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Byron Shire
May 30, 2024

Being vegan: Where do vegans get their protein?

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This article is the first in our Being Vegan series that will be appearing monthly in Echonetdaily.

Tofu and quinoa are protein-rich staples in a vegan diet. Photo Tree Faerie.

This article is made possible by the support of Veet’s Vegan Cooking School

Eve Jeffery

The first thing that people usually say when the subject of my veganism comes up is ‘Where do you get your protein from?’.

Actually that’s not totally true – usually, the first thing people say is ‘but what about bacon?’, and to be totally honest, when I was an omnivore that was a question I asked.

The protein comment usually comes second and I could pretty much almost guarantee that just about every vegan has been asked this question.

I’m not going to acknowledge the first question which is more about hurting someone’s feelings than about the taste of charred pig flesh, but I can address the second.

The simple facts are we don’t actually need tonnes of protein every day; we do need some, but making animals suffer for a pound of flesh is not necessary, and in the 21st century we are smarter, and I hope more compassionate than that.

A plant-based diet

My daughter’s home-made, vegan, tofu mini Bánh mì. So yum!

You can eat a plant-based diet and get plenty of protein. Most people don’t realise that a lot of fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, and soy contain protein; and like any balanced diet, if you eat properly you will get all the nutrients you need.

The meat and dairy industry has whole advertising campaigns centred around protein. They are constantly reminding us that if we don’t get plenty of protein into us every day we will implode.

They also like to suggest that the best source for getting this is from the meat and dairy industry.

Marketing plays a huge part in this. Quite often advertisers will show you animals happily frolicking in paddocks all the while suggesting how good roast pork is for you; they don’t show you the process from the paddock to the plate. They show you cows munching on grass in sunny fields but they neglect to show you their superfluous babies who have been shot and carted off in a wheelbarrow, or bottle-fed powdered milk until they’re old enough to eat grass, at which time the males become part of the beef industry and the females continue the cycle in the dairy industry.

Most people would be surprised to know that gram for gram hemp seed actually contains more protein (31.53g per 100g) than beef (26g per 100g) – the meat and dairy industry certainly wouldn’t want you to know that either.

But as my sister, Rachel Jeffery, who is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) constantly reminds me, you probably wouldn’t eat 100g of hemp seed a day.

True.

But, hemp seed liberally sprinkled over salads and breakfast cereals certainly goes a long way to help.

How much protein do you need?

Accredited Practicing Dietitian Rachel Jeffery. Photo Tree Faerie.

So without dwelling on the negative, let’s look at the positive. How can you get enough protein and be a vegan?

Rachel says that protein is in all cells in our body. ‘Proteins in the body are continually being broken down and rebuilt (protein turnover), so it is important that everyone has protein in their diets each day.’

It turns out that protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. ‘There are around 20 amino acids and nine are considered essential amino acids: essential because our bodies cannot make them so we need to eat them,’ says Rachel.

‘Foods containing the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods are primarily from animal products including meat, milk, fish, and eggs.

However, for vegans, complete proteins are also found in soybean (including tofu) and quinoa. ‘Other plant-based foods do contain proteins, but not all are complete,’ says Rachel.

‘So to ensure you are obtaining good sources of amino acids each day, it is important that you have the right mix of plant proteins including wholegrain breads, cereals, legumes, dried beans, nuts, and seeds over the day.’

Rachel, who is not a vegan, certainly helps me find the best food choices to support my ethical choices.

Guidelines and sources

Blueberries and strawberries have small amounts of protein to add to a plant-based diet’s daily total.

The Eat For Health protein guidelines say that the average adult needs around 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight each day.

‘For example, a 70kg female needs that 0.8g times 70 which amount to 56g,’ says Rachel.

‘Protein requirements will change depending on stages in her lifecycle – pregnancy, breastfeeding, growth, recovery post major trauma or injury, and in times of illness, for example, cancer.

‘Babies up to one year need approximately 1.5g per kg of body weight and children up to 18 years need approximately 1g per kg of body weight.’

There are plenty of plant-based foods containing protein that can help you get your required daily amounts. Tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, nutritional yeast, spelt and teff, green peas, spirulina, amaranth, and quinoa. All of these things are just a starting point.

There is also plenty of protein to be found in soy milk, oats, wild rice, chia seeds, many nuts and seeds, and there are small amounts of protein in fruit and vegetables including broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, guava, mulberries, blackberries, nectarines, and bananas.

We need balance

The best diet is a healthy and diverse balance.

One thing dieticians will all agree on is the need for balance. A healthy diet has a diverse range of foods with smaller amounts of certain food groups – those being sugars, fats, and salts. Again, we do need some of those things, just not an abundance of them.

One of the positives about being a vegan, apart from the obvious sense of being guilt-free about your food, is that you are more aware of your food, you are more conscious of what you put into your mouth, and overall this does lead to better health.

