I’d like to introduce myself — the before & after versions. Gordon Ramsay was and is someone I still look up to. Beef was my favorite meat. Getting to try various animal proteins was something I’d look forward to, ice creams would be the sweet ending to my day, and I would think I’d be the last person on Earth to give up on all of this.
Animals and the entire concept around it was too far away from my radar.
Well, hello now! I am Akarsh Radhakrishnan, the one who you can refer to as “That Animal Guy”.
From being a voracious meat-eater to being a crusader for the animals, here are few of my key learnings from my journey that I’d like to share with you.
It was the year of 2017 when I decided to make a change for myself and stop being a consumer to the vile animal agricultural industry. Making a transition towards living a plant-based lifestyle provided me with a unique and strong perspective of life. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have initiated the switch, and only wish I could’ve done it sooner.
In the course of my voyage, I have and still do garner various statements from people about protein intake and how expensive this way of life can be.
In this blog, I shed a light on what has worked for me during this time and how you can get a good amount of protein on a plant-based lifestyle that need not be expensive.
I keep getting these common misbeliefs that have been fluttering around for quite some time, like:
‘How do you get enough protein?’
‘But plant-based food is so expensive…’
‘Something something amino acids…’
There’s lots of reasons why someone might be a bit intimidated to try a plant-based diet.
As teenagers, we’re told that lean meats like chicken are vital for building a strong body.
Not that there are better protein sources that aren’t laced with antibiotics and produced from suffering.
As adults, we get stuck in our ways and do what we’ve always done.
Yet, just like how you don’t wear that Pokémon hat pointed to the side like you did when you were 13 (…just me?), you also don’t need to eat like how you’ve been told to do your whole life.
Before I went plant-based, I was eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, chicken/beef and rice for lunch and dinner.
It took me a while, though. I bought into the myths and inaccuracies about this lifestyle.
I’m here to broaden the reality of a plant-based diet, and how simple it is to find variety especially here in India.
Studies have found that people who eat a plant-based diet tend to get roughly twice the recommended amount of protein in a day. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662288/
I’ve got a fun little experiment for you to try out.
Next time you’re out with friends, casually drop into conversation that you’re going plant-based. And I can guarantee that these friends, who previously had no interest in nutrition whatsoever, suddenly become experts in protein.
“But where will you get your protein?” They’ll ask, horrified. Sadly, there’s still a common misbelief that it’s impossible to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. Even in 2021, people think that you need to eat meat, and lots of it, in order to meet your daily protein requirements.
There’s still a niggling doubt in the back of your mind that you won’t get enough protein, right? I get it. I’ve been there myself.
Prefer your protein to be hormone and antibiotic-free, packed with antioxidants and served with a massive sprinkling of good karma? Same.
Plant protein is clearly good for the health, happiness and longevity of our animal friends. Plant-based proteins also require less energy, less land and less water to produce. It is a wellness win-win all-round.
I’ve tracked down the very best plant-based protein sources Mother Nature has in her larder, especially the ones that are so easily available in India. So, read on because, while you might have 99 problems, getting enough protein in your healthy plant-based diet won’t be one.
Plant Protein Sources
Thought nothing compared to steak? These super high plant protein sources will blow your meat-free mind.
Beans and pulses
Not only significantly cheaper per gram than meat, beans are one of nature’s healthiest sources containing no saturated fat, plenty of fibre and a raft of vitamins and minerals. These little health heroes pack in about 21 to 25 per cent protein by weight, and they’re also rich in prebiotics, meaning they’re a feast for your gut bacteria.
Ones that have high protein content:
Red Kidney Bean: 1 cup of cooked red kidney beans or ‘Rajma’ offers 16 grams of protein and comes packed with antioxidants.
Black Eyed Beans/ Rongi: 1 cup of cooked black eyed beans or ‘Rongi’ offers 17 grams of protein plus iron, vitamin-B, magnesium and potassium.
Green Beans: 1 cup of green beans aka French beans offers 8 grams protein plus vitamin-B6 and fiber.
Lentils (various daals) (9g protein per 100g) also score highly and work well, while chickpeas (channa) amount to 9g protein per 100g.
1 cup of cooked chickpeas offers 14–16 grams of protein besides fiber, carbohydrates, iron, vitamins and minerals. Even frozen garden peas contain 5g protein per 100g and offer lots of vitamin C along with their sweet taste.
Virtually, all beans and legumes provide decent amounts of protein, but because they all have different micronutrients, it’s a great idea to include as many as you can as part of a healthy, varied diet.
Soy, tofu and tempeh
Depending on who you ask, soy is either a total superfood or something to be totally avoided. So, what’s really going on? In fact, soy is just a bean. In their whole-food form, soy shares exactly the same benefits as its beany cousins, being rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.
But where soy really shines is in the amount of protein it provides. At 12.3g of protein per 100g, soybeans have one of the highest levels of protein and are a great source of iron that’s particularly well-absorbed.
