"Where Do You Get Your Protein?"

sneak peak: plant-based sources of all the important vitamins and minerals, and answers to the all-important "where do you get your protein?"

"Where Do You Get Your Protein?", imogen molly blog, www.imogenmolly.co.uk
"Oh, you're vegan? Where do you get your protein/vitamin B12/iron/[insert anything that people literally do not care about at all until they find out you are veggie or vegan]?"

Well, since you're asking, I get my nutrients from all sorts of sources, and some of them may surprise you.

In order to help you answer this question, here is a rundown of important stuff for your insides, from the most commonly asked about to the lesser-known. They're in alphabetical order apart from protein - since it secured a place in the title, it seemed only fair to put it first.

Protein, everyone's favourite. Specifically, the one that nobody cares about until they find out you're veggie or vegan, at which point they suddenly become a total expert and incredibly concerned about the welfare of your protein levels. Well, SURPRISE, we all get plenty protein.

- spinach (actually more protein dense than kale)
- broccoli (cook it al dente or try roasting it)
- peas (love of my vegetable life)
- broad/french/green beans, kidney/black/pinto/soy/butter beans and chickpeas (or garbanzo beans for you across the pond)
- red/green/black/yellow lentils (red are my go-to, green and black take longer to cook, I have no strong opinion on yellow)
- nuts (all much of a muchness nutritionally, although peanuts, almonds and pistachios have the most protein on balance; go for raw rather than salted or honey-roasted)
- quinoa (a 'complete protein' with all nine essential amino acids)
- rice (in order of most protein-rich: wild, brown, white)
- chia/pumpkin/sunflower/flax/hemp seeds (grind them to make the nutrients more easily accessible)
- tofu (I LOVE TOFU and if you have never had good tofu then try it deep fried in a Thai green curry)
- seitan (honestly probably easier to make than to find in a shop, although not one for the coeliacs - it's made almost entirely of gluten)

Calcium doesn't just come from milk. In fact, the belief that gets hammered into us from day dot ("you need to drink milk for strong bones, teeth and nails") should actually be turned on its head - the high levels of retinol (a form of vitamin A) in dairy can weaken bones due to triggering the release of osteoclasts (cells that break down the bone). No, vegan-bashers, it's not a conspiracy - I read a Harvard University study in research for this post and to confirm that what I thought I knew wasn't just hearsay so I am now officially the most expert person on calcium, thank you and goodnight.

- fortified non-dairy milks (soy, oat etc. - please don't go for almond as it's a real strain on the environment due to how much water it requires!)
- tofu (did I mention I love tofu?)
- chickpeas (is there nothing these little nuggets can't do?)
- beans (reliably good for everything)
- dark leafy greens (e.g. collard greens, pak choi, spinach (another miracle food))
- figs (random but tasty and an excellent excuse to splash out on fancy fruit)
- oats (porridge cooked with soy milk and a scattering of figs is a powerhouse, with no dairy in sight)
- sesame seeds and tahini (and by extension houmous and halva?...)

Fibre doesn't even need to be dwelt (dwelled? dwole?!) on - dietary fibre primarily comes from plant-based foods so there's no danger here. As a veggie or vegan, it will be much easier for you to reach to your fibre targets than it is for an omnivore. If anything, you might want to take it slow when switching to a veggie or vegan diet so you don't shock your system with the sudden influx of fibre (and all that that entails... it may be icky but this advice is for your own benefit).

Sources: legit pretty much anything.

Iron isn't just for leaf-gobbling pirates. You can keep your spinach though Popeye, because although there is a lot of iron in spinach, studies have found that it can't actually be absorbed all that easily. Oxalic acid, which occurs naturally in vegetables, is considerably higher in spinach - this in itself is fine, but the issue is that it binds to iron and is believed to block absorption by the small intestine. In good news though, it's possible to reduce the levels of oxalic acid through cooking. It's also worth noting that dairy inhibits iron absorption, as do the tannins in tea and the polyphenols in coffee - just drink it an hour after eating your iron-rich meal instead, and you may as well ditch the dairy altogether... Pairing your iron with beta-carotene (found in orange/red and dark green fruits and veggies - carrots, red peppers, mangos, kale etc.) or with vitamin C (citrus fruits) makes it much easier for your system to access too.

- dark leafy greens (again?! yes)
- beans, lentils, chickpeas (surprise surprise)
- peas (I'm so proud)
- tofu (the love continues)
- potatoes (mostly in their skins, so baked is a good option)
- nuts & seeds (another all-rounder)
- rice, quinoa & oats (representing Team Grain even though quinoa is a grain imposter)
- dark chocolate (which actually contains, per ounce, nearly five times as much iron as beef - did you even need an excuse?)
- black treacle (might sound rogue, but five tablespoons (admittedly quite a lot) of black treacle, or blackstrap molasses for the Americans, contains almost all of your recommended daily amount of iron)
- cast-iron cookware (yes, seriously - cooking in an iron pan can give you as much as three times the iron of the meal cooked in a different pan)

Omega 3, 6 & 9 do not come solely from fish, despite fish being touted as the most common way to get them. In fact, eating fish is much worse for the environment (specifically the oceans) than using single-use plastics - well over half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing equipment. Around half the garbage patch is fishing nets, and then there are a whole load of other fishing bits and bobs (lines, rods, bits that have come off big trawlers etc.) that make up the rest of the 'fishing' chunk. All that is to say, if you're going to make any changes from this post, make it this: stop eating fish for good, and get your omega 3, 6 & 9 from plant-based sources instead. As a general rule, we should all be consuming more omega 3 and less omega 6; omega 9 can be produced by the body so is less of a concern.