Although, some people seem to think vegans are all skinny – some people forget that potatoes and oil have nothing to do with animal products, and if you saw the size of my behind, you’d know that I’m well acquainted with both of these vegan products.

It’s the nature of the (vegan) beast that vegans, certainly for the foreseeable future, are going to have to constantly explain their food choices and how they get what is required. So remembering some solid information about protein is going to help you out at Christmas when you bring out a nice juicy seitan stuffed with nuts and almonds with a side of crispy tofu and roast veggies for lunch.


Also from our Being Vegan series:

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Eve. Love the idea of a regular vegan column in the Echo. I think there has been a bit of a backlash on us vegans from the media and RW politicians lately re the AR activists. I love what they do, as we need to use shock sometimes to wake up the people who have been so conditioned that they believe the torture and slaughter is worth the fleeting moments of the taste of flesh. With even the UN telling the world to go plant based, we all need to contribute to telling the truth in whatever way we can. Thank you from another big-bottomed long-time vegan woman!!

  2. Well said, Eve. I have been asked that question so many times, often by people who appear to be less than conscious of the hazards of their own diets.

  3. Great article, thank you Eve. The regular public is brain-washed on a daily basis about diet. The meat and diary industry spend billions of dollars spreading misinformation., to further their own profits. Animal agriculture is a huge producer of carbon emissions and dropping meat and dairy even a few times a week will do more for the planet than most other token actions we take to reduce our carbon foot prints as individuals. This is not to mention the suffering and inhumane treatment that is necessary in the production of these so called foods.
    I look forward to the next article.

  4. Terrific! Thank you for shedding light and not heat on this topic. In a wealthy country like Australia you have to work pretty hard not to get enough protein in a day. Even a bowl of oatmeal porridge meets a fair chunk of your daily protein needs,

  5. Wonderful that there is going to be a monthly column on being vegan. Best thing I ever did was to become vegan. It is a great feeling knowing your actions are doing the least harm possible to animals. It is also the easiest thing to do to help the environment from the impacts of animal agriculture, which include deforestation, species extinction, the 2nd largest contributer to climate change, water use and pollution, and ocean dead zones.

  6. Complete protein is also important in any diet and it is readily available in a vegan diet by combining foods. You will find this in many traditional foods – like in India they eat dhal and rice together – which makes a complete protein. In Mexico – beans and corn another complete protein. In middle Eastern countries they make a hummus – another complete protein.

    Love this article by the way.

  7. Vegans should be told to crawl back into the holes they came from and kicked up the a4$e as they go there, for the outright bu!!s$4i7, lies and scaremongering the propagate. Grow up.

  8. Any nutritional advice is welcome seeing that it is an ongoing education as to where one gets their nutrients for a body to be healthy, you must learn what to eat and prepare your meals with the best nutrition possible, nice when it becomes second nature and your not caught out as to what to prepare, eventually you find your favourite dinner and snacks.

  9. The latest research once again illustrates that vegans kill 25 times more life forms per set amount of protein than omnivores . That God, Gaia or Nature designed humans with omnivore teeth and stomach can be just ignored?. Just face it, vegans are killers, like the rest of us except worse. Ever used a mousetrap? Rat Bait? Got a leather handbag, shoes, lounge, wallet or car seats?. How many ants have you crushed today?. Used an antibiotic?
    .No, you wouldn,t know. You only know when your virtue signalling can be made evident to others of your ilk.

    .

    • Why so upset Willaim? Conscience bothering you?

      If you check the ever-growing vegan aisles in Coles and Woolies, you will see that most vegan foods are made from organic, non-GMO sources. The areas in which small animals are killed by combine harvesters are the mono-culture soy and corn crops, which are fed to – guess who – pigs and chickens. Then very inefficiently converted into meat, with a huge carbon footprint and much methane emission.

      No one designed us, Willaim, we evolved, and our teeth are capable of eating healthy, vegetable-based foods. The canines in our heads are smaller than those of the panda, who is a strict vegan, and even if we had teeth like a sabre-toothed tiger, we also have a brain that lets us choose compassion over gluttony.

      No, vegans do not use leather. Check your facts, maybe do some research. You will find for your own health, for the sake of the environment, and of course for the billions of animals who die in agony every year, the vegan choice is the right one.

  10. It’s up to each of us to decide what’s best for us.

    But I think that if you’re going to eat meat then you have a moral obligation to learn what actually happens to animals as they are ‘processed’ on their way to your table.

    And then you can decide:

    1) I’m a proud supported of the animal agriculture businesses, and I am okay with the abuse and wretched treatment of animals and the harm the industry does to our planet
    2) I don’t support animal agriculture, but I want to eat animals… so I guess I’ll have to catch and kill and prepare them myself as humanely as I can
    3) Neither of the above sits right with me, I can live quite happily on a plant based diet

    I’m going with number 3, thanks.

    What about you?

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