Opting for a plant-based or vegan diet? Nutritionist Sarah O’Neill gives the lowdown on getting your recommended protein minus the animal products
Millions of us are trying out Meat Free Monday and nutritional scientists are proving that eating a more plant-based diet can transform our health – from lowered cholesterol and blood pressure to reducing our risk of heart disease. But can we enjoy these benefits and still get the protein our body needs from plants alone?
The British Nutrition Foundation analysed the typical UK diet and found that we get around 53% of our protein from animal products, including meat, milk and eggs. With a chicken breast containing 31g of protein (17g of protein per 100g), meat can be hard to beat on the protein stakes. Animal-derived foods can contain high levels of saturated fats however.
Protein: 12-19g/100g serving
Soybeans contribute all the essential amino acids our body needs, and soy is proven to lower cholesterol levels. Soy protein comes in a variety of formats, including edamame (12g/100g) and tofu (19g/100g fried).
Use it: Edamame beans are a tasty snack or salad topper, while tofu is perfect in stir-fries or scrambled with vegetables and spices instead of eggs.
Protein: 11.2g/100g serving
Oats are a great slow-release carbohydrate, which help to keep your energy levels up and maintain your blood sugar levels. The high protein content means porridge is the perfect breakfast choice.
Use it: Supercharge your bowl of porridge by adding a mix of seeds and nuts.
Protein: 9g/100g serving
Whether tinned or boiled, red or green, lentils are a great starchy protein and help to fill us up. They’re also rich in iron (a serving contains 40% of your daily need), zinc, magnesium and fibre.
Use it: Add them to curries, make a lentil ragu or stir cold into salads.
Protein: 7g/100g serving
Chickpeas are low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free and, like all legumes, (including peas and beans), a fantastic source of protein.
Use it: Hummus with pita or wholegrain bread counts as a ‘complete protein’ (a source of protein that contains all nine of the amino acids your body needs). Alternatively, roast them with a mix of spices as a snack.
Protein: 4-6g/100g serving
Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, rye, spelt, bulgur wheat and wild rice all contain a significant amount of protein and you can eat these grains as bread or pasta.
Use it: Mix up your avo on toast by replacing your usual bread with rye bread and try a veg-packed risotto with pearl barley. Combine wholegrain rice and beans for a complete protein dish.
Protein: 4-6g/28g serving (18-21g/100g serving)
Almonds are highest in protein with 6g per 28g serving (23 nuts), followed by pistachios, (5.9g, 49 nuts), cashews (5.2g, 18 nuts) and walnuts (4.3g, 14 halves). They’re also rich in omega-3 fats and skin-loving vitamin E.
Use it: Try cashew nuts in your stir-fry, hazelnuts on top of cereal or flaked almonds in curries.
Protein: 4-5g/28g serving (18-20g/100g serving)
Sunflower seeds contain 5.8g/28g serving, followed by pumpkin seeds (5.2g), flaxseeds (5.1g) and chia seeds (4.4g). Seeds have lots of other benefits and are a source of folate, which our body needs to make new cells.
Use it: Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are great in energy balls and healthy flapjacks, add chia seeds to overnight oats.
Protein: 4.4g/100g serving (cooked)
A staple for any plant-based diet (or otherwise), quinoa is a complete protein and is a seed as opposed to a grain, so it’s also gluten-free. It’s a starchy protein, so it’s a great alternative to rice or couscous.
Use it: Mix cooked quinoa into salads or serve with kale and pomegranate as a side. You can also serve hot or cold with milk and fruit as a cereal.
Protein: 3-4g/100g serving
Mushroom (3.9g), broccoli (3.8g), spinach (3g), kale (1.9g) and sprouts (3.4g) are a great way to gain protein, as well as boost your daily intake of vitamins and minerals.
Looking to boost your metabolism? Check out these 9 metabolism-boosting foods.