Top of the Crops: Your Best Vegan Protein Sources
Nicholas Budniewski | November 28, 2018
One of the great revelations of these, our modern times, draws from the wisdom of the ancients – as well as certain communities of our own world.
This is veganism.
Now, what does being vegan mean? Technically, it is to not consume animal products – whether meat, milk, eggs, or other. Socially, it is a relatively small – but extremely committed – subset of an often carnivorous, barbequing nation. Stereotypically, it has sometimes been labeled fringy, extreme, or hippie. But not so much; not anymore.
The question upon which mainstreaming of the vegan lifestyle hinges is whether one can get essential nutrition from plants, particularly protein. Milk has long been associated with growth. Meat with strength. Both are also increasingly vulnerable to concerns with antibiotics, hormones, lactose, allergens, carbon footprint, and simple ethics.
Plants don’t have all of this extra baggage – but can they meet our protein requirements?
The short answer: yes! Here are some of your top sources.
Varieties of tree nuts can be found on six continents (Antarctica tends to be late to the game). Generally, they are poster boys for “making calories count” –dense in unsaturated fats and protein. Many people actually enjoy a nice bag of mixed nuts, giving tree nuts the flavor-nutrition combination to be a vegan essential.
Protein content numbers support the case. According to the Almond Board of California, raw almonds have 6.0 grams of protein per ounce; cashews, 5.2g; walnuts, 4.3g; and hazelnuts, 4.2 grams.1
Now, if only you could capture some of this in a plant milk… Well, you’re in luck. Elmhurst’s original and unsweetened nut milks – available in almond, cashew, hazelnut, and walnut – have up to 5g protein per serving, plus other benefits and no more than six simple ingredients.
Peanuts are actually a legume. Counted among nuts, as is often the case, they are by far the “snackiest.” But to dismiss them as a baseball stadium indulgence is shortsighted. Peanuts are one of the best vegan protein sources out there, with 7.4 grams per ounce.2 They have all nine essential amino acids, including excellent quantities of the branched-chain amino acids so valued for muscle recovery.3
Now, wouldn’t that be great in – say – a chocolate milk… even a protein shake? Lucky again! Elmhurst’s Peanut Milk with Chocolate equals chocolate milk with 8g protein per glass, while a new Peanut Protein Shake has 20g – all right from peanuts.
Yes, seriously. Like any practical dietary code, veganism requires balance. You have your protein sources, your grains – and occasionally you get both in one. The hardy whole grain oat is maybe the very best example. A 30 gram serving of oats, for instance, has 5.1 grams of quality protein.4 Alone among grains, oats contain the protein avenalin, which is similar to legume protein as found in peanuts. It’s no surprise that vegan website Forks Over Knives labels oats a pillar food, foundational to a healthy diet.5
Maybe we can get that into a drink, too. Already done. Oat Milk combines 20g whole grain with 4g protein – all in a single glass, as only oats can do it.
You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy the many benefits of plants. But as we better understand their comprehensive nutritional viability, it becomes a pretty good road to explore. Fortunately, there are options to move “plantward” without fully sacrificing animal products – for instance, the flexitarian diet, which allows animal products in moderation.
Whether you’re vegan, flexitarian, or simply interested – a better diet requires an easy option. One of the most efficient ways to get your protein nutrition is to drink it. That’s what dairy milk and protein shakes have enabled us to do. If they can make them from cow’s milk and its byproducts, then we can certainly do it with plants.
And we have – simply and better.
1 Almond Board of California
2 Healthline, “Peanuts 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits”
3 Natarajan, K. R. (1980). Peanut Protein Ingredients: Preparation, Properties, and Food Uses. Advances in Food Research, 215-273.
4 Healthline, “Oats 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits”
5 Robert Cheeke, “Build a New Foundation: How to,” Forks Over Knives, 10-17-18