I recently wrote a blog post to answer whether being vegan is expensive in which I said both yes and no! In reality though, the answer is no, being vegan does not have to be expensive. Eating traditional plant-based foods instead of meats and cheeses is actually a much cheaper option. But, like anything in life, you can choose to buy premium, organic and independent brands or you can choose to buy cheaper supermarket-own labels and value labels.
But what about protein? Is it possible to eat cheaply as a vegan and get enough protein?
And the question vegans are probably bombarded with the most – where do vegans get their protein from?
In this blog post I’m going to share with you why choosing to get your protein from plant-based sources is actually a really affordable option.
The difference between animal protein and plant-based protein
One of my favourite responses when meat-eaters ask vegans where they get their protein from is ‘the same place your protein gets its protein from’! It’s so true. Animals get their protein from plants and so can we.
Around 20% of the human body is made of protein. Our body doesn’t store it, so we have to regularly get it from our diet each day. Protein is needed for almost every metabolic process in our body so it’s vital for the overall health of our body.
Protein is broken down into amino acids in our body and there are over 20 different types of amino acids. There are non-essential amino acids that our body can make itself, but there are also essential amino acids that we have to get from our diets.
The difference is meat protein is often called a ‘complete protein’ as it contains a good balance of all the amino acids we need. But eating meat also comes with a lot of negative health consequences.
Most plant proteins only contain some of these amino acids, so to get all the amino acids we need from protein we need to eat a variety of plant-based protein sources. But that’s fine as we should all be eating a variety of healthy plant-based foods anyway.
Going plant-based will probably mean you’ll eat a ton more of the highly nutritious stuff you should have been eating, such as different beans, lentils, and wholegrains, which is fantastic news for your overall health.
Is vegan protein expensive?
If we’re talking basics then no, plant-based sources of protein are not expensive. What is expensive is if you start buying meat alternatives, vegan cheeses and readymade plant milks. These things are readymade or processed foods and they come at a premium. However, they are not needed as part of a healthy plant-based diet and are merely convenience foods, just like readymade snacks and foods based around meat and dairy.
Plant-based protein is actually very cheap indeed. Good protein sources include many whole grains, wild rice, chickpeas, beans, lentils, green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Lentils, beans, rice and grains are some of the cheapest foods in existence. They can be bulk purchased as they can last for ages in their dried forms. They are so versatile too and can be used to create so many meals.
Compare the price of beans, lentils and grains to a pack of meat and you’ll start to realise how much cheaper a vegan diet can be.
How to keep a vegan diet low cost
There are lots of ways to keep a plant-based diet affordable. Below are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Buy dried ingredients. Purchasing dried bags of lentils, beans and grains will save the most money compared to buying tins of pulses for example.
- Buy in season fruit and vegetables. Buying exotic fruits and vegetables is a luxury, but if they’re not in season then you’ll be paying a premium.
- Make your own meals from scratch. This is always the best way to keep costs down as readymade meals are so expensive.
- Don’t buy faux meat, vegan cheeses or the like. These are very costly and will really bump your food shopping up.
- Make your own plant-based milks, cheese and cheese-sauce. It’s much more affordable than buying readymade. A delicious creamy cheesy sauce can easily be made with homemade oat milk, a few scoops of nutritional yeast and a squirt of mustard. Perfect to serve with cauliflower or pasta.
- Make your own snacks too. Chocolate bliss balls are super easy to make with cacao, dates, seeds, oats and nuts whizzed together in a food processor and shaped into bite size snacks. Whilst a pack of raw cacao might seem expensive at first, it’s so rich you only need to use a tiny bit to make plant-based milkshakes, bliss balls and hot chocolate, so a pack will last for ages.
- Do everything in bulk. Buy the ingredients you can in bulk to make them as cheap as possible in the long run. Cook in bulk too and freeze/refrigerate portion sizes for the week ahead. This will stop you reaching for the convenient foods as you’ll already have readymade homemade snacks and meals instead.
A list of plant-based sources of protein
There are lots of delicious plant based foods that provide vegans with protein, as well as everyone else too. The foods below are good sources of protein and it’s recommended to eat a variety every day.
- Garden peas
- Beans – black, kidney, pinto, lima, black-eyed, cannellini
- Edamame beans
- Soy milk
- Seeds – hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower
- Peanut butter (and other nut butters)
- Wild rice
- Brown rice
- Bulgur wheat
- Wheat berries
- Lesser known grains such as teff, amaranth, sorghum, freekeh, farro
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Nutritional yeast
- Sprouted grain bread
What about protein for working out and building muscle?
Whilst the above plant-based sources of protein will provide enough protein for the majority of us, some people might be looking to up their plant-based protein levels even more if working out, training or trying to build muscle.
There has been a rise of plant-based protein supplements as vegan diets have raised in popularity and examples are pea protein powder, hemp protein powder and rice protein powder. It’s becoming a very competitive market so you’ll be able to find huge tubs or packs of vegan protein powders on offer online, just as you would with animal product protein powders like whey.
Protein supplement brand Scitec Nutrition has shared six tips with me for those looking to transition to a plant-based diet:
1. The number one factor to consider is whether you are getting enough calories. Whether you are bulking up or losing weight, making sure that you are consuming the right amount of calories is key to reaching your goal.
2. Because plants usually contain lower calories than animal products it is important to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Not only will a good mixture of fruit and veg provide your body with a variety of vitamins, it will also provide antioxidants to help keep your immune system strong.
3. Legumes are a great source of protein and eating a range of soy, beans and peas alongside grains such as buckwheat, rice and quinoa help to ensure that you get the essential amino acids your body needs.
4. Make your plates colourful. A good rule of thumb to follow is to make your meals as colourful as possible. A mixture of natural greens such as broccoli and kale, reds from tomatoes and peppers and yellows from sweetcorn and beans complement each other perfectly and provide a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats for your body to use.
5. Nuts are a great source of fat and are proven to provide a long-lasting form of energy just when you need it. Eat a handful of nuts before your workout to boost your calories and provide energy, or sprinkle some onto your breakfast to keep you going till lunch.
6. Depending on your goals, your lifestyle and your diet in general you may want to look into supplements to complement your plant-based diet. Tracking what you eat on an app or website will give you a good insight into the vitamins and nutrients that you may be lacking, meaning that you can add more into your diet. Many nutritional supplement manufacturers now offer plant-based proteins, BCAA’s and multi-vitamins to help you reach your nutritional targets.
Not only can you satisfy your body’s protein requirements through a healthy and varied plant-based diet, but you can also save money by eating this way.
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