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Plant-based protein

Healthy foods

How can we increase the amount of plant-based foods in our diet without compromising on protein intake?

A lot of us are consciously trying to take on more protein from plant-based sources but meat is typically much higher in terms of protein content per gram vs plant-based. However, with a bit of planning and some smart choices, it’s completely possible to get enough protein on a plant-based diet!

Complete vs incomplete protein

It’s important to note that most meat or dairy based protein sources are considered “complete” meaning they provide all essential amino acids, plant-based protein sources can sometimes be lacking in one or more essential amino acids.

People need nine types of essential amino acids and most animal-based proteins have all these amino acids in the right amounts, but plant-based proteins often don’t. The body requires all essential amino acids in order to function properly, these essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained through diet.

Although complete plant-based protein sources are rare, there are some out there:

  1. Soy products – Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all excellent sources of complete protein. They are versatile, easy to cook with, and can be used in a variety of dishes. 100 grams of tofu can provide up to 8 grams of protein.

  1. Quinoa – This ancient grain is a complete protein, providing all essential amino acids despite primarily being a carb source. It’s also a great source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein

  2. Buckwheat – Buckwheat is another complete protein source that’s also primarily a carb source. It can be used in a variety of dishes, such as pancakes, noodles, and porridge. One cup of cooked buckwheat provides 6 grams of protein

  3. Hemp seeds – These small seeds are packed with complete protein, healthy fats, and essential minerals. They can be added to smoothies, salads, or used as a topping for yogurt or porridge. Two tablespoons of hemp seeds provide 5 grams of protein

  4. Chia seeds – Chia seeds are a complete protein source that can be easily added to your diet in a similar way to hemp seeds. They can also be mixed into smoothies, used as a topping for yogurt or porridge, or even made into a gel to use in baking. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide 4 grams of protein


It’s possible to get all the essential amino acids from plant-based sources but also worth noting that plant-based eaters might struggle to get in certain essential amino acids. For the majority of the population who are simply looking to optimise health and be active – that’s not a big issue as you’ll likely avoid deficiencies from eating a well balanced diet rich in various protein sources.

Plant based protein recommendations

If you’re a plant-based eater who is looking to build muscle then you need to be a bit more considered in approaching your protein intake. In order to build muscle, we need to maximise opportunities for muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to occur – MPS being the process within the body where new muscle protein is produced. MPS helps repair and grow muscle, especially after exercise and eating enough protein is crucial to support facilitate this process.

Optimal recommended protein intake each day for muscle growth is 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight (1) – a 70kg man for example would require between 112-154g protein daily. On a plant-based diet, you’ll want to aim for the higher end of this range – I’d suggest 2.2g per kg of bodyweight. This is to compensate for the fact that many plant-based protein sources aren’t complete.

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The quality of a protein source is often measured by its Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which takes into account both the amount and balance of essential amino acids in the protein source, as well as the digestibility of the protein.

In general, animal-sourced proteins, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, are considered to be of higher quality compared to most plant-based proteins, which are often considered to be of lower quality because they are typically low in one or more of the essential amino acids. As mentioned, aiming high is your best bet if you’re plant-based!

Plant-based sources of protein

So we now know why protein intake is important and how much to aim for each day but which plant-based foods have a decent amount of protein per 100 grams?

Here are some of the best plant-based sources of protein that you can easily add to your diet:

  1. Seitan – 75 grams of protein per 100 grams

  2. Spirulina – 60 grams of protein per 100 grams

  3. Hemp seeds – 31 grams of protein per 100 grams

  4. Peanut Butter – 25 grams of protein per 100 grams *this is more of a fat source with the added benefit of being high in protein

  5. Quorn – 13 grams of protein per 100 grams

  6. Tofu – 8-20 grams of protein per 100 grams

  7. Tempeh – 19 grams of protein per 100 grams

  8. Black beans – 8.6 grams of protein per 100 grams

  9. Lentils – 9 grams of protein per 100 grams

  10. Chickpeas – 7.3 grams of protein per 100 gram

The above are foods which you could integrate into your main meals each day but there is also the option to supplement with plant-based protein powders too. There are various options available to you depending on your taste and preference: rice, soy, hemp, almond and pea based proteins are all available options.


Final tips

  1. Mix it up! – To ensure that you get all essential amino acids, it’s important to combine different plant-based protein sources. For example, you can have beans with rice or tofu with whole grain bread

  2. Snack smart – Snacking on nuts, seeds, or vegan protein bars can help increase your overall protein intake

  3. Supplement if you need it – If you’re having trouble getting enough protein from whole foods (which can be a challenge for plant-based eaters), consider supplementing with plant-based protein powder.

  4. Plan your meals – Preparation is half the battle! Include meals that are high in protein, such as tofu stir-fry, lentil soup, or quinoa salad throughout your day

  5. Start the day right – Starting your day with a protein-rich breakfast, such as scrambled tofu, porridge with nut butter, or a smoothie with plant-based protein powder, can set the tone for a high-protein day

In conclusion, getting enough protein on a plant-based diet isn’t easy but it is doable.

Ensure you hit your protein target by making good choices and planning ahead. By combining different plant-based protein sources, including protein-rich snacks and condiments, and considering supplementing if needed, you can ensure that you get all the protein your body needs!



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