If you are already living a vegan lifestyle (or are interested in one), chances are you already care about both your and our planet’s wellbeing. It is important to be aware of exactly what you are putting into your body so you can choose the most nutrient-dense options to function at your finest. I created this guide vegan for newcomers, or for those who ask us vegans the age-old question, “…but where do you get your protein?”
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
“A vegan diet is one that consists of only plant-derived foods. Like non-vegans, vegans can eat soups, stews, stir-fries, salads, pizza, burgers, casseroles, etc. They consume a wide variety of foods from around the globe, as well as plant-only versions of traditional favorites,” according to the International Vegan Association. This means vegans do not consume any animal products including dairy, eggs, meat, gelatin, and honey.
In addition, vegans generally do not use products that come from animals, such as leather, wool, down, cosmetics, or products (such as shampoo or soap) that have been tested on animals.
Why Go Plant-Based?
There are an endless number of reasons why someone would go vegan. Sometimes it is for health reasons, other times it is due to ethical concerns:
- A plant-based diet is healthier than other diets.
- Meat is a carcinogen.
- Some people think it’s wrong to slaughter and exploit animals for food and products.
- Some religions oppose eating meat.
- A vegan diet can cost less than a diet that includes meat and dairy.
- Eating less meat and dairy can be better for the environment because most meat and dairy is commercially farmed.
- Some people don’t like the taste of meat.
- Dairy makes some people feel sick when they eat it. (I’m lacto-intolerant.)
Plant-based diets that are properly planned can provide all of the nutrients a person needs. Additionally, a plant-based diet can actually be better for you than the traditional American diet. According to WebMD, people on a plant-based diet, in general:
- Weigh less than people who eat meat
- Are less likely to die of heart disease
- Have lower cholesterol levels
- Are less likely to get high blood pressure, prostate cancer, colon cancer or type 2 diabetes
Components of a Healthy Plant-Based Diet
A balanced plant-based diet is composed of the following four food groups:
- Legumes, nuts and seeds
- Grains (if you can tolerate grains, if not, eat more fruits + veggies!)
Individual needs are based on age, activity level, energy requirements and health status. This is only a guide to balanced plant-based eating. Consult a dietitian experienced with vegan nutrition for a personalized set of recommendations.
Legumes, Nuts and Seeds (4+ servings per day)
This food group includes beans, split peas, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy products. These nutrient-dense foods are packed with protein, fiber, minerals, B vitamins, protective antioxidants and essential fatty acids.
Sample serving sizes of this group include: ½ cup cooked beans, 4 ounces tempeh or tofu, 1 cup soy milk, 1 ounce nuts or seeds, 2 tablespoons nut or seed butter
Grains (4+ servings per day)
Whole grains provide B vitamins, fiber, minerals, protein and antioxidants. They are preferable to refined grains because the refining process removes the healthiest nutrients. Also, whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, oats and millet are nutritionally superior to whole grain flours and puffed/flakes grains.
Sample serving sizes of this group include: 1 slice of whole-wheat bread (or gluten-free bread), ½ cup cooked grains (brown rice, quinoa, or gluten-free oats), 1 ounce of cereal
*If you cannot tolerate grains, I eat them sparingly, amp up your fruit and veggie intake.
Vegetables (4+ servings per day)
Eating a rainbow of colorful vegetables will help you get the assortment of protective nutrients you need in your diet. For most vegetables, it is nearly impossible to eat “too much” because they are fibrous, low in calories and tend to be filling.
Sample servings sizes for this food group include: ½ cup cooked, 1 cup raw or ½ cup vegetable juice
Fruits (2+ servings per day)
All fruits provide antioxidants and fiber, and the majority of fruits are a great source of vitamin C, especially citrus fruits and berries.
Sample serving sizes for this food group include: one medium piece, 1 cup sliced fruit, ¼ cup dried, ½ cup raw juice
What About Protein?
Since 10 to 20 percent of calories in most plant foods are from protein, and humans need only about 10 to 15 percent of their calories from protein, it is easy to meet protein requirements on a plant-based diet. The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is age and gender specific. Factors such as pregnancy, activity level and health status also influence intake needs. To get a general sense of your daily needs in grams, simply multiply your weight in pounds by .36 (for example, a 150-pound adult would want to consume 55 grams of protein per day).
Of course, this is just the RDA recommendation, and I doubt I eat this much protein, ever, on any given day.
Sources of Vegan Protein
- Quinoa, 8 grams per 1 cup serving
- Buckwheat, 6 grams per 1 cup serving
- Mycoprotein (Quorn), 12 grams per ½ cup
- Rice and beans, 7 grams per 1 cup serving
- Ezekiel Bread, 8 grams per 2 slice serving
- Seitan, 21 grams per 1/3 cup serving
- Spirulina with grains or nuts, 4 grams per 1 tablespoon
- Hempseed, 10 grams per 2 tablespoon serving
- Chia, 4 grams per 2 tablespoon serving
- Soy*, 10 grams per ½ cup serving (firm tofu), 15 grams per ½ cup serving (tempeh and natto)
- (*I choose to not eat soy for personal reasons, but I am including it as I know a lot of people do eat soy. Just make sure to always choose organic soy when you do purchase it.)