Getting your healthy dose of protein isn’t always easy if you’re going meatless. Here’s how to do it without OD-ing on calories.
Proteins are made of amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. They make up cell structures and are involved in many enzymatic reactions. From a broader perspective, they help with wound repair, muscle formation, and maintaining a healthy immune system.
There are 20 amino acids in total, of which 9 are essential. Often, obtaining sufficient protein as part of a vegetarian or vegan diet is challenging because plant-based foods generally contain less protein for the same weight of animal-based foods. This means you have to conscientiously consume much more protein-rich plant foods to meet your protein requirements.
Another concern is that plant-based products do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, so it is important for you to have a mix of different plant protein sources in your daily diet. Here are 5 different types that you should rotate amongst as part of your day-to-day menu.
1. Stock up on seitan
Seitan is very common in the Asian diet, frequently used by vegetarian stalls in Singapore. It is commonly thought to be high in carbohydrates as it is made of gluten, which is extracted from wheat. However, it is a good source of protein. Once you get your hands on them, they are versatile and can be stir-fried with vegetables, cooked in curries, or sautéed like you would with meat. Do note when you buy them in supermarkets, to compare varieties and choose those that are lower in sodium.
2. Choose the right grains
Make use of every opportunity you can to choose higher protein sources, starting with your daily staple—rice. While plain white rice does contain some protein, there are other grains that contain much more protein! Did you know that spelt, teff, and quinoa contains at least twice the amount of protein as compared to white rice? Similarly, wild rice has 1.5 times more protein than white rice. Instead of having to eat more, all you have to do is choose a different grain when you’re at the supermarket. Simple swaps can help you increase your protein intake without much effort at all!
3. Snack on nuts
Did you know an ounce of almonds or peanuts (about a handful), packs 6-7g of protein? They are also full of unsaturated fats that help keep cholesterol levels low and your heart healthy. What’s more, nuts are rich in antioxidants, which reverse the damaging effects of free radicals on your body.
Create a trail mix of different nuts to snack on when you’re feeling peckish in the afternoon. You could also add a handful into your cereal at breakfast, or sprinkle some on top of your salad. If you find them bland on their own, give them a quick roast in the oven with spices like paprika, cumin, or cinnamon, for a kick of flavour.
4. Add beans into meals
Beans are a great source of protein, while providing your body with carbohydrates for energy, and fibre to keep your bowels regular. The most common bean in the Asian diet would probably be soy beans, which comes in many forms such as tempeh, tofu, tau kwa, and soy bean curd. At the same time, other types of beans can be easily incorporated into your meals.
Add red beans into lotus soup, or cannellini beans into sweet corn soup. Otherwise, beans lend a great flavour to Irish beef stews, or Mexican chillis. Wary of the time needed to cook beans? Fret not. Canned beans can be kept in your pantry for use whenever required. I personally like to add kidney beans into a Greek salad of cucumber, tomatoes, and feta. You could also blitz up some chickpeas with garlic, tahini, and some lime juice for a quick hummus.
5. Have some milk every day
If you’re lacto-vegetarian, make sure you have at least a glass of cow’s milk every day. For vegans, go for soy milk. Soy protein is the only vegetarian protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Commercial soy milks are also fortified with calcium, and are nutritionally similar to cow’s milk. Use it when making your cereal, or for blending into a smoothie.
Yan Yin Phoi is an accredited practising dietitian of The Thoughtful Dietitian.