Find your way through the protein jungle


Veganism gets more and more widespread, and more people choose meat free days, or go all the way to exclude all animal food. It can be difficult at first, to find out how to get all the nutrients that you need, especially protein, as there is a general misunderstanding about protein among people. Many people are raised with the idea of protein is equal meet. Therefore, we often hear claims like ‘’Vegans don’t get enough proteins’’, ‘’Vegans can’t build muscles’’ or ‘’Plant protein isn’t as healthy as animal protein’’. These claims are built on ignorance, because of an old-fashioned opinion on what a healthy diet is. But newer science shows that it is healthier to lack on the animal protein, which is good news if you want to quit meat, or already have taken the leap.

In this article I will try to explain, why these claims are not durable. But first, let us talk about what protein really is.

Building blocks of the body
Protein is energy and is made of amino acids, which is the building blocks of the body. Proteins are important for many processes in the human body. It helps grow and repair muscles, tissue, hormones, and enzymes. There are 20 kinds of amino acids, which can be divided in essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids mean that the body needs to get it from food, because the body cannot produce it itself, like it can with non-essential amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Protein is, like carbohydrate and fat, very important to ingest, as they are necessary to make your body function.

Myths and misunderstandings about protein
One of the most frequently misunderstood ideas about protein, is that you must get it from meet. If you want to build big muscles, you must eat protein from animals. For many people if you ask them, protein equals meet. Fortunately for vegans and vegetarians that is not true! Plants contain just as much protein, if you know what to eat.
Not all plants contain all the 9 essential amino acids, but if you eat a variety diet each day, you will be covered with all the essential amino acids you need.  

Quality of protein
Protein is ranged after quality, which means that high quality protein is defined after which kind is easiest accessible. Which means, a protein source where all the essential amino acids are in one, and how quickly it absorbs in the body. Both elements are present in meet, and not in plants. That is why protein from meet is seen as a better quality, because you do not need to ingest a lot of different animal products, to get all the essential amino acids your body needs.
To be able to get all the essential amino acids from plants, you will have to ingest different kind of sources, and therefore plant protein is ranged as low quality. It is a misleading range, because many people get so confused about eating plant based, and how to get enough proteins. Protein from plants is not worse for you, than animal protein. In Fact, there is a lot more health benefits by plant protein. Animal protein may be easier to consume and absorb in the body, but it has a lot of negative impacts on the human body. Besides that, eating a plant based diet is a much more sustainable way to ingest your protein.

How much protein do we really need
It can be very confusing, to find your way through the many ‘’protein rules’’. In many people’s opinion, you must ingest a lot of protein in order to be healthy and gain muscles. But in reality, an average person only needs 0,75 gram pr. body weight a day, which means if you weigh 60 kilos, you will need 45 gram protein a day. This is not difficult to get, even if you are living on a plant based diet. If you eat enough calories, you will get more protein than you need. There are some cases where the need of protein can be higher, for example athletes, older people, or people with a sickness, needs a higher intake.

If we for a reason do not get our protein need covered through the day, the body has a natural storage of protein, which will be released, if you are in deficiency. It is therefore very difficult to be in deficit, as long as you eat enough calories, you will most likely be covered.

Muscles powered by plants
Many people still believe that you must eat a lot of eggs, chicken, and cow milk to grow big muscles. Although plant protein work just the same as protein from animals, it builds and repair muscle cells and tissue. However, if we want to build big muscles on a plant based diet, we must eat a lot more, as there are fewer calories in vegetables and other plant food. In that way, it can for some people seems more difficult, but if you simply know which plants contain the most calories, it will not be a problem. Many great athletes nowadays, have hit the vegan road with no problems of getting enough protein.

Therefore, you do not have to worry, if you are an active person, who wants to eat plant based. You must only concern about all the delicious food that you are about to eat.

Great sources of protein
If you need some inspiration to get more protein in your diet, here are some ideas of how to reach your daily protein need:

Protein per 100 gram

  • Quinoa                        14 gram
  • Oat                               13 gram
  • Nuts                             20 gram
  • Red linses                   27,3 gram
  • Whole grain pasta     13 gram

The food above is for most vegans and vegetarians, food that must always be in the kitchen. It is easy to prepare, and can go in many dishes with all your favorite vegetables.

I hope this article has been useful for you, and you have a clearer insight how to carry around in the protein jungle.

About the Author

Heidi Kirstine has been vegan for 4 years now and loves experimenting with new recipies. She finds peace and joy by cooking, and loves to show people how amazing plants can be.