Is Vegan Protein Hard To Find
The new wave of plant-based athletes suggests that quite the opposite is true. But what about for the rest of us? Is it easy to ensure adequate protein intake on a 100% plant-based diet?
Thankfully, the answer is yes.
The amounts and proportions of amino acids consumed by vegans are typically more than sufficient to meet and exceed individual daily requirements, provided a reasonable variety of foods are consumed and energy intake needs are being met. The claim that certain plant foods are ‘missing’ specific amino acids is demonstrably false. All plant foods contain all 20 amino acids, including the 9 indispensable amino acids The terms ‘complete’ and ‘incomplete’ are misleading. In developed countries, plant proteins are mixed, especially in vegetarian diets, and total intake of protein tends to greatly exceed requirement. This results in intakes of all 20 amino acids that are more than sufficient. Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian DietsA Review
François Mariotti and Christopher D. GardnerUS National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
One of the more common questions vegans still get asked is where do you get your protein? Additionally, vegans are asked if we get enough protein. A popular belief amongst nonvegans is that protein primarily comes from meat and eggs, or that vegan protein alone wont be enough for a healthy diet.
- Nutritional yeast
- Nuts and seeds
- Wild rice
Example Of Daily Protein Requirement For Vegans #1
- Breakfast 2 slices of Ezekiel bread with 1 avocado, mashed on top 12g of protein
- Lunch Salad with 2 cups of spinach, 1 tbsp hemp seeds, 1 tbsp nutritional yeast 13g protein
- Add 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, 1 roma tomato diced, and fresh corn sliced off cob for an additional 6g of protein
For breakfast, lunch and dinner, these simple examples that are realistic. It also doesnt account for extra snacks, salad dressing, or any seasoning/marinade preparation of the tofu or quinoa which could all add more. Still, we got to a whopping 63g of protein which is higher than the daily recommended amount for the average man or woman.
As you can see its not as hard as you many think and theres endless ideas out there for getting in protein!
The 18 Best Protein Sources For Vegans And Vegetarians
A common concern about vegetarian and vegan diets is that they may lack sufficient protein.
However, many experts agree that a well-planned meatless diet can provide all the nutrients you need, including protein .
That said, certain plant foods contain significantly more protein than others, and new and older studies alike suggest that higher protein diets can promote muscle strength, feelings of fullness, and weight loss (
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How Much Protein Should You Be Eating
Whether you’re looking to build muscle or simply ensure that your diet is well-balanced, protein intake is one of the most important considerations. The first question is, how much protein does one actually need?
The daily protein recommendation for an average adult male is around 56 grams a day. For an adult woman, the recommendation is 46 grams, and a pregnant or breastfeeding woman should be consuming 71 grams a day.
To determine whether a vegan can actually get enough protein from a dairy-free, meat-free diet, we’ve compiled a list of protein sources, with the amount of protein each one contains.
Where Does Protein Come From
This may come as a huge surprise, but all protein comes from plants. Yes, thats right.
Dr. Milton Mills is a plant-based physician who was featured in the 2017 documentary What The Health. Heres what Dr. Mills wants you to know about where all protein comes from:
- All protein is initially made by plants.
- Its not necessary to eat animal tissue in order to get protein.
- Only plants have the ability to take nitrogen from the air, break those molecules apart, and incorporate that nitrogen into amino acids to make protein.
- Any protein you get from an animal is simply recycled plant protein.
Be sure to watch the What The Health documentary on Netflix for the full clip of Dr. Milton Mills discussing protein on a vegan diet.
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How Much Is Too Much
Dietary protein is not a magical elixir it simply provides the amino acid building blocks necessary to make or resynthesize proteins in the body.
You will not gain strength or mass if you consume more protein than what you need, and you will not receive the training results, muscle strength, or mass gains you deserve if your diet is too low protein for your needs.
But, what happens if you do eat too much protein? Simply put, the nitrogen-containing amino group is removed from the proteins chemical structure, so it can then be used either for energy or stored as fat.
