Plant-based diets are on the rise, with many people choosing to adopt a vegetarian or at least ‘flexitarian’ diet. Plant-based diets can be very healthy, but they must be done with caution and planning, in order to avoid deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as vitamin D, B12, choline, calcium and iron.
It’s important to note that there are very few plant-based sources of complete proteins. A complete protein means it provides all the essential amino acids you need (as your body can’t produce them), so they must come from the diet. Complete sources of plant-based protein include quinoa, soy, buckwheat, and hemp seeds. However, sources of incomplete proteins can be combined throughout the course of the day (it doesn’t have to be in the same meal), to give you all the amino acids you need each day.
- Quinoa is high in protein and is rich in iron, fibre, manganese, and magnesium.
- Soy products such as tofu, tempeh and edamame are good sources of protein, and are very versatile as they can easily be used in cooking as a substitute for meat. They are also rich in calcium and iron.
- Hemp seeds – great for incorporating into sweet or savoury dishes, sprinkling over salads, smoothies or porridge. They are also good sources of fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health.
- You can also combine different plant proteins to makea complete protein, such as beans and rice. Try varying the types of beans you use and opt for kidney, white or black beans for diversity.
- Lentils contain plenty of protein and fibre and can easily be added to soups, curries, or salads.
- Chickpeas are another good source which can be roasted as a snack or blended into hummus.
- Nuts, seeds, nut butter and tahini are all useful for incorporating more protein in to your diet, with so many ways of consuming them. For example, almonds and peanuts can be eaten raw or whizzed up with some cinnamon and vanilla into a delicious nut butter, rich in healthy fats and vitamin E.
- Green peas (and other legumes) are a convenient ingredient to keep either frozen or tinned, for an easy addition of protein to your meals.
While protein deficiency is extremely rare among vegans and non-vegans alike, it remains a common concern in those choosing to eat a plant-based diet. By including several of the protein-rich foods listed above, you’ll be sure to hit your target protein intake.