Should we all be embracing a plant-based diet? Given the surge in popularity in alt-meat substitutes and the exploding conversation around the subject in recent years, it would seem the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Whether you’re a long-time vegetarian or just starting to trial #MeatfreeMondays, almost everyone can agree there are myriad health benefits to a diet that consists of mostly or only foods that come from plants, with a focus on healthier whole foods instead of processed ones. 

Research suggests that people who get on board this tend to not only have a lower body mass index, but also lower rates of chronic diseases than those who eat meat, and it’s easy to see why. Plant-based diets are high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, and antioxidants. Even so, getting enough protein and essential vitamins and minerals can be a lot harder while on this diet, and planning is usually necessary to ensure enough calcium, iron and vitamin B12 are incorporated into meals.

Whether you’re looking to lower your carbon footprint or just simply want to lead a healthier lifestyle, here’s how to tackle this age-old problem and nail your diet with our guide to plant-based proteins. 

 

Natural sources

Plant-based protein
(Image credit: Anh Nguyen on Unsplash)

Contrary to popular belief, meat isn’t the only source of protein. They are just as prevalent in a variety of plants, and are more common than you think. Foods like tofu, tempeh, and even peas are easy sources of protein that are not only tasty but also highly nutritious and easy to prepare. Tempeh, for example, has 19g of protein per 100g, while tofu provides 8g for the same quantity.

Pulses — such as chickpeas, beans and lentils — are also commendable sources of plant-based proteins, while other whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat are better alternatives to white rice or noodles thanks to their essential amino acids.

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Anyone who has taken the deep dive into living the clean-eating, vegan life can attest to the inevitable midday junk food cravings. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and cashews can help ease the afternoon munchies while keeping your protein count up. 

 

Vegan supplements

If your goal is to bulk up without giving in to animal products, there are a variety of plant-based protein powders that’ll do the trick just as well. 

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Pea protein powder isn’t made from the peas you used to hate as a kid; they’re made of its higher-protein cousin, the yellow split peas, and a quarter-cup serving generally packs about 21g of protein and around 100 calories. While it’s low in the amino acid methionine, pea protein is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which boost muscle growth, enhance performance, and counter fatigue after the workout. The gains experienced with pea protein have been likened to those of whey.

Brown rice protein is also relatively prevalent in the fitsphere as an alternative, offering 22g of protein in a quarter-cup serving. It’s not a complete protein with all the amino acids, but brown rice protein is also rich in BCAAs.

(Image credit: Kien Cuong Bui/Unsplash)

Soy protein is one of the most common plant-based workout supplements for several reasons, mainly because it’s a complete protein besides being high in BCAAs. A quarter cup serving typically yields around 22g of protein and comes with plenty of beneficial plant compounds. Unfortunately, it’s also suffered a bad reputation of late thanks to the use of genetically modified soy beans. If you’re hopping on board this bandwagon, look out for brands that exclusively use non-GM soy in their production. 

Other options worth shouting about include hemp protein — which is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant sans the euphoria— and chia seed protein, a highly-digestible alternative that can easily be added to after-workout smoothies.

 

Alternative meat

If you were looking to make the switch today but can’t bear to give up the hearty taste of meat, count yourself very lucky because a legion of companies have made it that much easier. 

(Image credit: Impossible Foods)

Impossible Foods Inc. broke into the market in 2011 to forever change the landscape of plant-based food. While traditional vegetarian burgers are typically constituted of soy, lentils and beans, the Impossible Burger managed a lab-grown burger that tastes, feels, and smells just like beef. Oh, and it bleeds the same too. 

Besides 19g of protein from a four-ounce patty, the patty also has added essential B vitamins for vegans and vegetarians whose diets often lack. 

Beyond Meat is another contender that’s also known for making pretty convincing interpretations of vegan meat. A patty of similar size has 20g of protein, and boasts extra meatiness thanks to the marbling via coconut oil and cocoa butter.

 

This article was originally published on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.

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