Protein isnt converted as quickly to carbs or fat because of its higher thermic effect, or the amount of energy required to digest, absorb, transport and store.
This makes protein a much more expensive form of energy it takes 30% of proteins energy to digest and assimilate, 8% from carbohydrates, and 3% from fat.
Since this thermic effect of protein increases the number of calories burned through digestion, it can be an advantage to eat more protein if youre trying to lose weight, as long as you are not exceeding your caloric needs.
Pounding those extra protein shakes wont necessarily lead to bigger muscles it may go straight to the hips, not the biceps, bro.
A study from the early 90s illustrates that extra protein does not equate to extra muscles, even in athletes who regularly participate in resistance training.
Should Vegans Take Iron Supplements
Unless your iron levels are extremely low, the answer is no. You do not need to take an iron supplement on a vegan diet.
Like many supplements, too much iron can have a negative effect on the body.
If youre anemic, iron-deficient, or need to take an iron supplement for health reasons, look for one made from whole foods.
The multivitamins by mykind Organics contains iron from their whole foods blend. This is a good vegan iron supplement, too, as it contains both iron and vitamin C. It also contains vitamin B12 and folate.
Protein In The Vegan Diet
by Reed Mangels, PhD, RDFrom Simply Vegan 5th Edition
Summary:It is easy for a vegan diet to meet recommendations for protein, aslong as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein combining is notnecessary it is more important to eat a varied diet throughout theday.
SomeAmericans are obsessed with protein. Vegans are bombarded withquestions about where they get their protein. Athletes used to eatthick steaks before competition because they thought it would improvetheir performance. Protein supplements are sold at health foodstores. This concern about protein is misplaced. Although protein iscertainly an essential nutrient which plays many key roles in the wayour bodies function, we do not need huge quantities of it. Only aboutone calorie out of every 10 we take in needs to come from protein.Vegan athletes, especially in the early stages of training, may havehigher protein needs than vegans who exercise moderately or who arenot active. Vegan athletes protein needs can range from 0.36 to0.86 grams of protein per pound 2. Protein supplements are notneeded to achieve even the highest level of protein intake.
So, in theUnited States it appears that vegan diets are commonly lower inprotein than standard American diets. Remember, though, with protein,more is not necessarily better. There do not appear tobe health advantages to consuming a high protein diet. Diets that arehigh in protein may even increase the risk of osteoporosis 4 andkidney disease 5.
Getting Protein From Plant Sources
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Severe Vs Moderate Protein Deficiency
When it comes to protein, a dire medical condition called kwashiorkor leads to a lot of confusion. This disease only appears in areas of famine, or among people with severe eating disorders. Relatively tiny amounts of protein are all it takes to avoid kwashiorkor, so for obvious reasons this deficiency disease is unheard of in the vegan community.
Some vegans make the mistake of thinking that their levels are acceptable as long as they dont develop kwashiorkor. This is a dangerously misguided belief. Avoiding kwashiorkor does not indicate that your protein intake is even close to ideal.
Whats more, theres no clear-cut way to know for sure whether youre getting all the protein your body needs. Even blood tests cant reliably determine if your intake is sub-optimum. Instead, a variety of symptoms may indicate mild to moderate protein deficiency:
- chronic fatigue
- high blood sugar or triglyceride levels
- inability to maintain sufficient muscle mass
While there are countless terrible things about meat, milk, and eggs, its undeniable that these foods contain plenty of protein. If you replace the animal products in your diet with foods lacking protein, you could get into trouble. Fortunately, there are plenty of high-protein vegan foods. So its easy for vegans to ensure their protein needs are nicely met.
High Protein Intake And Osteoporosis
When high amounts of protein are consumed, buffers from the bones are released in order to neutralize the acids. This process can eventually result in the dissolving and weakening of the bones, known as osteoporosis.6 The concentration of protein is much less for plants than animal products. Thus, plant-based foods are a better source of calcium than animal sources in reducing the risk for osteoporosis. Examples of plant sources high in calcium are dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, seaweed and tofu. In addition, fruits and vegetables have an alkalizing effect on the body when they act as a buffer to help prevent osteoporosis and other acid-based disorders7.
