By Lia Allen
As western-influenced people grow increasingly larger, nutrition studies grow in number, and the environmental impact of our food production goes under tighter scrutiny, there is a trend toward eating less meat and fewer animal products. Many of us scoff at the idea of forgoing animal products such as meats, dairy, and eggs, but thousands of people do so by choice. Veganism, as defined by the Vegan Society, “is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of, exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.” Many people are introduced to veganism through the media, as an increasing number of celebrities are going vegan, through association, or through books like Skinny Bitch, introducing mostly women who are weight conscious to the concept of veganism as a lifestyle, and the Thrive Diet, an informational for athletes who want to improve their abilities through diet. An unfortunately large portion of people who have dabbled with veganism have done so as a form of “detox” or a weight-loss attempt and found it to be lacking in both variety, and energy. This should not be the case for the well-informed.
A main concern is “what do I eat instead of my meat? How will I get enough protein?!” Protein is found in many sources, and most people have a tendency to overestimate the amount of protein needed. The USDA recommends a high-end average of 56 grams of protein per day for males and 46 grams per day for females. Other sources argue that between .25-.50 grams per pound of body weight is more than sufficient for the average to moderately active individual.
What to Eat
Nuts and seeds tend to contain a lot of protein per oz and are excellent sources of energy too. Eaten on salads, mixed into oatmeal, used in Asian dishes, or simply spread on some whole wheat toast, they can add a substantial amount of protein and nutrients to the vegan diet.
Beans have been the go to source of protein for many cultures who do not rely heavily on meats. Lentils, with their versatility can become a base for a vegan burger, a hearty soup, a vegan meat loaf, or just as is. Black beans, kidney beans, and black eyed peas are great ingredients for vegan chili or bean soups. Even vegan re-fried beans are great sources of healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
Though not initially thought of as a protein source, grains carry this macro-nutrient. Whole grain products will have higher amounts of protein and can act as a base to a higher protein item like beans, tofu, or nut butters. Quinoa is a complete protein and is often cooked and treated like a grain. It is a rice-like product, and carries a heavy protein load with it, making it ideal for vegans.
Tofu is typically what is thought of as a vegan’s protein option, and while it is high in protein and calcium, there are other options that have the bulk and potential meat replacement status. Tempeh is another soy based protein source, made from cultured and fermented soy, found in a cake-like form. A great non-soy meat alternative is seitan, made from wheat gluten. It can be made at home and, especially when marinated, has a great meaty texture and taste.
While whole foods are typically considered healthier, cleaner, sources of nutrients, there are the fake meats and highly processed vegan food substitutes available in most grocery stores. These include vegan cheeses, sausages, prepackaged burgers, vegan mayonnaise, and other processed products. These are often considered good transition foods for people who want to begin reducing their intake of animal products, but do not want to completely up heave their menus, or are more reliant on convenience products in general.