Can You Get Enough Protein on a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet?

Looking back at 2018, we saw the dawn of lab-grown meat and the doing away of plastic straws in hopes of saving the sea turtles and the environment along the way. Although, activists pushing for more animal and environmentally friendly practices, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is still a heavily centered around animal products and many are still pushing back on plant-based practices, oftentimes without proper reasoning and education.

If you ask any vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan what is one of the most common questions they get about their diet, it is, without a doubt, “how do you get enough protein?” Is this a common misconception, or truly an epidemic for plant-based eaters? Let’s define the different types of plant-based diets there are before we dive in:

A plant-based spin on tex-mex favorites!

Vegan: Do not eat animals, or animal products (milk, eggs, butter, cheese, etc.)

Vegetarian: Do not eat animals but may eat products that contain them, such as eggs and dairy.

Pescatarian: Eat fish and seafood but not meat or poultry. Similar to a vegetarian in that they may choose to incorporate dairy and eggs into their diet as well.

As you can see from the different variations of plant-based diets, no traditional sources of protein such as meat or poultry are included in their regular diets. Vegetarians and pescatarians may incorporate eggs and dairy products which are sources of protein, but vegans rely only on plant-based sources to meet their protein needs.

The RDA recommends that the average person on a non-vegetarian diet consume 0.4 g/lb body weight (0.8g/kg) of protein per day. Thus a 150 lb person needs 60 g of protein per day. This recommendation includes a generous safety buffer for most people and will provide more than enough protein. The protein in animal products have a high biologically available value, meaning that they have all the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) that your body needs.

Tofu and tempeh are great sources of protein in a plant-based diet. Try them marinated for a tasty dish!

Unlike the protein from animals and animal products, most sources of plant-based protein do not contain all the essential amino acids. Due to the difference in amino acid availability and digestion factors, it is recommended that vegans and vegetarians aim for 0.41g/lb body weight (0.9g/kg) of protein per day. That is 61.5 g of protein per day for the 150 lb person.

Given that your body can absorb up to 25-30 g of protein in one sitting, it is quite easy to meet those recommendations with a well-balanced nutrition program. Where I see plant-based diets struggling is when there is a lack of planning or education and the person is relying on pre-made products or is avoiding plant-based protein rich sources like the ones in the table below.

CATEGORY FOOD SERVING SIZE G PROTEIN
Vegetables Bean sprouts 1 c 3.2
  Baked potato, baked 1 med 2.8
  Broccoli 1 c 2.6
  Corn ½ c 2.7
  Kale, raw 1 c 2.2
Legume, soy
products
Soybeans, cooked (ckd) 1 c 28.6
Tofu, firm ½ c 19.9
  Lentils, ckd 1 c 17.9
  Tofu, silken ½ c 17.4
  Cranberry or Roman bean, ckd 1 c 16.4
Nuts & seeds Pumpkin seeds ¼ c 8.5
  Pine nuts ¼ c 8.2
  Sesame tahini 3 Tbsp 8.1
  Sunflower seeds ¼ c 8.0
  Almonds ¼ c 7.4
Nondairy milks Soymilk (varying) ½ c 2.5-4
Grain milks (varying) ½ c 0.5-2
  Hemp milk ½ c 1.5
Almond milk ½ c
Grains Brown rice, ckd ½ c 4.5
Millet, ckd ½ c 4.2
  Whole wheat flour ¼ c 4.1
  Pearled barley, ckd ½ c 3.6
Fruits Orange 1 med 1.2
  Banana 1 med 1.2
  Berries ½ c 0.4
  Apples 1 med 0.3
Animal foods Salmon baked/broiled 3 oz 23.2
  Chicken, roasted 3 oz 23
  Cod baked/broiled 3 oz 19.3
  Ground beef 3 oz 15.9
  Milk 2% ½ c 4.0

According to the USDA, 2019 is predicted to have another uptick in the production of beef (3.1 %), pork (5.3%), as well as, broilers (chickens) and eggs (1.4% and 1.5% respectively). Animal products are more resource intensive than plants and by choosing plant-based meals a few days a week you will help create a more sustainable food system.

Which is the plant-based Impossible Burger and which is beef?

The position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is that “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood adolescence, older adults and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.”  Lighten your foot print on the planet and reap the health benefits when you choose more plant-based options.

If you find that you are struggling to meet your protein needs or are simply unsure if you are getting enough, feel free to contact me today and we can make sure your eating habits are supporting your activity needs and are optimizing your health! Are you a plant-based athlete? Check out my article on protein for the vegetarian athlete! Hungry for more? Try the Elevated Hearty Spaghetti Squash recipe that is vegan friendly 🙂

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