fruits and vegetables. Even alternating days focused on vegan options may be beneficial. It is your body and if you are listening to it then you will know what is working and what is not. There are so many animal- and environmentally-friendly options for a plant-based diet. If it is something you are considering then now is a wonderful time to experiment.