Can You Get Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet?
Vegans do get enough protein. An article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that, on average, vegans get almost twice as much, or 70% more protein than needed. Meat eaters get 75% more than needed.
How much protein do we need? Daily RDA is 0.8 grams/kg of weight, and some nutritionists recommend a minimum of 0.5 grams. So for a range of 0.5-0.8 g/kg, this works out to 32-51 grams a day for a 140 lb individual.
What are vegan sources of protein? Beans, spelt, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, peas, tempeh, tofu, edamame, nuts, seeds, green veggies. Most plant foods contain protein, some more than others.
Herbivores get all their protein from plants, and are among the largest and strongest- horses, elephants, giraffes, among others. You might say that these animals eat so much. Proportional to their body size, herbivores don’t eat more than we do. Compared to humans, herbivores eat the same percentage of their body weight, approximately 3.3%.
There is some bias towards higher protein intake. The daily RDA for protein has decreased over time from 3.3 g/kg of body weight in 1948, to 1.35 in 1974, to 0.5-0.8 today.
All plant foods are adequate in all essential and non-essential amino acids. Some have fewer of one type than others, but all are largely sufficient as long as we don’t eat the same food all day.
What about fiber? According to research by the USDA, the nutrient that most Americans are significantly deficient is not protein, it is fiber. Fiber is associated with a reduced incidence of multiple chronic diseases. And carbs are very important for the brain, giving the brain its energy.
Is a Vegan Diet Safe for Athletes?
Athletes require appropriate carb intake to maintain muscle. Glucose is the muscle’s sole energy source and is most effectively sourced from carbohydrates, or plants. Although athletes may require twice the standard requirement of 0.5 – 0.8 g per kg of body weight, most Americans, including vegans, already consume almost twice this requirement, so vegan athletes don’t need much more.
These star athletes credit plant-based diets for upping their game. All are vegan except for Hanna who is vegetarian: Abel Killa Trujilla- Mixed Martial Artist (MMA), Hanna Teter- Snowboarder, Austin Aries- Pro Wrestler, Jermain DeFoe- Soccer Player, Barny du Plessis- BodyBuilder, Steph Davis- Mountain Climber, Griff Whalen- Raiders Wide Receiver, Morgan Mitchell- Track Runner, Tia Blanco- Professional Surfer, and Kyrie Irving- Celtics Basketball Player.
*The Harvard School of Public Health recommends at least half your daily food intake from vegetables and fruits. **Use a mix of lentils, beans, chickpeas, cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, leafy greens (both raw and cooked), and nuts and seeds. Stock up on vegan super foods like cashews, oats, wheat germ, quinoa, chickpeas. **Find vegan versions of your favorite foods, from lasagna and creamy pasta to cheesecake and brownies! **Buy vegan versions of cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream, and meats in grocery stores or vegan delis. Better: make your own. **Make burgers, tacos, kebabs, wings, or cutlets using protein-rich ingredients such as tempeh, lentils, nuts, tofu, seitan. Use other ingredients like jackfruit, palm hearts, cauliflower.
**Find staples such as legumes (beans and lentils), whole grains, and nuts in your grocery store, bulk food sections of health food stores, and in ethnic grocery stores.
Get a Bigger Bang for your Buck: Nutrient Availability
To increase nutrient bioavailability on legumes, grains, and nuts, consider performing preparatory methods such as soaking before cooking, fermenting, or sprouting. These methods inactivate enzyme inhibitors and anti-nutrients and have been used across several cultures.
Soaking also removes excess starches, potentially alleviating GI distress, lowering glycemic index, and reducing cooking time.
Soaking water should be thrown in order to remove excess starch.
Pressure cooking may serve to reduce cooking time.
A soaking time of 8 hours is sufficient
– Some recommend the addition of a medium. For grains and legumes, it is an acid like lemon juice or ACV. For nuts and seeds it is salt.
– Roasting nuts and seeds may increase their mineral bioavailability. Acrylamide forms in certain starchy foods as well as in nuts and seeds at temperatures above 250 F; set the temperature at or below 250 F.
Food Sources of Vitamins and Minerals
Apart from standard vitamins and minerals like magnesium and Vitamin C that are available from various fruits and vegetables, see below on rounding out your remaining nutritional requirements.
Calcium is important for bone health and for cardiovascular, muscle, nerve, hormone, and cellular communication systems. The WHO recommends 500 mg per day, lower than the US RDA. And as seen in various populations across the globe, this requirement may be even less for those who get regular exercise and sufficient quantities of D and other minerals.
Good Sources: Dandelion greens, collard greens, turnip greens, kale, and bok choy; almonds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, black beans, tofu, broccoli, tempeh, soymilk, chickpeas, okra, citrus fruits, various other beans and seeds
Iron is involved in oxygenation and in energy/metabolism.
Good Sources: Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas) tempeh, tofu, oats, quinoa, cashews, various other nuts and seeds, cooked leafy greens, cooked mushrooms, palm hearts, coconut milk, dried apricots, figs, raisins.
Vitamin K is for bone health and cardiovascular health.
Good Sources: Various vegetables and fruits, for example leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables among others
Zinc is for sense of smell and taste and is also involved in wound healing, immunity, regulating inflammation, learning, eye health, digestion/metabolism, fertility.
Good Sources: Legumes like beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas; wheat germ; tempeh; tofu; cashews, various other nuts and seeds; oats; wild rice; quinoa.
Vitamin D is crucial to bone health, immunity, neuromuscular system, and cell growth. May be generally preventative of disease.
Good Sources: Sunlight, fortified foods, sun-dried mushrooms, D supplement
Vitamin B12 is important for cardiovascular health, brain function, and energy.
Good Sources: Nori seaweed*, B12 supplement
Omega-3 is for brain health, heart health, and joint health; metabolism; cancer prevention; and is anti-inflammatory.
Good Sources: Chia seed, hemp seed, walnut, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, purslane, zucchini, summer squash
Iodine is important for growth of babies and of children; for brain function, metabolism and hormone balance.
Good Sources: Wakame seaweed or Nori seaweed*, iodized salt (may not be a good source during pregnancy.)
Selenium is important in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and toxins.
Good Sources: Nuts and grains: brazil nuts, cashews, couscous, sunflower seed/butter, whole wheat pasta /pita/tortilla /bread, chia seed, mushroom, pearled barley, soybean, tofu, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, pinto bean, soy milk
*Seaweed is great! Just note: Hiziki seaweed may have contaminants, Kelp seaweed may have excess iodine.
*If you have any medical concerns please check with your doctor*
HSPH Harvard, NutritionFacts, Dr Milton Mills, Insider.com, CulturedFoodLife.com, Harvard Health, EathThis.com, VRG, MyFoodData.com, NIH, VeganSociety, Health.com, Dr Holick, Healthline, Vegan Health