More and more people want to follow vegetarian or vegan diets or reduce their use of animal products. With more fortified and nutritious plant-based foods available, a shift away from animal products is getting easier.
Nevertheless, it can be harder for people who do not eat meat or animal products to get enough protein and essential vitamins and minerals. A person needs to plan ahead to ensure that they get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12, from animal products that people on an omnivorous diet get.
What is Protein?
Let's begin with a simple description:
Protein is a macronutrient vital for building muscle mass. This is commonly present in animal products but also in other forms, such as nuts and legumes.
There are three macronutrients: protein, fats and carbohydrates.
Macronutrients provide energy, or calories. To sustain life, the body needs large quantities of macronutrients, thus the word "macro”. Every gram of protein contains four calories. Protein constitutes about 15 per cent of the body weight of a person.
Protein consists of 20 individual building blocks, called amino acids. Amino acids are vital to our bodies — necessary for the construction and repair of cells, the creation of enzymes and antibodies, and other essential functions.
How much protein do we really need?
Getting 10–15 per cent of daily calories from protein is sufficient for the general population. That even applies to people who lead an active lifestyle.
Sources of Vegan Protein
Excellent sources of protein and other nutrients can be the right plant-based food, often with fewer calories than the animal products.
Some plant products are complete proteins, such as soy beans and quinoa, which means they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need. Some of these amino acids are missing from others so it's important to eat a varied diet.