Tempeh, a kind of fermented cake made of whole soybeans, scores even higher providing a massive 20g of protein per 100g. Tofu (8g protein per 100g) is curdled soy milk with a bland taste that acts like a blank canvas for the flavour of whatever you cook it in.
Grains are mostly made up of carbohydrates, but they’re also a surprisingly good source of easily-digested protein. For example, rolled oats contain 10g protein per 100g, along with a lot of antioxidants, fibre and beta-glucans.
Because grains lack certain amino acids, they’re not considered a complete protein. That’s why beans and rice or peanut butter on wholegrain toast make the perfect partners in crime.
While Quinoa is trending, its Indian counterpart Amaranth or Ram Daana is gaining popularity too. 1 cup of cooked amaranth offers 7 grams protein besides a healthy dose of iron, B-vitamins, and magnesium.
Ragi/Finger Millet has expansive nutrient content. It contains a wide variety of macro & micronutrients along with essential fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. This millet contains 13g protein per 100g.
Is rice a good source of protein?
All rice has some protein, but different varieties score more highly than others. Top of the protein pops is wild rice, with 100mg of the cooked kind giving you 4g of protein. It also contains fewer calories and more lysine (an essential amino acid) than brown rice.
Brown rice contains 2.6g protein per 100g, while white rice brings up the rear, with 100mg providing about 2g.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds pack a powerful protein punch, along with giving you hefty amounts of concentrated micronutrients.
Highest in the protein stakes are hemp seeds (31.6g protein per 100g). Chia seeds (17g per 100g) aren’t exactly slackers on the protein front either.
Hemp and chia are extremely easy to use in smoothies or as a salad topping. But remember that, while I’ve included the amount of protein per 100g, that’s purely for comparison purposes.
Nut-wise, peanuts (26g per 100g) and almonds (21g per 100g) are both great sources of plant-based protein that can be eaten as a snack or spread in butter-form on your toast.
Greens & Broccoli
Leafy greens are surprisingly high in protein for their calories, and also come with lots of fibre, vitamins and antioxidants. Adding them to your diet not only adds a protein boost, but lots of other nutrients that
help you glow with good health.
Sprouts (3.6g protein per 100g), Spinach/palak (2.9g protein per 100g) and kale (2.7g protein per 100g) are some great examples.
Broccoli (2.8g protein per 100g) contains all nine of the essential amino acids.
“Following a plant-based diet is too expensive”.
The most common objection I hear against healthy eating is that it’s too expensive.
“I’d love to eat more healthily, but I just can’t afford it!”
It’s now almost universally accepted that if you want to be healthy, you’re going to have to pay more for the privilege.
I’m not going to try and tell you that most junk food on the supermarket shelves isn’t cheaper than organic fruits and vegetables. This would be a lie.
But I’m also not going to tell you that you can’t eat healthily because you can’t afford to.
I truly believe that anyone can enjoy a healthy diet, no matter what the budget. And when you start to add up the costs, you soon realize that your unhealthy diet is probably not saving any money at all.
Just like most things in life, you can make it expensive if you want to. Most eat whole foods that are significantly cheaper than meat products, and with more protein.
Plan your meals
Planning what you’re going to cook in advance is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy on a budget. This will prevent you from buying things you don’t really need, cut right down on food waste, and also make sure you’re never stuck without a healthy option.
Try to shop for groceries at least twice a week. This will prevent you from overbuying and also keep things much fresher.
How much are you eating?
Whilst cheaper food may represent an initial cost saving, you’re going to find you need a lot more of it to be satisfied. Have you ever eaten 2000 calories worth of pizza, fizzy drinks and ice cream only to be hungry again two hours later? Now try doing the same with chickpeas, brown rice and palak/broccoli!
The reason we feel hungrier when eating cheaper, low-nutrient food is that it provides us with ‘empty’ calories that bypass our in-built satiety mechanisms and leave us craving more. Our body is craving nutrients, not calories; and when it doesn’t get it from the food we eat, the hunger signals turn back on.
If you fill your plate with healthier, nutrient dense foods, you won’t need nearly as much to feel satisfied, energized and focused throughout the day.
Invest in yourself
Maintain the mindset that healthy eating is a long term investment in your body. Putting the short term costs to one side for a minute, I strongly believe that making a commitment to your health will save you money in the long run.
Firstly, there’s the productivity aspect. Leading a healthy lifestyle allows me to be more focused, more energetic, and ultimately achieve more on any given day.
Before I sign off, I want you to consider something. Can you really put a price on your quality of life? If being healthy really does mean spending a little extra (and as we discussed earlier, it’s really not much more), will it not be worth it 20, 30, 40 years down the line? Does taste mean more to you than the life of an animal?
Prioritize your health. Invest in yourself. You don’t have to break the bank to do so. And if you feel you are forced to go back to your old habits, think about why you made the switch in the first place and reconnect.
I promise you: you won’t regret it. It is a moral & healthy progression. It doesn’t just encourage you to not harm
animals, it encourages you to treat each other well.
Start by taking small steps, and don’t get down on yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Take it easy,