by Virginia Messina, MPH, RD
How do you get your protein on a vegan diet? Those worries are passé. Vegans don’t need to eat foods in special combinations or depend on protein bars and drinks. Getting enough protein is simply about eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day and making sure you eat enough food overall.
But people over 50—no matter what kind of diet they are eating—sometimes need to give a little bit of extra attention to protein. There is evidence that protein is used less efficiently with aging which means that needs may increase a little bit over time. Higher protein diets can help protect bone and muscle strength and may help to decrease hunger.
There is no consensus on the protein needs of older people, but some experts think that those over 60 should aim for at least one-half gram of protein per pound of lean or “healthy” body weight. So if your lean body weight is 150, you would need around 75 grams of protein per day.
There is no need to count protein grams, though. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re including plenty of the most protein-rich plant foods in your menu. Legumes—which include cooked dried beans, soyfoods, and peanuts—are always a sure bet for giving protein intake a boost. And because they are the best sources of the essential amino acid lysine, they deserve a central role in your meals.
You can also give protein a little bit of a boost by choosing the most protein-rich grains, nuts and vegetables. For example, pasta, quinoa and potatoes have more protein than other starchy foods. Pistachios and almonds are higher in protein than other nuts and seeds. And broccoli, corn and spinach are the most protein-rich foods in the vegetable family.
Including soyfoods in your diet can also increase protein intake. For example, soymilk is typically much higher in protein than other plant milks (although some plant milks are protein-fortified). Sprinkling a couple of teaspoons of sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds on grains or vegetables is another way to sneak in a little more protein.
Here are some examples of vegan meals that are packed with protein.
1 cup oatmeal with ½ cup soymilk
1 slice whole grain bread with 2 tablespoons almond butter
1 cup quinoa
½ cup tofu
1 cup steamed spinach
1 baked potato
½ cup black beans
1 cup broccoli sprinkled with 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 cup pasta sautéed with 1 cup mixed broccoli and cauliflower, ½ cup white beans, and 2 tablespoons of slivered almonds
1 cup lentil soup with ¼ cup veggie sausage
1 slice whole grain bread
1 cup kale topped with 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds