Amino acids or ‘proteins’ are known for building muscle and keeping the immune system strong. Over the last few decades, nutritionists have often promoted eating meat as the main source of maintaining a protein-rich diet. However, once educated in the true supply of amino acids, most people choosing to live a vegan diet have found it virtually impossible to not consume enough protein. Those who are unfamiliar with the lifestyle choice may be unaware of how important amino acids or ‘proteins’ are, and where we can get them.
The 9 Essential Amino Acids
While our bodies are able to produce most of the amino acids that it needs. The acids that it cannot produce on its own are often labeled as the ‘essential’ acids. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. What do they do, and why do we need them?
Histidine – this amino acid is used to maintain healthy tissues within your body. You can find this in foods such as beans, corn, cauliflower, mushrooms, potatoes, bamboo shoots, bananas, cantaloupe and citrus fruits. Consuming a healthy portion of fruits and vegetables will ensure you meet your daily histidine needs.
Isoleucine – this amino acid is used in the biosynthesis of tissues, creating a healthy and sustainable protein system in your body. Which basically means it’ll help you gain muscle (perfect for those gym-junkies out there!) It’s found in foods such as avocados, papayas, olives, coconuts and sunflower seeds.
Leucine – this is a bi-product of biosynthesis and can be found in the same food groups as isoleucine.
Methionine – this essential amino acid is used to prevent damage to our important organs such as liver disorders. It can often be used to heal certain liver disorders, too. Methionine is found in fruits and vegetables such as apples, pineapples, brazil nuts, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, garlic, and kale. Much like Histidine, a healthy intake of fruit and vegetables will ensure your daily Methionine intake is met.
Phenylalanine – this amino acid relieves depression, elevates mood, decreases pain and boosts your memory. It is also often used in many weight loss techniques, as it suppresses your appetite. Phenylalanine is found in foods such as almonds, avocados, bananas, nutritional yeast, corn, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, and lentils.
Threonine – this essential amino acid is used to maintain the true balance of proteins in the body. It also helps other bodily processes such as the formation of tooth enamel, collagen, and elastin. You can find it in foods such as alfalfa sprouts, papayas, green leafy vegetables, and nori.
Tryptophan – if you’re ever feeling a bit low, then you may be experiencing a lack in Tryptophan. This protein is often used to treat depression, as it’s used to boost serotonin levels in our brain. The protein is often found in food such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, peanut butter, hummus, beans, dandelion greens, fennel, and spinach.
Valine – this amino acid is involved with curing metabolic and liver diseases, much like Methionine. However, the protein also plays a part in helping the body absorb the other 8 essential amino acids. This can be found in apples, carrots, pomegranates, okra, parsley, squash, parsnips, tomatoes and nutritional yeast.
Lysine – this is the most socially talked about amino acid in terms of nutritional value, and how to consume it. Lysine is the hardest amino acid to find within the vegan diet, as it’s rarely consumed in a typical vegan diet. Lysine is required for growing and is used by the body to convert fatty acids into energy and eliminate cholesterol. Vegans should be focused on consuming enough ‘lysine’ in their diets. This is the most important of the amino acids our bodies cannot produce it on its own. While the protein may seem ‘rare’, it can be found in the following 100% vegan food sources:
- Tempeh (soy product) often used as a meat substitute, tempeh can provide an astounding 750mg of lysine per ½ cup serving.
- Seitan (pure wheat gluten) while not the most attractive food, seitan can provide over 600mg of lysine per 3oz serving
- Lentils, black beans, quinoa. These hearty foods offer 400-500mg of lysine per one cup serving of each.
- Soy milk. One cup a day provides roughly 9 grams of protein and 439mg of lysine.
Protein Foods for Vegans
Being the building-blocks of life, proteins play a crucial part in our diets. While certain members of society may be uneducated on how vegans consume protein, there are actually an astounding amount of whole, plant-based foods that can contain more protein than some meat products.
- Quinoa – pronounced as ‘keen-wa’, and not ‘quin-oh-ah’, is the most popular source of protein in a vegan diet. Grown in multiple provinces in South America, the starch-rich grain can provide 14 grams of protein in a 100-gram serving. Try incorporating other vegetables to your quinoa dishes that complement the grain such as curry powder, cilantro or even citrus juices.
- Pumpkin Seeds – providing a healthy19 grams of protein per 100 grams, pumpkin seeds are a delectable extra most vegans use to complement their salads, or even as a snack on the go.
- Hemp Seeds – no, they will not get you high, but they will help you gain muscle! These seeds offer a whopping 31.56 grams of protein per 100 grams.
- Spirulina – If you like to start your day off with a smoothie, try adding a few scoops of pure spirulina. Providing 57 grams of protein per 100 grams, this ‘super-food’ will provide all-day energy while still providing important nutrients such as iron, calcium, and vitamin B1.
Supplements for Vegans
You’re probably thinking, why can’t I just have a whey-protein shake in the morning instead of having to eat all these foods? The answer is, you can! But only if you’re willing to leave out the other important attributes fruit & vegetables offer that humans need to live. That being said, there are also no side effects to consuming large quantities of amino acids.
If you prefer supplements, try incorporating a creatine powder. This can be mixed with soy or almond milk for a truly protein-rich shake. It also includes amino acids such as glycine, methionine and arginine.
Three Perfect Easy Vegan Meals for Complete Protein
If you’re stuck for time, try setting aside one day in the week to meal-prep, the most likely day being Sunday.
Here are three protein-packed vegan meals to ensure you’re living your best vegan life!
Breakfast: ‘Brownie Batter Overnight Oats’
Source: The Edgy Veg
Using a vegan protein powder, these overnight oats are perfect for those who are not motivated to make breakfast, or are short on time. Having ingredients such as peanut butter, almond milk, protein powder and oats, this breakfast is sure to have you bouncing with energy all day!
Lunch: Butternut Squash Veggie Pizza
A perfect meal to make the day before, this protein-packed pizza is totally customizable. The butternut squash sauce offers a creamy and sweet note to the base, while the toppings can be completely customized to suit your taste.
Source: Minimalist Baker
Dinner: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas
Using only 5 ingredients, these quick & easy quesadillas will make anyone’s mouth water. With protein-rich black beans and sweet potato, this is the perfect dinner for anyone looking for a quick fix of protein.
Source: That Was Vegan
Proteins are all around us, it’s just a matter of educating yourself where to get them and how to incorporate them into your deliciously-vegan diet. This is important to me as the writer, as I’ve long struggled with the idea of how I’m going to keep my muscle-weight up while transitioning into a vegan lifestyle. After 3 years of being a meat-free vegan, I’ve never looked back (not to mention, my muscle weight has increased dramatically!)
Comment below if this article helped you understand where proteins can be found in the plant-world, and share it with your friends if you think they need more protein in their diet!