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Vegan Protein Sources

Vegan Diet Myth Busting: Vegan protein sources are incomplete of essential amino acids

vegan protein sources

Part 2 of a mini-series on the myths about Veganism

While the idea of veganism has moved away from hippies and rabbit food, vegan myths and misconceptions aren’t exactly in short supply. Researchers from the University of Oxford suggest that eating a vegan diet could be the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on earth, in some cases by up to 73%, however many myths circulate that put people off giving it a go. This mini-series will attempt to debunk the most off-putting myths, in hope it will encourage readers to at least try a more plant-based diet.

Myth No.2: Vegan protein sources are incomplete of essential amino acids

Last week’s blog covered the myth that vegans don’t get enough protein in their diets in general. The blog debunked this myth, firstly because the idea of how much protein we need every day is much higher than necessary and secondly, there are so many nutritious vegan foods that provide plenty of protein. However, another argument into vegan protein sources is, although they can provide ample amounts, the protein itself isn’t complete with all the amino acids our bodies require. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, they play critical role in your body such as: regulating appetite and sleep, metabolism and detoxifying, regulating blood sugar, protein synthesis, calcium absorption, digestion and more! Whilst your body can make the non-essential aminos, there are nine essential aminos that must be obtained through your diet.

Animal products like beef, fish, dairy, and eggs contain enough of every one of these essential amino acids. Hence why they’re considered complete proteins. As mentioned in our previous blog, although these are great sources of amino acids, they can increase the risk of many diseases and cancers, not to mention the impact on our planet that the production causes. On the flip side, a whole foods vegan diet provides a high amount of nutrition and health benefits, but many plant sources of protein are too low in or missing one or more amino acids. They’re considered incomplete protein sources. The misconception here is that you must get all your essential amino acids in every meal, as this is not the case. So long as you’re eating a varied diet throughout the day, this will ensure you receive all your amino acids over the course of a few meals, without having to think about it too much. For example, rice is low in lysine (an essential amino acid) but a great source of protein, so pairing it throughout your day with lentils or beans, which are high in protein, ensures you’re getting adequate levels of lysine. In fact, rice and beans together, contain all 9 essential amino acids.

Some like to know they’re getting all their essential amino acids in every meal, despite it not being necessary. Luckily for them, there are several plant-based foods that alone, contain adequate amounts of all 9 essential amino acids.

Singular vegan foods containing all 9 essential amino acids:

  • Quinoa: one cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides approximately 8 grams of protein. In addition to being a complete protein, quinoa provides high levels of magnesium, iron, fibre, and zinc
  • Tofu: tempeh and edamame: all a derivative of soya and make for excellent protein sources. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of edamame or tofu provides 8 grams of protein, while the same serving of tempeh has 11 grams.
  • Buckwheat: While not as high in protein as quinoa or tofu, buckwheat is another source of complete amino acids. This pseudocereal is also a good source of many essential minerals, including phosphorus, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron.
  • Spirulina: Whilst it can be purchased as a supplement, spirulina can be bought in powder form and easily added to smoothies, soups or salads. Just 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina provides 4 grams of protein and is rich in antioxidants.
  • Hemp: In addition to being a source of complete protein, hemp hearts are particularly rich in the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Three tablespoons (30 grams) of raw, hulled hemp seeds boast an impressive 10 grams of protein and 15% of the DV for iron

Combination vegan foods containing all 9 essential amino acids:

  • Rice and beans: Rice is low in lysine but high in methionine. In contrast, beans are high in lysine but low in methionine. Combining the two allows you to get enough of each, as well as the remaining seven essential amino acids, to count as a complete protein.
  • Pitta and hummus: A classic and delicious combination as well as a surprising complete protein!  One medium-sized (57-gram) pita with 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of hummus provides 7 grams of protein.
  • Peanut butter sandwich: Another unexpected complete protein yet delicious combination. When choosing a peanut butter, aim for a product with minimal ingredients, ideally only peanuts and maybe a bit of salt as well as high quality bread.

It’s worth noting that as well as amino acids, we need other essential nutrients as part of a healthy diet, that we will discuss in next week’s blog. This is Part 2 of a mini-series on the myths about Veganism. The series covers the below topics in detail. Stay tuned for Part 3 next week!

  • Protein Part 1 (adequate levels of protein)
  • Protein Part 2 (inc. amino acids + complete proteins)
  • Essential Oils and vitamins/ minerals vs Overfishing
  • Animal Farming vs Grain Farming
  • Animal Farming vs Grain Farming Part 2

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