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Protein is not in short supply in UK diets, but nevertheless, it’s a hot topic in the world of food. National guidelines encourage us to eat more beans and pulses because they are healthy and sustainable sources of this nutrient, but some people are not familiar with these foods. We can help to protect our health and the environment by promoting plant protein.

The quality of UK diets

The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey suggests that people in the UK are struggling to hit their targets for intakes of fibre, fruit and vegetables, and are consuming too much saturated fat. Animal products such as meat do not provide fibre, and obviously can’t count as one of your five-a-day as beans, peas and lentils do. Minimally processed plant foods can provide fibre and as well as protein, and they tend to be low in saturated fat, so plant protein has the power to transform our diets.

How do vegans get enough protein?

Amino acids are protein building blocks. Our bodies are able to make some of them, but we have to get the others from our diets. These ones are called essential amino acids, and they can all be obtained from plant foods.

The quality of protein in foods is variable. The best vegan sources are the ones containing good amounts of an amino acid called lysine. Here are some examples:

Type of food Good sources of protein
Legumes Beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya, peanuts
Starchy foods Buckwheat, quinoa, wild rice
Nuts Cashew nuts, pistachio nuts
Seeds Chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds

For most vegans, these simple tips will help to optimize plant protein intakes:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet containing plenty of minimally processed foods like whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables
  • Ensure that most meals contain good sources of protein, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanut butter, tofu or other soya products

Older adults can benefit from consuming good sources of protein in every meal because a higher intake and a variety of daily activities are recommended for optimal muscle function.

Athletic vegans need extra protein to maintain and develop their muscles. They can hit their targets by eating regular meals containing good sources, including a bedtime snack. Fortified soya milk is useful because the soya variety contains much more protein than other plant milks, and the quality of soya protein is similar to meat and dairy protein.

Plate Up for the Planet

Food is a big part of our lives, and our choices have a huge environmental impact. The Vegan Society’s Plate Up for the Planet campaign aims to get organizations and individuals talking about how changing what we eat can help the environment.

Farming billions of animals every year puts a great strain on ecosystems due to the demand for land, crops and water, and globally, the meat and dairy industries are responsible for generating as much greenhouse gases as the transport sector. Switching to a vegan diet can reduce the carbon footprint associated with food production by up to 50%. Also, for every 100 calories fed to animals, we receive back only 12 calories by consuming their flesh and milk, so we can nourish ourselves in an efficient way by growing crops for human consumption.

At its core, Plate Up for the Planet is about highlighting how choosing alternatives to animal products can help to protect the planet. If you’d like to become more familiar with plant-based foods, you can sign up for the seven-day vegan challenge at www.vegansociety.com/plateup.

 

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About the Author

Heather Russell

Dietician, The Vegan Society
Heather Russell is a trained dietician. Having left the NHS where she worked from 2010 to 2016 (specialising in diabetes from 2013 onwards) Russell now applies her dietetic skills to supporting the work of The Vegan Society.

Articles by Heather Russell
Heather Russell
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