Proteins can be found in almost every food – including plant-based foods. Despite this, many people believe that you can only meet your protein requirements with foods of animal origin. The vegan diet is therefore often equated with a low-protein diet. It is often said that it is difficult to meet the protein requirement with a purely vegan diet. But that’s not true. There are many vegan foods that provide high-quality vegetable proteins.
A vegan diet easily covers protein requirements
Many people are uncertain when it comes to meeting the protein requirements of a vegan diet. They fear a protein deficiency once they eliminate meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products from their diet.
This concern is unfounded because the purely plant-based diet provides plenty of high-quality protein sources and can cover the protein requirement of humans with little effort. Not only do we say that, but also many medical researchers, nutritionists, doctors, and other experts.
In 2014, for example, Belgian researchers compared the nutritional quality of different diets and found that, firstly, the meatless diets (vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian) are the healthiest and, secondly, that vegans are well supplied with all nutrients including proteins.
The protein requirement
In this study, vegans consumed an average of 82 grams of vegan protein per day, and omnivores 112 grams of mixed proteins. Since 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is officially recommended (vegans sometimes 0.9 grams and pregnant women 1 gram), the specified amount of protein of over 80 grams is completely sufficient or even significantly higher than the recommended amount (depending on body weight).
Athletes may have an increased protein requirement, especially when aiming to build muscle. In many other sports, it is known that there is no increased protein requirement.
Yes, the stated 0.8 grams of protein alone includes a generous safety margin, so many people would get by with less protein.
Other calculation models recommend consuming 10 percent of the daily calorie intake in the form of protein.
Example: A vegan man weighs 87 kilograms (his normal weight) and needs 3,000 kcal daily – depending on his lifestyle. Calculating at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, he would need 70 grams of protein.
Using the 10 percent calculation, he would need to consume 300 kcal in the form of protein. 1 gram of protein provides 4 kcal, which would result in a protein requirement of 75 grams of protein. Both calculation formulas result in approximately the same amount of protein.
If you look at the average vegan meal plan, you’ll find that 10 to 12 percent of the calories come from protein, which is absolutely perfect. Non-vegans get about 14-18 percent of their calories from protein, well over what they need.
Example of a vegan soy-free meal plan
In this diet plan, too, only the main sources of protein are given, so that the plan can of course be supplemented with other foods.
The above plan would provide enough protein (with a safety margin, see same paragraph below) for people up to a normal weight of about 140 pounds without additional protein powders (i.e., hemp protein and rice protein). If you integrate the rice powder, you can weigh up to 87 kilograms (normal weight!) and still be well taken care of. If you want to consume 1 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, you can implement this plan with a body weight of 78 kg.
However, anyone who weighs more than 70 kilograms (without being overweight) will certainly generally eat larger amounts of the meals indicated and thus also consume more protein.
Sometimes an additional safety margin is given for vegans (0.9 instead of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight). In this way, you want to compensate for the supposedly (!) not-so-high-quality vegetable protein with the amount. But even this recommendation is met or exceeded with the menus mentioned here.
As I said, these are not complete menus. They can be supplemented or increased in quantity at any time in order to achieve the required number of calories and also to be able to cover the individual need for vital substances. It is therefore very easy to meet your daily protein requirements with vegan foods. But what is behind the myth of vegan protein deficiency?
Protein Deficiency – A Real Problem?
Vegetables, legumes, cereals, seeds, and nuts provide plenty of vegetable proteins.
Only fruits are very low in protein. Pure fruit eaters could therefore have problems consuming enough protein.
Dried fruits, however, provide interesting amounts of protein (2 – 5 g per 100 g – dried apricots 5 g and dried bananas 4.4 g achieve particularly high values). But since these contain a lot of sugar, you usually only eat a little of it.
Fats, sugar, and alcohol are almost protein-free. So if your diet consists of lots of fat, lots of sugar, and lots of alcohol, and consistently avoid good sources of protein, sooner or later you are likely to suffer from a protein deficiency.
Even those who live in a poor country and can only eat very little and then only one-sided food (e.g. a cup of corn or millet porridge a day) are at risk of a protein deficiency.
However, being protein deficient in a developed country is very, very difficult for healthy people. Nevertheless, lists of alleged protein deficiency symptoms can be found on many websites:
Protein Deficiency – The Alleged Symptoms
Protein deficiency is said to manifest itself in the following symptoms:
- Cravings for sweets
- hair loss
- sleep disorders
- susceptibility to infection
- difficulty concentrating
- Dry skin
These are very non-specific symptoms that can have dozens of other causes, so you can try it to see if the symptoms improve if you eat more protein, but you don’t have to be disappointed if you deal with this one measure should not resolve any of the symptoms.