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Example: How To Calculate Vegan Protein Needs
Lets take a typical No Meat Athlete reader and see what this means for her, lets a say a 140-pound runner. Well split the daily protein range for endurance athletes in the middle and aim for .59 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight:
140 pounds * .59 grams/pound = 83 grams of protein per day
Keep in mind thats for a 140-pound endurance athlete, so youll need to plug in your own weight and, if you do a strength sport, use a different protein figure.
But really, only 83 grams?
All of this protein fuss the incessant inquisition about where we get protein is about 83 grams per day, even after adjusting for being an athlete?
Where Do Vegans Get Their Protein From
Ever heard of black beans, red lentils, hemp seeds, chickpeas, and quinoa? If you didnt realize these plant foods are full of protein, you need to check out this list of 25 vegan protein sources that will change the way you view protein forever.
Heres a sneak peek:
Some other examples include tofu, tempeh, and vegan meat replacements usually made from soy or wheat.
The short answer is that vegans get protein in everything they eat. This is because all plants contain protein, even lettuce.
Throughout the day, the amount of protein you consume adds up from all the foods you eat, whether it be smoothies, salads, or veggie burgers.
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Should Vegans Take Omega
Vegans dont need to take omega-3 supplements, but they should understand how to satisfy this need on a vegan diet.
As mentioned, the body converts the ALA in plants to EPA and DHA. However, this process isnt super efficient. Even if youre consuming plenty of nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats, your body may not be producing significant amounts of EPA and DHA.
There is a vegan solution: Algae and sea vegetables. You see, the reason why fish and fish oils are high in omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA is because their diet consists heavily of algae.
If youre pregnant or advised to take omega-3 supplements, make sure the omega-3 is derived from algae. There are plenty to choose from, but I like this one.
Are Plant Based Proteins Complete
As long as youre eating a wide variety of protein sources on your plant based diet, it doesnt matter if any particular source is a complete protein or not.
However, there are some situations where you might want to know if a protein is complete or not.
In general, very few plant proteins are complete proteins. They usually lack 1-2 essential amino acids. Additionally, while glutamine isnt an essential amino acid , there arent too many good plant sources of glutamine.
Personally, Ive only looked at whether the most popular vegan protein sources are complete. You can click the links for detailed looks, but heres a summary:
- Is tofu a complete protein Tofu is a minimally processed complete protein by most standards, although relatively low in methionine .
- Is seitan a complete protein It depends on the specific recipe, but seitan usually is not a complete protein.
- Nutritional yeast amino acid profile
If youre interested in exploring this topic in more detail yourself, you can use my amino acid comparison tool. It lets you compare amino acid profiles of different protein sources .
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The Right Amount Of Daily Protein
Instead of asking, How do vegans get enough protein? the question you should be asking is, What is enough protein? The Dietary Reference Intake is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weight 150 pounds, you should be getting roughly 75 to 150 grams of protein every day.
Another factor to consider is, what are the levels of essential amino acids and vitamin B12? Many plant sources provide your body with higher doses of these crucial protein needs better than animal proteins.
What does that look like on a practical level? Here are some examples of plant protein and their protein measurements for you to use a future reference point.
So Can You Get Enough Protein As A Vegan
Based on this, it is possible to get enough protein content with a vegan diet! The most important thing is to do research on the amount of protein in your meals, to ensure that you’re getting around your daily recommendation. It’s also good to incorporate a source of protein in multiple meals, which gives more energy throughout the day and makes it easier to reach the protein your body needs.
Plus, many vegan proteins have health benefits that aren’t present in animal products. For example, lentils are a great source of protein and also help to reduce the chance of heart disease, excess body weight, and certain types of cancer. Soybean products like tofu and tempeh are generally a good source of essential amino acids, along with containing high amounts of calcium, vitamin B12, and iron.
The bottom line is, you can totally be vegan and get enough protein as long as you’re mindful of protein intake!
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