The body needs a certain amount of protein every day and this is mainly found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. But what if you are vegetarian or vegan? The good news: this requirement can also be met with purely plant-based proteins. We show you what to look for.
Vegetarian protein from vegetables & Co.
Schnitzel, cheese, scrambled eggs – When asked about the best sources of protein, most people probably think of foods like these. Animal protein from meat, protein from milk or protein from chicken eggs are considered almost synonymous with the vital nutrient. Many plant-based foods are also suitable as good sources of vegan protein. The amount of protein needed per day, which mainly depends on body weight and age, can certainly be eaten as part of a vegetarian or vegan diet. Increasing intake during pregnancy or intense physical activity can also be achieved with plant-based protein, including vegan protein powder.
The biological value of vegetable proteins
You should know what a protein really is. After carbohydrates and fats, protein is the third macronutrient without which the body cannot survive. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are involved in many body-building and renewal processes. Without them, the muscles could not function normally, and proteins also contribute to the maintenance of normal bones. The following rule applies: the more the amino acid profile of a food matches that of the body, the higher its biological value. The protein can then be used to a great extent by the body. The whole egg is used as a reference value of 100. Beef has a biological value of around 80, lentil protein around 50. It is generally higher in foods of animal origin. With a vegan diet, care must be taken to ensure that high biological value dishes are often on the menu. These include:
- soy products
Vegan foods: how do I meet my nutritional needs?
With a vegan diet, avoid all products of animal origin and that contain additives of animal origin. Many nutrients are ingested through fruits and vegetables, cereals, nuts and legumes. There are also a variety of plant-based products that can be used to replace animal-based foods such as meat, milk, and cheese. Dairy products, for example, are vegetarian but not vegan because they are of animal origin. The same goes for honey. As part of a vegan diet, you should also take dietary supplements to ensure adequate intake of vitamin B12, which is only found in animal products.
Vegan Basics: Fruits and Vegetables
Whether freshly picked or frozen: all types of fruit and vegetables are not only naturally vegan, they are also rich in vitamins, fiber and secondary plant substances. They are therefore one of the most important staples in a diet free of animal products. The “five a day” recommendation of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) applies both here and to omnivores. Vegans should also eat at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily as part of a balanced diet. However, the vital vitamin B12 cannot be ingested by eating fruits and vegetables. Because the vitamin, also known as cobalamin, is found almost exclusively in animal products, it is recommended that you meet your vitamin B12 needs with dietary supplements and specially fortified foods if you follow a vegan diet.
Dietary fiber, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids
In addition to fruits and vegetables, cereal products, especially those made from whole grains, are good sources of dietary fiber. Bread, pasta, rice or bulgur are also rich in carbohydrates and thus provide the body with energy. Potatoes are also high in carbohydrates and vegan to fill you up. A big plus: Many carbohydrate-rich foods are naturally vegan and therefore available in every supermarket.
Protein is also essential for a balanced diet. In addition to some protein-rich vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, or spinach, high-protein vegan foods include legumes like beans, lentils, or chickpeas. Also, peanuts, pistachios or pumpkin seeds are high in protein. Cereals and pseudocereals such as spelled, wheat, rye, quinoa and amaranth are also suitable to supplement the daily protein intake. The latter, such as pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, lentils, pistachios, oatmeal and spinach, are among the vegan foods that contain iron. Also an important factor for a balanced diet.
Eating vegan: important unsaturated fatty acids
Fats should also be on the menu in moderation. High-quality vegetable oils provide the body with important unsaturated fatty acids. If you use flaxseed or rapeseed oil, you provide your body with a particularly high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which are otherwise mainly found in fish. Salt fat is one of the lesser known vegetable fats and is a good substitute for palm oil. You can make it easier for the body to absorb nutrients by always combining your vegan foods with vitamin C. It can be fruit in porridge or salad, or a glass of vegan orange juice with a plate of lentils or chickpeas. By the way: Many international cuisines, for example from Southeast Asia, India or the Middle East, offer you the opportunity to cook in a sophisticated and versatile way without using animal products. Many pasta dishes are also vegan.
Vegan alternatives to meat
Tofu products are particularly popular as an alternative to meat. Tofu products are particularly popular as an alternative to meat. This is due in part to the fact that soy foods are naturally relatively bland. Using various spices, oils, or herbs, tofu can be given various nuances of flavor and incorporated into a wide variety of dishes, including our vegan carbonara, for example.
Along with tofu, seitan is also one of the most popular vegan meat alternatives. It has a meat-like texture and, like tofu, can take on different flavors with different marinades. However, since seitan is made from wheat protein, people with gluten intolerance should avoid this meat substitute. However, making seitan yourself is very simple – our instructions show that it can be done. Lupine products are also popular vegan foods. The legume is suitable in ground form as lupine flour for baking bread, pasta or cakes. As a quark-like protein concentrate, lupins are also available in block form. This so-called lopino is made in a process similar to tofu.
Vegan foods: soy and its culture
Lupins are just as good a source of protein as tofu, but they have one big advantage: Unlike soybeans, they can be grown on a large scale in Germany. Soybean cultivation, for its part, is developed mainly in South American countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay or Argentina. Only a small proportion of soy is produced in Europe. Therefore, South American soybean cultivation is often criticized. Large areas of rainforest are being cleared for soy cultivation in South America. Not only the animal and plant world suffers, but also the climate. However, most soybeans grown in the rainforest are used as animal feed in industrial factory farming. Only about one to two percent of the crop is processed into tofu, soy milk, and other vegan foods.
Vegan foods replace milk and cheese
There are now a number of vegan alternatives available to replace cow’s milk. These include, for example, almond drinks, rice drinks, oat drinks or coconut milk products. There are also purely vegetable drinks in the form of ready-to-drink mixes, for example with cocoa or vanilla flavour. Plant-based milk alternatives are often fortified with vitamin B12, calcium, or zinc, supporting a balanced vegan diet. Cheese made from cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk can also be easily replaced with vegan alternatives. You can buy ready-made cheese substitutes, but you can also make your own. The ingredients for this are, for example, potato starch, yeast flakes or cashew nuts. Like animal-based cheese products, plant-based alternatives can also be used as a side dish, for gratin or for cooking. If you avoid dairy, you should also stick to vegan foods that contain calcium: These include many types of cabbage like kale and bok choy, as well as broccoli, navy beans, almonds, sesame tahini paste, and dried figs.
Substitute for vegan butter: vegan butter or margarine
Butter made from cow’s milk can also be easily replaced with vegan vegetable butter or margarine. With the latter, however, caution should be exercised: margarine is not inherently vegan. Some varieties contain components of animal origin such as whey. Therefore, it is advisable to take a closer look at the list of ingredients or explicitly ask the manufacturer. Like many other vegan foods, you can find the right butter substitute in the supermarket.
You can also read more about vegan nutrition in our connoisseur’s guide!
Cleverly combined = well maintained
The biological value can be increased by combining foods rich in protein. Vegetarians have it a little easier here, as they can turn to eggs and dairy. Potatoes with eggs, for example, have a value of 136. But pure vegetable mixtures such as rice with tofu, oatmeal with soybean curd or pasta with lentil bolognese are also good. Our protein recipes give you more cooking ideas. Vegan strength athletes who want to consume additional amino acids to build muscle can make plant-based protein shakes and drinks. The ingredients are almond milk, nut butter, navy beans, tofu, and soy beverages, which are mixed with green fruits or vegetables. Also read our tips on pea protein and vegan athletes.