Healthspan July 04, 2018

Vegans often need to take more care to ensure they get a nutritionally balanced diet. Here’s how to sufficiently top up a vegan diet with protein and calcium.

Why do we need protein and calcium?

In the UK, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for calcium intake is around 700mg and for an average adult aged 19-64 protein intake should be 50g per day (NHS, 2017); for most this is an easy task, but why do we need this amount?

Protein has become a popular topic over the last 15 years, increasing in popularity year on year (Google Trends, 2018) as people become more aware of what they should be eating to maintain a healthy diet. A misconception about protein is that it’ll make you into a lean, mean, fitness machine and increase your muscle mass – however if you’re not working out, any excess protein consumed will just be stored as fat.

One of the most important components in maintaining healthy bones and teeth is making sure to intake enough calcium in your daily diet. Not only this, calcium is also crucial for muscle contraction, nerve function, blood clotting and cell signalling. There are many conventional foods to intake protein and calcium as an omnivore, all of which are simple to incorporate into their everyday diet:

  • 100ml Milk – 3.5g Protein, 130mg Calcium
  • 1 Large Egg – 6g Protein, 25mg Calcium
  • 6oz Yogurt – 300mg Calcium
  • 1oz Cheddar Cheese – 200mg Calcium
  • 100g Chicken Breast – 31g Protein
  • 100g Steak – 33g Protein
  • 100g Salmon – 35g Protein

Vegans automatically lack protein and calcium

There’s a common myth that vegans don’t get enough protein and calcium in their diets through cutting out animal products, especially as these sources are seen as the best way to intake both compounds. Although meat and dairy are both high in protein and calcium, they are not the be all and end all.

Being vegan doesn’t limit the goodness you can intake from food; you can still enjoy meal times whilst receiving the nutrients you need to have a normal, functioning diet.

Vegan sources of protein

There are less “complete” plant-based proteins. Complete proteins are proteins that include the 8 amino acids that the human body can’t produce on its own, these are: leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, lysine (British Nutrition Foundation, No Date).

However, finding plant based sources of protein isn’t difficult, especially with more protein rich vegan snacks and drinks being introduced every day; if you can’t always include a high protein component to your meal, you can always supplement.

  • 1 Cup Quinoa – 8g Protein 
  • 100g Tofu – 8g Protein 
  • ½ Cup Quorn Mince – 12g Protein
  • 100g Pinto Beans – 21g Protein
  • 100g Chunky Peanut Butter – 24g Protein

Vegan sources of calcium

There’s a long list of naturally occurring sources of calcium for vegans, as well as fortified alternatives; many of which are rich in other nutrients, minerals and easy to create a tasty meal out of:

  • 1 Cup Black-Eyed Peas – 211mg Calcium (Harvard T.H. Chan, No Date)
  • 100g Raw Collard Greens – 232mg Calcium
  • 100ml Alpro Soya – 120mg Calcium
  • 100g Tofu – 350mg Calcium
  • 1 Cup White Beans – 191mg Calcium

Vegan protein recipes:

If you’re stuck for some high protein, vegan recipes why not try our Pinto Bean Chilli or Asian Broth with Soba Noodles

For more information about looking after your health, visit our vegan health maintenance advice hub.


References
British Nutrition Foundation (No date). Protein
Google Trends (2018). Google Trends: Protein, 2004-present, UK search of the word ‘Protein
Harvard T.H. Chan (No date). Calcium Sources in Food
NHS (2017). Reference intakes explained

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