Do vegans ever tire of this age-old question? Why, yes, in fact, we do. That's because protein abounds on plant-based diets, despite persistent myths that perpetuate the opposite.
Virtually all plant foods -- except sugar, fats, and alcohol -- contain some measure of protein, although some foods are significantly higher than others. Fruit, for example, is lower in protein, while legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), grains, nuts, and seeds can be quite rich in this nutrient.
The broad concern about protein is both overinflated and misguided. Although protein is an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in how our bodies function, we don't really need large amounts of it. For every ten calories we take in, only one needs to come from protein. Although vegan athletes (and pregnant women) may have slightly higher protein needs than vegans who exercise moderately or have more sedentary lifestyles, even high-performance vegan athletes don't need a protein supplement to achieve their optimum intake levels.
Meat eaters tend to have slightly higher protein intakes than those of vegans, but there aren't any advantages to a high-protein diet. In fact, consuming excess protein (especially animal-derived protein) could potentially cause health problems, including certain cancers, kidney disease, kidney stones, and osteoporosis. As long as healthy vegans are consuming a variety of wholesome plant foods and taking in enough calories to maintain their weight, protein shouldn't be an issue.
The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day (or 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight). The National Academy of Medicine also sets a wide range for acceptable protein intake—from 10 to 35 percent of calories each day. In the United States, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 46 grams per day for women over nineteen years of age and 56 grams per day for men over nineteen years of age. Bear in mind that the RDAs are intended to not only help individuals meet their daily nutritional requirements but to also provide tolerable upper intake levels so people can avoid harm from consuming too much of a nutrient.
Protein deficiencies are essentially nonexistent in industrialized countries because individuals would need to be starving -- that is, have greatly inadequate overall food intake -- to attain such status. So as long as you are consuming sufficient calories for your height and weight and obtaining them from whole or minimally processed foods, getting enough protein is really a no-brainer.
While it can be a tad more challenging to reach higher protein goals on a low-FODMAP vegan diet because most legumes are high in galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), a prebiotic that is a common trigger of IBS symptoms, it's not at all difficult or complicated to do so. Here are just a few of the many readily available high-protein, low-FODMAP vegan foods you can easily incorporate into your daily diet:
Broccoli, cooked: 1 cup = 4 grams protein
Brown rice, cooked: 1 cup = 5 grams protein
Chickpeas, canned (drained and rinsed): 1/4 cup = 3 grams protein
Green beans, cooked: 1/2 cup = 4 grams protein
Lentils, canned (drained and rinsed): 1/2 cup = 9 grams protein
Millet, cooked: 1 cup = 6 grams protein
Nutritional yeast flakes: 1 tablespoon = 4 grams protein
Oats, rolled: 1/2 cup = 6 grams protein
Peanut butter: 2 tablespoons = 8 grams protein
Potato, baked (flesh and skin): 1 large = 7 grams protein
Pumpkin seeds: 1/4 cup = 5 grams protein
Quinoa, cooked: 1 cup = 8 grams protein
Seitan (check for high-FODMAP ingredients): 3.5 ounces = 25 grams protein
Spinach, cooked: 1 cup = 5 grams protein
Sunflower seeds: 2 tablespoons = 3.6 grams protein
Tahini: 1 tablespoon = 4 grams protein
Tempeh: 1 cup = 31 grams protein
Tofu, firm: 5 ounces = 12 grams protein
Wild rice, cooked: 1 cup = 7 grams protein
If you still believe you need to boost your protein intake, try adding a vegan low-FODMAP protein powder to a smoothie. Start with a small amount (one-quarter to one-half the suggested serving size) to first determine how it agrees with you. Look for brands that are based on rice rather than pea protein and that have the fewest ingredients, preferably only rice protein and nothing else, such as Now Foods Sprouted Brown Rice Protein Powder, NutriBiotic Organic Rice Protein, Naked Rice Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder, or SunWarrior Classic Protein. Note that these products haven't been tested for FODMAP content, so proceed with caution. Use your best judgment to determine your own tolerance levels to them, and bear in mind that it's always best to rely on minimally processed plant foods rather than supplements for your nutritional needs.
For additional information on protein and the low-FODMAP vegan diet, along with a plethora of easy, high-protein recipes, check out my book Low-FODMAP and Vegan.
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