“…but how do you get your protein?”
If you’re a vegan, you’ve heard it. If you’re not, you’ve probably asked it. It’s a common question received by those who follow a plant-based diet. But people become even more curious about protein when it comes to considering a raw foods diet, which eliminates both heavily processed and cooked foods altogether.
What is a raw foods diet?
It’s simply a menu based primarily on fresh plant foods. This may be as basic as a crisp organic apple for a snack, or as complex as a gourmet entrée crafted from fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and sprouts. Most, if not all, food is consumed fresh, sprouted, fermented or dehydrated—a preparation method that simulates baking at a very low temperature, typically no more than 115 degrees F, which helps to preserve nutrients, enzymes and flavor.
Though it sounds revolutionary, the idea of revolving your diet around fresh plant foods is just an expansion on what we are told every day by mainstream health advocates, which is to eat more fruits and vegetables for optimal health and disease prevention.
So, how exactly does a raw vegan answer that protein question? It is, after all, quite an important macronutrient, providing structure to every cell in our bodies, facilitating the work of crucial enzymes, hormones and antibodies, plus building and maintaining cells and tissues in our bodies. Dietary proteins are composed of 20 amino acids, 11 of which we can synthesize internally. The other nine amino acids are referred to as essential; as our bodies can’t make them, we must get them from food.
In terms of requirements, an adult female vegan’s protein recommendation on average is around 46-58 grams per day, whereas an adult vegan male should obtain about 56-70 grams per day. Fortunately, a raw plant-based diet is filled with delicious protein sources, several offering “complete” protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids.
Protein-packed raw foods
Sprouted legumes, nuts and seeds are protein stars on the raw food stage.
- Hemp seeds contain about 25 percent protein, plus fiber, nutrients and essential fatty acids. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in hemp seed is between 2:1 and 3:1, which is considered optimal for human health. Two tablespoons of hemp hearts provide about eleven grams of complete, easily-assimilated protein at only 40 calories per tablespoon. These mild, nutty-tasting gems are fabulous sprinkled on soups, salads, shakes and desserts. Hemp hearts make a nourishing, tasty butter, too.
- Chia seeds also contain all nine essential amino acids plus important essential fatty acids. Two tablespoons offer nearly eleven grams of soluble fiber, four grams of complete protein, and impressive levels of calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous, all for a mere 135 calories. When mixed with liquid, chia seeds tend to gel, making them a popular ingredient in breakfast pudding recipes such as mango chia coconut pudding. They can also be blended into smoothies, tossed over entrées and used in raw, dehydrated crackers, bars and cookies.
- Sprouted beans & legumes are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more. One cup of sprouted lentils yields seven grams of protein. Soaking and sprouting legumes, grains, nuts and seeds starts the breakdown of protein, making it more bioavailable. This process also activates plant enzymes and breaks down phytates—natural compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. As author Andrew Weil, M.D. points out, phytates can bind to key minerals like iron, zinc, manganese and calcium, impeding their absorption.
Delivering plenty of easily-absorbed protein, as well as crucial nutrients, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, fiber, phytochemicals and more, it’s easy to understand how valiantly raw plant foods can fit the nutritional bill. Fresh plant foods are also typically anti-inflammatory, free of saturated fat and cholesterol, and otherwise terrific for your body on every level. Rawk on!
Interested in incorporating more raw foods into your diet? Check out this 3-day high-raw vegan meal plan for some healthy inspiration!