Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have noticed the recent surge in the popularity of vegan diets. With restaurants and cafes now marking vegan options on their menus and supermarkets stocking more and more vegan products – eating a vegan diet is now mainstream.

In case you aren’t aware, a vegan diet is completely plant-based. All foods of animal origin (read: beef, dairy and even honey!) are completely avoided, while fruit and veg, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds take centre-stage. While it may seem like a healthy diet, it’s very restrictive and can lead to several nutritional deficiencies – so if you choose to eat this way, it’s important to plan ahead.

One of the first questions that often springs to mind after saying goodbye to meat, chicken, fish and eggs is ‘what about protein?’. So, if you’re wondering where to look for vegan-approved protein, listen up for my go-to guide.

The basics

Let’s take a step back, first. Having enough protein in your diet is important for a few main reasons. It plays a key role in building, maintaining and repairing your muscle mass. Your hair and skin are protein-based, too. What’s more, eating enough protein can help to keep you feeling full and satisfied (think: less likely to reach for that 3pm sweet fix).

When it comes to the nitty-gritty, everybody has different protein needs. In fact, your individual protein needs are calculated based on grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (FYI, for the general population of women between the ages of 19-70, it’s 0.75g protein per kilo).

Generally speaking though, you can get in the ballpark of adequate protein by simply following the dietary guidelines. They suggest that women between the ages of 19 to 50 have two and a half serves of protein foods each day. But what does that mean?

The plant-based options

There’s no need to waste your hard-earned dollars on protein powder when you can get enough from real food instead.

Legumes

Legumes (read: beans, lentils and chickpeas) are at the top of my list of plant-based protein options. One serve is just one cup, which is pretty easy to incorporate into any diet. Some of my favourite suggestions are baked beans on toast for breakfast, tinned chickpeas thrown into a salad at lunch, or tinned lentils used in place of mince-meat in traditional mince dishes like spaghetti bolognese or shepherd’s pie. To give you some perspective, a 220g tin of baked beans contains about 10g protein, and one cup of chickpeas contains about 11g protein.

Tofu

Next on the list is tofu. One serve is 170g (about the size of a deck of cards), which contains 20.4g protein. It’s easy enough to use in place of beef or chicken in stir-fries or soups, but there are plenty of creative ways to incorporate tofu, too. I like the idea of a tofu-scramble – just like scrambled eggs, without the eggs. Simply crumble up tofu and sauté with veggies, then serve atop a slice or two of grainy bread. Another option with tofu is smoothies (say what?!). Blend silken tofu with fruit and plant-based milk for a creamy protein-punch.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds can also provide a boost of protein. A small handful of almonds (30g), for example, contributes more than 6g. I often encourage nuts and seeds as a healthy snack, but you can also sprinkle nuts and seeds over salads, smoothies and roasted veggies. Peanut butter is another great option, but be sure to choose a natural variety (read: one without added fat, sugar and salt).

Soy milk

Last but not least – soy milk. While regular milk might be off the menu, the good news is that soy milk can take its place (and thank God, because how could you live without your morning flat white?). One cup, or 250mLs, contains 9.5g protein, which is similar to that of cow’s milk. Simply sub your regular dairy drink for this alternative and you’re good to go! Just check that your soy milk is fortified with calcium to support strong bones and teeth.

And there you have it! My top tips on getting enough protein when you’re eating a plant-based diet.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can follow her @honest_nutrition.

This is exactly how to become a vegan safely. Plus, check out this finger-licking raw vegan mocha cheesecake recipe that you can eat every day.

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