- chia and flax seeds (make sure to grind them to get at the good stuff; ground flax (also called linseed) should be kept in the fridge)
- walnuts/almonds/cashews (triple threat: protein, iron and omegas)
- oils (for omega 6 and 9; olive, soybean, rapeseed, avocado, flaxseed/linseed and nut oils)
- olives and avocados (in their whole form as well as in liquid oily form)
- tofu (aaaah!!! yay. also other soy-based products e.g. soya yoghurt)

Vitamin B12, another classic that everyone is an expert on. Did you know: you do not need to eat red meat to get vitamin B12; in fact, the reason vitamin B12 is found in, say, cows is because they are generally supplemented with it in the first place. Cut out the middle man, and get it directly yourself.

- fortified breakfast cereal (a lot of breakfast cereals contain a significant portion of your daily B12, sometimes the full 100%)
- fortified non-dairy milks (again, helpfully providing a good whack of your recommended daily intake)
- nutritional yeast (or 'nooch' if you want to give it a less disgusting-sounding name)
- marmite (guess you'd better start loving it)
- supplements (there are loads of B12 supplements out there, so this is a really easy way to make sure you're getting what you need; in fact, we should all be taking a B12 supplement, vegan or not)

Vitamin D is a little hard to come by on this largely cloudy island, and for this reason it has been advised that everyone, regardless of diet, should take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D2 is always from vegan sources, but vitamin D3 sometimes is, sometimes isn't.

- fortified breakfast cereals and non-dairy milks (yay for vitamin-rich breakfasting)
- supplements (everyone should be taking one; if you're vegan, go for one containing vitamin D2, or vitamin D3 specifically from lichen)

Zinc is found in plenty of plant foods, and is important in: supporting the metabolism; helping our bodies fight infection; providing what babies, children, adolescents and pregnant or breastfeeding women need in order to grow and stay healthy; and being able to smell and taste. Our bodies don't have anywhere to store zinc, which means we have to consume it regularly in order to make sure we always have enough.

- beans, lentils and chickpeas (and yes, houmous too)
- peas (you can do no wrong)
- nuts (cashews are best, and almonds are decent too)
- seeds (pumpkin and chia)
- oats (mmmmmm nutty seedy flapjacks, definitely a health food)
- fortified breakfast cereals (fortification is super useful but make sure your cereal isn't crammed full of unnecessary added sugars and sweeteners)

I hope this is helpful, and provides some answers to those eternally infuriating questions (unless, of course, they are asked sincerely and with a genuine interest). I also hope it makes a vegan or veggie diet seem a little less daunting - will you be dipping your toe in the plant-based pool?

There is so much available online if you want to read more about all this stuff a bit more. The NHS have a great resource for vegan diets here, and the Vegan Society have a handy section on their website about vitamins and minerals as well. I also read quite a few studies on the US National Institute of Health's website for the Office of Dietary Supplements, so if you're interested then check that out too.

*If in any doubt, it's wise to check with a doctor or registered dietician before making any substantial changes to your diet or starting to take any supplements.*

- post #8 of 21 in the 21-day challenge -


  1. An interesting article but you are being sensationalist and one-sided regarding your points about milk and Calcium. A glass of milk will only give you about 1/10 of your daily requirement of retinol. Retinol is vital for our bone growth, density and strength as well as our vision and eye development. It is, as we also know, very good for skin care, in small amounts.

    Your point about osteoclasts is unrepresentative of the studies. Those studies only suggest that an excess may lead to harm. At present there is no empirical evidence. From the available studies the excess has been from people who are taking, or have taken, supplements, for example from the over the counter supplements that are unhealthily popular at present. From milk alone you would need to drink an extraordinary amount each day, day after day, to do yourself harm.

    As with most things a balanced diet will give you all the nutrients and vitamins required. Dairy is good for you, whether or not you choose to consume it. It is scientifically, nutritionally and ethically wrong to suggest otherwise. The argument should be about quantity or, as you are a vegan, perhaps about animal welfare and health.

    As a species we have evolved as omnivores but as food has become cheaper and more readily available as we all become wealthier so we now find that developed economies allow for excess in all things. We are undoubtedly unhealthier than previous generations but this in the main due to excess of food, lack of exercise and sedentary working lives. It is acknowledged that we eat too much meat, that this is unhealthy and that is unsustainable for the planet. Nevertheless, the answer does not lie in demonising healthy foodstuffs just because some take them in excess. The answer in fact lies in educating both young and old to eat healthily and exercise daily and importantly to stop obsessing about what we are eating but rather to enjoy what we eat, when we eat and with whom we eat.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the post; I'm pleased it sparked a reaction.

      It's good to have healthy debate on these things, but you're right about this post being relatively one-sided - due to the nature of it being my blog, I cover things I'm interested in and think should be shared, which often means including my opinion or presenting things from my point of view. As I'm vegan, that content will often relate to and, by extension, encourage veganism. For example, when researching I learned that oysters have astonishingly high levels of zinc, but as that's not in line with what I believe or want to promote, I didn't include it.

      I hope you continue to enjoy these posts, and I genuinely appreciate you offering your comments. Why not leave your name next time so we can have a proper discussion! Hope to see you on the blog again soon.


Post a Comment

Popular posts