Vegan Protein Sources

The list of vegan foods that don't contain protein is a much shorter list than those foods that do supply protein. Foods that provide protein include all varieties of beans from adzuki to yellow beans, grains, nuts and seeds, nut butters and seed butters, vegetables, potatoes, soy foods, meat analogs (products made to resemble meats), and seitan (wheat “meat”). The short list of poor sources of protein is just that, short.

Foods and ingredients that are not good sources of protein include:

  • Fats and oils—margarine, olive oil, canola oil, other oils, most salad dressings

  • Sugar and other sweeteners like maple syrup, molasses, and agave nectar

  • Soft drinks, coffee, tea

  • Herbs and spices—the amounts you eat are too small to provide much protein

  • Fruits. Note that fruits are great foods—they're just not good protein sources

  • Alcohol (But you're not drinking that anyway, right?)

So unless you're feasting on hard candy, fried bananas, wine coolers, and the like for every meal, every day, chances are that you're getting a good amount of protein.

When you go for a routine prenatal visit to your doctor, your urine will be tested for protein. This is mainly a test for preeclampsia, urinary tract infection, and kidney function. This test does not provide information about how much protein is in your diet.

The other thing to be aware of is getting enough calories. Ideally, you're gaining weight at the rate that you should for pregnancy. If you are, chances are that you're getting enough calories. Not gaining weight could mean fewer calories than you need, which means that protein is being used mainly to keep your body functions going instead of being used to build your baby's muscles.

Your protein intake will naturally increase as you eat more food when you are pregnant, especially if you focus on foods that are good sources of protein.

How Much Protein Are You Eating?

You're probably not going to approach each meal with a calculator in hand to make sure that you're meeting your protein needs. Chances are you don't even need to be concerned about protein. An occasional spot check, however, can provide peace of mind. Here's how to do it. First, write down everything you eat for a typical day and how much you ate of each food. Then, use an online nutrition program to calculate how much protein you ate. One recommended website is www.mypyramidtracker.gov. While this website's database does contain information about thousands of foods, it may not include many vegan foods that you are familiar with. Use food labels to see how much protein is in foods that aren't in the database. Refer to recommendations in this chapter for protein intake in pregnancy; this website's recommendations have not been modified for pregnancy. Compare your protein needs to the amount of protein in your diet and make any adjustments needed.

Remember, this is just one day. If you eat much the same from one day to the next, you can be pretty confident that your results provide a reliable picture of your diet. If your eating habits vary widely, make sure that your diet has several good sources of protein every day.

Protein in Vegan Foods

Some vegan foods that are especially high in protein are soybeans, tempeh, and lentils. These foods have 20 or more grams of protein in a serving—a cup of beans or 4 ounces of tempeh. Other foods that provide generous amounts of protein (10–20 grams per serving) include tofu, veggie burgers, and cooked dried beans. Soymilk, peanut butter, soy yogurt, and quinoa are all good sources of protein as well. Vegetables, whole grains, pasta, almond butter, and nuts and seeds are other good foods to add to your protein intake.

There are some easy ways to incorporate good sources of protein into your daily meal plan. These are all highly nutritious foods, so by adding them you're not just adding protein but a host of vitamins and minerals as well.

AT BREAKFAST

  • Spread some peanut butter or other nut butter on your toast or bagel; peanut butter can even top oatmeal—add a spoonful of jelly for PB and J oatmeal.

  • Blend soft or silken tofu with soymilk and fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned) for a quick smoothie. See Chapter 17 for more smoothie ideas.

  • Use soymilk in place of water to prepare hot cereals.

  • Mix things up with a bowl of quinoa instead of oatmeal.

  • Replace water or other liquids in your favorite muffin and pancake recipes with soymilk.

  • On more leisurely mornings, try a tofu scramble or quiche for breakfast. See Chapter 17 for recipe ideas.

AT LUNCH

  • Toss some chickpeas or black beans with your salad.

  • Use a flavored hummus in place of mayo as a savory sandwich spread.

  • Prepare a vegan cream soup with soymilk.

  • Add extra crunch to a peanut butter sandwich by sprinkling on coarsely chopped peanuts or other nuts.

  • Pack protein-rich leftovers to reheat at lunchtime.

AT DINNER

  • Purée white beans or soft tofu with your favorite tomato sauce and serve over whole-grain pasta.

  • Top baked potatoes with a spoonful of plain soy yogurt and some chopped chives.

  • A peanut sauce (homemade or purchased) can top rice, pasta, or vegetables.

  • Add chickpeas or vegan pepperoni to takeout or homemade veggie no-cheese pizza.

  • Experiment with quinoa in dishes that use rice or other grains.

  • Toss vegan stir-fry strips or homemade seitan with stir-fried vegetables.

FOR SNACKS

  • Make a batch of trail mix using a variety of nuts and dried fruits. Add soy nuts for a protein boost.

  • Spread apple or pear slices with nut butters.

  • Dip baby carrots and jicama strips into hummus or refried beans.

  • Try different brands of vegan energy bars until you find one or more that suit you.

  • Eat breakfast for a snack by having a bowl of cold cereal with soymilk.

If you like to bake, you can boost the protein in breads and muffins by adding soy flour. For yeast-raised breads, put 2 tablespoons of soy flour in your 1 cup measuring cup and then fill the cup with the flour your recipe calls for. Repeat until you've measured all of the recipe's flour. Since soy flour does not contain gluten, which gives bread its structure, it cannot completely replace wheat flour. For quick breads or muffins, replace up to a quarter of the flour with soy flour.

You'll probably think of even more ways to add protein-rich soy products, beans, seitan, nuts, and nut butters to your meals and snacks.

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