The cornershop vegan: how to get your protein without being pretentious

10 healthy vegan protein sources under £2 that you can buy in your local cornershop.

Good news! The number of vegans in Britain has risen more than 360 per cent over the past decade.

Nearly half (42 per cent) of these vegans are aged 15-34, a statistic that has piqued out interest at Miller Green. We think it no coincidence that the sociodemographic most in favour of giving up animal products is the younger generation.

Naturally, those with their whole lives ahead of them might give a bit more thought to both the bodies and the world they inhabit. They also tend to give a bit more thought to their pursestrings!

Certainly at Miller Green, some of our most regular customers are students. Since takeaway meals are a luxury on a student budget, choosing the (usually cheaper) veggie option is a wise move.

However, we’ve noticed that this price savviness becomes less clearcut when choosing between vegetarianism and veganism. We’ve spoken to several people who have made the switch to a vegetarian diet, but claim that maintaining a balanced, nutritious vegan diet is far more difficult and expensive.

Admittedly, vegetarian protein staples, such as dairy and eggs, are readily and cheaply available (something that the sustainably-minded among us might want to question!). Yet so are plenty of other meat-free energy sources, as we shall shortly demonstrate.

Let them eat avocados

We think that this misconception arises from veganism’s newfound trendiness. Today, the term ‘vegan’ is largely synonymous with man-bunned hipsters or clean-eating heiresses who have the disposable income to fuel extravagant green juice habits. While we’re guilty as charged when it comes to all those avocado on toast binges, we worry that the image of veganism has become tarnished by its association with this privileged and affluent minority.

The new veganism seems primarily motivated by achieving near superhuman levels of nutritional balance and Instagram oneupmanship. As a result, ‘vegan’ food has come to mean exotic Amazonian powders and funny puddings that taste like frogspawn. It’s easy to get sucked in by the glamour of açai bowls and the promise of a toned stomach, but, for society at large, this is an inaccessible and unsustainable way to live.

We think it’s time to get real. Reducing our intake of animal products needn’t cost us the earth. It needn’t require pricey, specialist food shops. It needn’t result in dangerous levels of pretentiousness!

In fact, the ingredients for a successful and healthy plant-based diet are, more often than not, right on our doorstep. To prove it, we headed out to our local supermarkets and cornershops on a mission to find as many sources of animal-free protein as we could, all under £2 and all available in a food shop near you. Not a chia seed or a matcha latte in sight…

 

1. Lentils

Lentils

 

We can’t get enough of our lentils at Miller Green! They are wonderful for achieving an almost meaty texture and also happen to contain the third-highest levels of protein of all legumes and nuts. Perfect for a veggie lasagne.

 

2. Beans

Chilli con veggie photo

 

One of the things we love about vegan cooking is the resourcefulness and creativity it encourages. Transform a humble tin of beans, for example, into a creamy dip, a tasty burger or a hearty stew, depending on what takes your fancy. Traditionally used in Latin American cuisine, black beans are a particularly healthy choice. As well as being a fantastic source of protein, they are packed with folate, dietary fibre, copper, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorous, protein, magnesium and iron.

 

3. Peas

Peas

 

We might do well to remember that good old Blighty is more than capable of getting us our plant-based protein. In fact, a 100-calorie serving of British garden peas contains more protein than a whole egg or a tablespoon of peanut butter. If you’re not a fan of the mushy variety, why not whizz them up into a fragrant, herby pesto or even a refreshing dairy-free ice cream?

 

4. Oats

Superfood Flapjack photo

 

There’s a reason why fitness fanatics love this homegrown grain. Add nuts or a dairy-free milk and you’ve got a high protein meal that will boost energy levels and leave you feeling fuller for longer. Oats also contain a special type of fibre called beta-glucan, which has been proven to lower cholesterol and enhance immune response to bacterial infection. Start your day with a steaming bowl of porridge or throw into your bean burgers for some added texture.

 

5. Brown rice

Brown rice

 

While brown rice itself is what’s known as an imcomplete protein, pairing it with legumes (such as beans) results in a complete protein. What’s more, it’s a rich source of selenium (which reduces the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and arthritis), can aid weight loss and is another cholesterol-lowering whole grain.

 

6. Spinach

Chickpea, spinach and tomato curry photo

 

Did you know that there are 12 grams of protein per 100 calories of spinach compared to 10 grams of protein per 100 calories of ground beef? OK, so you’d have to eat a lot of spinach to get that 12 grams, but it’s a well known fact that leafy greens are a healthy addition to any vegetarian or vegan diet. Remember that spinach’s high water content means it shrinks when heated, so you can cook with it in fairly liberal amounts.

 

7. Broccoli

Broccoli

 

Broccoli is another high-protein veg. Pair it with a whole grain such as brown rice, and you’ve got a complete protein match made in heaven. It also boasts exceptional Vitamin A and C content for a strong immune system, good eyesight and healthy skin. If you’re in need of a crowd-pleasing Sunday roast sidedish, place some steamed broccoli florets in a casserole dish and pour over some vegan béchamel sauce (we make ours using vegan margarine, flour, non-dairy milk, mustard powder and salt). Top with some vegan cheese (try homemade cashew or store-bought) and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

 

8. Green beans

Sri Lankan cashew nut, green bean & potato curry photo

 

Green beans not only have a very high fibre content, but they also provide some of your daily protein requirements. Other health benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes. We love giving them an exotic twist with toasted spices and creamy coconut in our curries.

9. Chickpeas

Hummus

 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: chickpeas should be a staple in any vegan’s diet. Not least because one cup of chickpeas provides 24 per cent of your recommended daily protein intake, but also because they are a wonderfully versatile ingredient. It’s no wonder they are so popular in cuisines all over the world, from Middle Eastern hummus and falafel to Indian curries and Moroccan stews. You can even use the liquid from a can of chickpeas, known as aquafaba, to make meringues!

 

10. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds

 

So far in our list we’ve skirted around the topic of nuts and seeds. One of the most revered forms of plant-based protein, peanut butter in particular seems to bring out what can only be described as fanaticism in vegan and omnivorous devotees world over.

However, there are two reasons why nuts and their buttery offspring can be problematic. Firstly, they are pricey, and, secondly, nut production is something of an environmental grey area. While harvesting Brazil nuts supports rainforest ecosystems, almonds, walnuts and pistachios pose issues because of their water-intensive farming procedures. Bearing all of this in mind, it’s worth trying out some alternatives.

We suggest sunflower seeds. You can most likely source them much closer to home or even grow your own. They are infinitely cheaper than other nuts and seeds, as well as being a brilliant source of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Use to make a deliciously creamy alternative to peanut butter: simply roast and blend in a food processor with some oil and flavourings of your choice. A winning alternative for those with nut allergies.

 

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Vegan diets are usually higher in fibre, magnesium, folate, vitamins C and E, iron and phytochemicals, while tending to be lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol.

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