It is much more likely that the symptoms mentioned are due to a vitamin deficiency, an iron deficiency, a zinc deficiency, stress, an intestinal flora disorder, a hormonal imbalance, a food intolerance, a thyroid problem, or, or …
However, one hears and reads again and again that a vegan diet could also lead to a protein deficiency because vegetable proteins are of poorer quality. They would be missing certain amino acids (proteins are made up of amino acids). Cereals, for example, lack the amino acid lysine, while legumes lack the amino acid methionine.
It is therefore necessary to combine different plant-based protein sources (cereals with legumes). This increases the biological value of the protein, i.e. it’s quality.
The biological value of proteins
The theory of combining proteins is on the one hand very old and on the other hand, it is based on a strange view: it is believed that a dietary protein is all the more valuable the more similar it is to the protein of the person who eats it.
According to this, cannibals should have the best protein supply of all time. On the other hand, feeding many animals that only live on plants would have to be a complete mistake.
Because the protein in grass, herbs, and leaves is vastly different from the protein in a horse, gazelle, or cow.
So from a biological value point of view, a horse does not feed itself very intelligently, namely from proteins of very low value. Nevertheless, it is known to live very well with this type of diet. On the contrary, it would get very bad very quickly if it suddenly switched to high-quality proteins – i.e. animal products.
So the issue of biological value seems to be more of a human invention and doesn’t have much in common with a natural, species-appropriate diet. And indeed:
The whole fuss about the biological value comes directly from the field of animal fattening. Because there you want to achieve the fastest possible growth and the highest milk yield with as little feed input as possible.
That is why animals in factory farming are rarely given species-appropriate feed these days. They would then remain healthier and get older, but fattening and keeping them would be far too expensive and the ridiculously low prices for meat, milk, and eggs that are common today would no longer be bearable.
Since fattening or dairy animals are not naturally there to grow old healthily, the animals are fed with (GM) soya and (GM) corn, with which they quickly reach their fattening weight. So here we have the combination of grain (corn) with legumes (soy) – and it is exactly this combination that is also recommended for vegans.
The essential amino acids – so it is explained – are only now being absorbed in an ideal ratio. So it’s not really about proteins at all. It’s about amino acids.
Nobody needs proteins – we need amino acids
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Many amino acids together make a protein.
During digestion, every protein – whether from meat, fish, eggs, milk, or plants – is broken down into its individual amino acids. The human organism then builds its own protein, the human protein, from the individual amino acids.
Eight of the twenty amino acids from which the human body can make proteins are essential for humans, which means they must be obtained from food. From these he can – if necessary – create the remaining twelve. So these are not essential. Only two of these (histidine and arginine) are semi-essential.
This means that they are only essential in certain life situations, e.g. B. during growth and in recovery and regeneration phases. In the case of illness, more amino acids can also become essential.
The food should contain the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities. If it does, then one says that the protein requirement is covered – although one should actually say that the amino acid requirement is covered.
However, humans do not need the same amount of each amino acid. So if a dietary protein provides all the essential amino acids in a ratio similar to that found in human protein, then one says: The amino acid profile is good, which is synonymous with a high biological value.
It is often claimed that plant-based foods or vegan proteins sometimes lack essential amino acids. Therefore, they are also of inferior biological value. But that is wrong.
Plant-based foods ALWAYS contain ALL the essential amino acids
There is hardly any plant-based food that is completely missing one or more essential amino acids. There are only plant foods that contain a little less of one or the other amino acid so their amino acid profile is not considered to be quite as optimal.
As mentioned above, some grains contain less lysine. Legumes are not as well endowed with methionine. They do contain lysine and methionine, just not as much as human protein.
Threonine is said to be less abundant in wheat and rye, and tryptophan is somewhat less in corn and rice.
So if you know only from z. B. Griessbei wanted to live, then you would get a lysine deficiency.
Nevertheless, one could – theoretically – provide oneself with sufficient amino acids with just a few foods. Then you have to eat a lot.
Apparently, 12 ¾ cups of corn should provide all the amino acids you need for a day. It would also be possible with 8 large potatoes, with 2 ½ cups of tofu, or with 15 ½ cups of cooked rice.
Normally, however, no one eats just one food, but many different ones.
As a vegan, however, you should not haphazardly throw just any food into one pot, but rather combine the foods in a targeted manner so that their amino acid profiles complement each other perfectly, e.g. B. You should eat foods low in lysine (cereals) together with foods rich in lysine (legumes).
Usually, you automatically combine the right combination: because there is rice with chickpeas or beans, oatmeal with soy milk, bread with hummus, lentils with spaetzle, barley soup with peas or broad beans, polenta with tofu, etc., etc.
Do you have to combine vegan proteins?
But does it really have to be based on the biological value of the diet? Do you always have to combine vegan proteins according to the laws described above? No of course not. The menu should never be put together according to just one criterion. Because a menu that has a top biological value does not have to be healthy.
