People who want to eat a vegan diet do without animal foods for a variety of reasons. But whether the reasons are ethical concerns or the goal of a more conscious diet, a vegan diet also always leads to the challenge of how to meet your protein needs without animal foods as optimally as possible. In this context, the following article is primarily intended to help you avoid mistakes in food selection and better weigh the advantages and disadvantages of various vegan protein sources.
Which vegan foods are particularly rich in protein?
Eating a vegan diet means reducing one's food pool to plant-based products, which comes with the problem that animal products consist mainly of protein, while plant-based foods provide mainly carbohydrates and micronutrients. In this context, those who do not consciously pay attention to their protein intake will already have difficulties reaching the daily minimum amount of 80 grams of protein per day. Fitness athletes and bodybuilders, on the other hand, should better supply 1.5 to 2 times their body weight in the form of protein in order to achieve optimal results through training. For a person weighing 70 kilograms, this would correspond to 105 to 140 grams of protein every day. Which foods are particularly suitable for this?
First of all, legumes of any kind. Peas, beans and lentils provide a relatively high amount of protein compared to other plants. Kidney beans, for example, are real vegan protein bombs with 24 grams of protein per 100 grams. On the other hand, surely no one wants to eat several hundred grams of beans every day. This would not only be very one-sided in taste, but is also known to lead to digestive problems.
The flatulence is usually not due to the protein, but is caused by so-called oligosaccharines. These are carbohydrates that cannot be absorbed during normal digestion and are therefore broken down in the large intestine by the bacteria living there. This process ensures the formation of gases. In addition, legumes contain so-called lectins, which bind micronutrients and can thus impair absorption. Even grandma knew: The quantity makes the poison! For this reason, you can include legumes in your diet if you can tolerate them, but you should also supplement other vegan protein sources.
Another nutritional bomb is oatmeal. In addition to 13 grams of protein per 100 grams of food, they contain, for example, the fiber beta-glucan, which can lower cholesterol, and other important micronutrients. The long-chain carbohydrates in oatmeal also do not cause unnecessary insulin spikes, so oatmeal can also be used in a diet as part of the calorie balance. Even people who have problems due to gluten intolerance and therefore tend to avoid wheat or spelt, often tolerate oatmeal very well.
In addition to other foods, such as nuts, broccoli or mushrooms, seitan and soy products are without question popular vegan protein sources. Seitan consists of wheat protein, which, however, is insufficiently absorbed by the body and is therefore not a high-quality protein source. Soy, on the other hand, is generally easy to digest, but is always viewed critically, especially because of the phytoestrogens it contains.
A good alternative was therefore a soy isolate that contains practically none of the phytoestrogens. This is suitable as a vegan alternative to Whey protein after training, if you want a quick absorption of the protein. On the other hand, a longer supply is guaranteed by a vegan protein complex, which can also be used for baking. In addition, a great advantage of vegan protein powder is the variety in taste. While oatmeal can without question be served as porridge in a variety of ways, protein shakes are a quick solution if you feel like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or hazelnut flavor, for example.
What to look for in vegan protein sources?
In the previous section, it was already pointed out in connection with beans, wheat and soy that with vegan protein sources more than just the amount of protein is to be considered. This does not mean that you should completely avoid the mentioned foods if you can tolerate them. However, there should be variety in everyday life. As a rule of thumb, you can remember to combine at least three different protein sources per day. For example, beans, oatmeal and vegan protein powder or mushrooms, lentils and soy isolate. It is best to change the combination every day.
This way, you reduce the risk of intolerances on the one hand and ensure a varied amino acid balance on the other. Like all proteins, vegan protein sources ultimately consist of amino acids that the body needs to consume. Whether a food has a good amino acid composition or a not so good one can be determined with different scales, the best known of which is certainly the so-called biological value. This makes a statement about the distribution of the eight essential amino acids, whereby a hen's egg with the value 100 is used as a reference.
For comparison, the vegan protein sources soy have a value of 74 and beans 76, which is not much less than the value of beef, which is 80. Soy isolate, whose advantages to regular soy have already been mentioned, even trumps with a value of 85. In general, vegan proteins are not completely inferior to animal products, especially since the combination of different proteins influences the value of the biological value. If you stick to the already mentioned rule with at least three protein-rich foods per day, you do not need to worry too much about the biological value in practice.
Much more interesting, but often ignored, on the other hand, is the PDCAAS value, which evaluates the digestibility of a protein with a value from 0 (no absorption at all) to 1 (optimal absorption). Wheat protein in particular, whether in the form of flour, protein bread or seitan, scores particularly poorly here, so that in some cases just a quarter of the amount of protein consumed is actually absorbed. So you shouldn't cover your protein needs exclusively with seitan, which doesn't mean you shouldn't eat it at all.
However, legumes with a value of 0.7, products made from soy beans with a value of 0.9 or vegan protein shakes, which usually have a value of 1 and are thus in no way inferior to whey or casein shakes, are better.
Vegan protein? No problem!
As you can see, a vegan diet is no problem in terms of sufficient protein intake if you rely on the right foods. Protein shakes are a relief in everyday life and a great way to take in easily digestible amino acids that provide the body with optimal nutrition. If you combine them with different vegan foods and regularly add variety to your plate, you won't have to worry about your protein supply even if you're vegan.
The best vegan protein sources, in terms of digestibility and protein content, are soy isolate and vegan multicomponent protein. But also oatmeal, legumes, tofu products, mushrooms, nuts, broccoli and other foods can contribute an important part to the adequate protein supply.