Are you struggling to get enough plant based protein in your diet or simply don't know where to start to make some vegetarian swaps?
Then have a read below to get plant-based protein savvy and learn about plant based protein sources, the benefits and some recipes to get you started!
Did you know that roughly 2-3% of the UK population are vegetarian or vegan, with 34% of British meat-eaters reducing their meat consumption in 2018 (1). Switching to a plant-based diet has recently become more popular, either for health reasons, saving money, animal welfare, or food safety (2). It has been predicted that by switching to more plant-based diets, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by up to 29% (1).
So what exactly is a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets are not the same as being vegan or vegetarian, as these involve the complete removal of meat as well as the removal of dairy and animal products (if vegan) (3). Instead, plant-based diets focus on consuming plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, and legumes, with minimal consumption of meat, dairy and eggs (3,2). This way of eating has also been coined as ‘flexitarianism’, where people mainly follow a vegetarian diet and occasionally include meat, along with trends such as ‘meat-free Monday’ that encourage days without meat (2).
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets focus on minimal consumption of animal products, as it has been suggested that eating small amounts of eggs and dairy products can be beneficial to health (3). Eating plant foods has also been linked to decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes, along with providing more fibre and less saturated fat than other ways of eating (1).
What is protein?
We need protein in our diets for the growth and repair of our tissues, and it provides us with 10-15% of our daily energy needs (4). Men need roughly 56g of protein per day, and women need roughly 45g, however this can vary depending on the individual and their own personal needs (e.g. exercise, age, body mass, etc.) (4). To make these measurements more easy to understand, it is recognised that adults and children should aim to have 2-3 portions of protein per day, and these portions tend to be palm-sized (4). We get protein from animal sources like meat, fish, dairy and eggs, and these contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need, however plant sources of protein tend to not give us this full range when eaten individually (4). In order to get the complete range of amino acids from plant protein sources, we need to eat them together, which gives us a complementary effect (4). For example, cereal products and pulses are both sources of plant protein, so eating them together (e.g. beans on toast) will provide us with a complete protein source that contains all 9 essential amino acids. As long as we are eating a well-balanced plant-based diet, our bodies will be provided with adequate amounts of protein (3)!
What are sources of plant-based protein?
The main sources of plant-based protein includes beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, and soya (5). Recently there has been more and more plant-based and meat alternatives available in supermarkets, such as soya mince and veggie burgers, and are a great way to cram in some plant-based protein, however we should be watching out for their salt and saturated fat content as these can be quite high (5)!
There are so many different types of plants that provide us with protein that they can be broken down into smaller categories (6):
Legumes = lentils, beans (kidney, cannellini, black, pinto, butter, chickpea, etc.), peas (green, petit pois, sugar snap, split, etc.), soya beans and soya products (tofu, tempeh, etc), and peanuts
Nuts and seeds = pistachio, almond, cashew, pecan, walnut, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, etc.
Whole-grains = oats, rye, buckwheat, spelt, barley, quinoa, rice, wheat, etc.
Fruits and vegetables = higher protein veggies include broccoli, brussel sprouts, artichoke, and sweetcorn
Here is a little table that may help you to navigate plant proteins and serving sizes, as well as how much protein a serving will provide you with (7):
Is soya a healthy plant-based protein source?
Soya beans (edamame) and soya-based products are great sources of plant-based protein and can be easily incorporated into our diets as meat alternatives (8). There have been many stories about soya causing health problems and fertility issues, however there is no evidence to suggest that consuming soya raises oestrogen levels in men or has a harmful effect on thyroid functioning (8). Instead, soya has been shown to be a safe and nutritious addition to our diets that can be beneficial to health (8) and a useful protein source for plant-based eaters.
How can I eat more plant-based protein?
Here is a great selection of tips and tricks that you can use to help you to include more plant-based protein into your daily diet (9):
Swap minced meat for Quorn mince or soy mince alternative (or go half and half) in dishes like cottage pie, spaghetti bolognese, etc.
Add a tin of beans to soups/stews/curries
Use quinoa as a side instead of rice
Sprinkle a handful of nuts/seeds over porridge, yoghurt, or cereal
Try having a yoghurt or milk alternative e.g. soya, oat, rice, hemp, almond, etc
Using wholegrain alternatives e.g. wholegrain pasta, wholegrain bread, brown rice, oats
If you are looking for some recipe ideas that include plant-based protein, them here are some to get you started:
Three-bean chilli with jacket potatoes - https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/vegan-three-bean-chilli-potato-jacket
Lentil lasagne - https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/lentil-lasagne
Spicy tofu scramble - https://www.lazycatkitchen.com/spicy-tofu-scramble/
BBQ cauliflower and chickpea tacos - https://www.shelikesfood.com/bbq-cauliflower-chickpea-tacos-creamy-lime-slaw-gfv/
Coronation chickpea sandwich - https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/coronation-chickpea-sandwiches/
Cacao and peanut butter protein balls - https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/cacao-peanut-butter-protein-balls-vegan/
VNutrition App (10) → by The Vegan Society and it helps you to identify if you are meeting nutritional requirements such as protein intake (https://www.vegansociety.com/news/blog/introducing-vnutrition)
Article Written by Della Humphries - BSc Nutrition Student
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