An excellent biological value says nothing about the vital substance content, nothing about the dietary fiber content, nothing about the antioxidant content, nothing about the type of fatty acids contained, and nothing about the contamination with any pollutants.
We also now know that it is completely sufficient if you consume the required amino acids throughout the day, which you can achieve simply by following a balanced vegan diet and not eating pea soup three times a day. So you don’t have to meticulously put together every meal, you can just relax and enjoy it.
The body can store the excess amino acids for a short time – and retrieves them from this store if one or the other amino acid is missing in the next meal.
The small advantage of protein combinations
Nevertheless, it has a small advantage if you consider the biological value. You need less protein overall. Apparently, the protein requirement could be reduced to 0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight if it were covered solely with the egg/potato combination, which of course is completely uninteresting for vegans.
However, even the bean/corn combo (a 52:48 ratio in terms of protein content, not weight) would reduce the protein requirement to 0.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.
So if you weigh 70 kilograms, you would only need 35 grams of protein if you were to eat it exclusively with beans and corn or other combinations with a similar biological value.
The protein requirement can therefore be easily met purely vegan. However, “vegan” is often not the only criterion for a diet designed to meet protein needs in a healthy way.
Cover protein requirements – vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, grain-free, low carb
There are always special requests – be it because those affected have relevant complaints or simply state individual aversions to certain foods.
It is often possible to find ways in which a healthy diet can be designed to meet all desires and still meet nutritional needs. However, when the demands are endless, even the most gifted nutritionist can be pushed to the limit:
I need to lose weight and want to eat vegan. Please let me know how to meet my protein needs. As a Paleo follower, I want to eat low-carb and grain-free. Of course, soy is out of the question. Neither do the other legumes, as I cannot tolerate them. Because of fructose intolerance, I also have to avoid many types of vegetables (fruits anyway). I don’t like low-fructose leafy greens like spinach, and pseudo-cereals like quinoa aren’t regional. Oh yeah, nuts and oilseeds are way too fatty for me, and I can’t afford supplements like vegan protein powders. And since I’m looking to start strength training, I want to eat 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. (I weigh 120 kg). What protein sources do you recommend for me?”
In cases like these, the person concerned definitely needs to prioritize and reconsider their views. Because nobody can conjure up healthy protein sources out of nothing. Nevertheless, some requirements can of course be implemented in a vegan nutrition plan, e.g. B. Covering the protein requirement with the combination of vegan and gluten-free.
Example of a vegan gluten-free meal plan
The plan below provides about 70 grams of protein per day. Depending on the protein or energy requirement, the amounts of food are increased. Of course, this basic plan is also supplemented with vegetables, fruits, salads, sprouts, etc.
If a protein shake made from rice, hemp, or pea protein is also drunk, the amount of protein increases even further (by 10 – 16 grams).
This amount of protein can meet the protein needs of a person weighing up to 78 kilograms – vegan and gluten-free. She then consumes 0.9 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. A person who weighs up to 88 kilograms receives 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight with this plan.
The amounts of protein per kilogram of body weight refer to normal weight. If you were overweight, then the protein requirement is calculated with the desired normal weight.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to make a tasty breakfast out of quinoa and peanut butter, here are some delicious suggestions (for two servings):
High Protein Quinoa Breakfast – vegan and gluten-free
Heat 2 cups of oat or rice milk in a saucepan, add 1 cup of raw quinoa and a pinch of sea salt, and simmer over medium heat until the quinoa has absorbed the milk (about 15 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter.
Add other ingredients as desired, e.g. B. Vanilla, grated lemon zest, cinnamon, and some yacon syrup or another healthy sweetener of your choice. If you use Natumi rice milk, no sweetener is required as the milk has a wonderful natural sweetness. Now you can fold in the fruit, e.g. B. berries, chopped pineapple, grated apples, etc.
Coconut milk (mixed 1:1 with water) can also be used instead of oat or rice milk. In this case, coconut flakes go very well with it, which you simply sprinkle over the cooked quinoa. Dried fruit can also be cooked or added afterward, which also means that no sweetener is required.
Anyone who doesn’t like breakfast in the morning can wrap up the quinoa breakfast and eat it in the office late in the morning.
Cover protein requirements with vegan proteins – no problem
With a 100% vegan diet, you should definitely think about the right vitamin B12 supply, but you don’t have to worry about covering your protein requirements. With a healthy vegan diet, the protein requirement can be covered without any problems and without much effort.
We recommend simply adding the following foods, which provide plenty of vegan protein, to your diet alternately or in combination (spread throughout the day or week) so that you are supplied with all the amino acids.
You’re probably already doing this anyway, which is a good sign that you’re not at risk of protein deficiency:
- whole grains
- pseudo grain
- Vegetables, especially leafy greens and wild plants
- Vegetable protein powder