Protein: A pesky (but important) macronutrient that’s caused so much confusion when it’s come to the acceptance of a plant based diet.
So, how much protein do we need?
This is a good question, and depends upon your stage of life, current muscle mass, and also the amount and type of exercise you are taking part.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends optimum protein for adults at 0.83g per kg body weight per day. A number of vegan nutrition experts recommend 0.9g per kg of body weight for adults following a plant exclusive diet, due to the slightly lower digestibility of plant protein compared to animal protein.
For the elderly, pregnant women and children, or those who are performing more than moderate exercise, nutritional needs differ, and I strongly recommend consulting with a qualified plant based dietitian, nutritionist or naturopath.
And how much can we get on a plant-based diet?
For an adult looking at 0.9g/kg of body weight, somebody with a body weight of 60kg would be looking at 54g of protein, whereas someone with a body weight of 70kg would require more 63g of protein.
Supposing we were 65kg in weight, and aiming for 58.5g of protein, this could be met through:
Breakfast: Half a cup of rolled oats (5.3g), a quarter of a cup of walnuts (3.8g) and a quarter cup of berries (0.3g), made with 100ml of soy milk (4.1g).
Lunch: Tempeh sandwich 100g of tempeh (19.9g) with two slices of wholegrain bread (8g) and plenty of veggies.
Dinner: Mexican beans – half a cup of red kidney beans (7.7g), half a cup of black beans (7.6g) and half a cup of brown rice (2.8g) with veggies of choice.
59.5g of protein + that within the veggies.
N.B. This does not include snacks, larger portions (I for one could easily manage eating!) and the protein content of nut or soy milk you might have in your coffee. A way to ramp up your protein intake even higher would be to use a protein powder in a smoothie, bean pastas, OR even use a larger quantity of beans within a smoothie (you don’t taste them- trust me, and it’s a great way to get a heap of nutrition and fibre into you).
One thing to keep in mind is that whole grains, whilst naturally high in methionine, have lower levels of lysine. Conversely, beans have higher levels of lysine and lower levels of methionine; soy being an exception which has pretty enviable levels of all amino acids. Whilst this would be problematic in a developing nation with only access to grains, in the developed world we are fortunate enough to enjoy ample variety of food that this is not a concern.
Is it true that we need to eat “complementary proteins” at each meal?
This has been proven to be untrue, aside from potentially in children; enjoying a variety of foods over the course of a day though is still important. It is still always important to be wary of eating a variety of foods.
How can I check I’m getting enough?
Cronometer.com is a resource I LOVE where you can enter what you eat and it will give you a thorough breakdown of how well you’re meeting your targets. Alternatively, book a consult with myself or another plant based health practitioner to help ensure you’re meeting your needs.
But isn’t soy bad for me? NO! Although there a few subsets of people who should reduce/avoid it.Read this blog article for an evidence-based review of soy.
What about BCAAs?
Branch chain amino acids (leucine, valine and isoleucine) are amino acids of particular interest to those looking to gain muscle. Luckily, all amino acids required for human health can be found in plant foods. However, for those whose intent is to build huge amounts of muscle mass, protein powders can be easily sourced with added quantities of BCAAs.
Interestingly though, one of the mechanisms by which a plant based diet is actually anti-ageing and protective against chronic disease is by restricting the levels of leucine in the diet (providing enough for the body’s requirements but not so much that it triggers one of the main ageing pathways in the body).
My recommendation would be to enjoy sufficient protein, easily sourced naturally from food, but not to aim for exorbitant amounts.
So where did the idea that vegan diets were inadequate come from?
A lot of misinformation concerning plant protein came from animal studies in the early and mid-twentieth centuries including baby rats (who unsurprisingly have entirely different protein requirements to humans). Plant proteins were labelled “incomplete”, which is inherently flawed, since all consider every single amino acid required for human health in varying proportions.
I hope you found this blog informative! For any help with your plant-based journey or your particular nutritional requirements, check out the services I offer in “Prices and Bookings“. x