In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is a vegan diet high in protein?” and will discuss why protein is necessary for the body?
Is a vegan diet high in protein?
No, a vegan diet is not high in protein. Because most of the protein we require we get it from animal products like meat and eggs. For those who don’t consume meat or animal products, obtaining adequate protein and critical vitamins and minerals might be difficult. Omnivores must plan to ensure they obtain adequate protein (from meat), calcium (from milk), iron (from meat), and vitamin B12 (from meat).
WHO recommends protein intake 15% of the total energy intake, dependent on factors such as sex, age, activity, health condition etc. A study reported that in total 27.3% of the vegan population were below the acceptable range of protein intake. In addition, 64.5% of vegans met the recommended daily protein intake and 8.1% of vegans’ intake of protein was reported to be above the acceptable range. In another study, the protein intake of 31.3% of vegan males and 41.4% of vegan females was below the recommended levels of 0.8 g/kg body weight/d (4).
The food groups milk and dairy products and meat and meat products, as well as fish and eggs are omitted from a vegan diet. Therefore the food-related recommendations for a vegan diet lay more emphasis on legumes, nuts and oil seeds, as sources of protein, B vitamins, zinc and iron, as well as the use of fortified foods (e.g. soya milk with calcium). If fortified foods are not consumed or are unavailable, intake of various dietary supplements is recommended (vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium) (1).
What are proteins?
A protein usually contains various amounts of 20 different amino acids (AA) linked via peptide bonds. The English word protein originated from the Greek “proteios”, meaning prime or primary. This term is very appropriate in nutrition, because protein is the most fundamental component of tissues in animals and humans. Dietary protein has no nutritional value unless it is hydrolyzed by proteases and peptidases to AA, dipeptides, or tripeptides in the lumen of the small intestine (2).
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is vital to life. Your skin, hair, muscle, and bone health improve as a result of the repair and creation of new cells that are aided by a diet rich in protein.
When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids. Essential, non-essential, and conditional amino acids all play a role in your body’s health. Soy, lentils, beans, nut butter, and grains are all sources of plant protein. There are lots of protein sources for vegan diets, even though animal foods provide the most protein.
AA provide nitrogen, hydrocarbon skeletons, and sulfur (essential components of organisms), and cannot be replaced by any other nutrients (including carbohydrate and lipids) because neither nitrogen nor sulfur is made in the body. AA are essential precursors for the synthesis of proteins, peptides, and low-molecular weight substances (e.g., glutathione, creatine, nitric oxide, dopamine, serotonin, RNA and DNA) with enormous physiological importance (2).
Why do you need protein?
Dietary glutamate, glutamine and aspartate are major metabolic fuels for the mammalian small intestine in the fed state, whereas glutamine in the arterial blood is almost the exclusive source of energy for this organ in the post-absorptive state. In addition, glutamine provides ∼50% and 35% of ATP in lymphocytes and macrophages, respectively, to sustain immune responses. Thus, AA are essential for the health, growth, development, reproduction, lactation, and survival of organisms (2).
Your body doesn’t store protein like fats and carbs, so it’s crucial to eat enough of it each day. There is a daily quota that you must meet. People on a typical American diet get adequate protein, and vegans are no exception to this rule.
Proteins include amino acids that aid in muscle growth and repair, as well as sustaining a high level of energy. Protein should account for 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to the RDA. For more active persons, that figure rises to 1.2 to 2 grams. A dietary intake of 1.0, 1.3, and 1.6 g protein per kg BW per day is recommended for individuals with minimal, moderate, and intense physical activity (2).
A prevalent misconception regarding vegan diets is that vegans don’t receive enough protein since they rely only on plant-based sources of protein. In contrast to animal-based diets, vegan diets include as much protein as those that include meat. For a protein deficit to arise, it would only require a little amount of protein to be consumed.
However, animal-source foods (e.g., meat, dairy products, egg, poultry, seafood, and other products) contain higher quantities and more balanced proportions of AA relative to human tissues, than plant-source foods (e.g., rice, wheat, corn, potato, vegetables, cereals, beans, peas, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds). For example, beef meat contains 63–68% protein on the dry matter basis, but most staple foods of plant origin (except for legumes) have a protein content <12% (dry matter basis) and are deficient in most AA, including lysine, methionine, cysteine, tryptophan, threonine, and glycine (2). Therefore, it can be challenging for a vegan to meet the protein requirements, especially in cases of intense physical activity. Scientists suggest that, by well-directed combining different sources of plant protein, the protein quality of daily protein intake can be increased, as can the intake of all indispensable amino acids (1).
While proper combinations of large amounts of legumes with cereals could provide sufficiently most AA, the global availability of legumes as a staple food is increasingly limited and in many parts of the world, these foods are not produced. At best, such combinations may meet protein requirements of adults with minimal physical activity but not for optimal growth or development in children. Protein deficiency causes multiple clinical syndromes. Dietary protein deficiency not only contributes to poor growth, cardiovascular dysfunction, and high risk of infectious disease, but also exacerbates the deficiency of other nutrients (including vitamin A and iron) and worsens metabolic profiles (e.g., dyslipidemia and hyperglycemia) in humans (1).
To maintain a healthy, functioning body, just nine of the 20 amino acids that make up protein are required for optimal health. People on vegan diets may still meet their daily protein needs by consuming a range of plant-based proteins. Protein rich foods are: legumes, nuts, cereals (whole-grain), oil seeds, potatoes specifically combined and consumed over the day (e.g. cereals + legumes, soya products and/or oil seeds) (1).
You need to consume foods rich in lysine to ensure that you’re receiving enough protein from your vegan diet to maintain muscle mass. In most plant meals, lysine, an important amino acid, is found in lower concentrations. Essential amino acids are present in every plant protein. Soy products contain the most dietary proteins, making them a complete or high-quality source of protein.
Here are six foods that are fantastic sources of high-quality protein for vegans:
There is a lot of protein in a single cup of cooked beans. Protein content ranges from 15 to 18 grams per cup for chickpeas, kidneys, pinto, and navy beans. There are 18 grams in lentils and 9 grams in split peas. 8 grams of protein may be found in two tablespoons of peanut butter. Legumes are essential as protein, minerals and vitamins sources because of their high nutrient density, their high content of dietary fiber and phytochemicals and their potential to prevent various nutrition-related diseases (1).
Tofu or Tempeh
Soy-based proteins such as tempeh and tofu are high in protein. They are excellent additions to any vegan diet. There are 34 grams of protein in one cup of cooked tempeh, compared to 24 grams in one cup of tofu. Tofu is also an important source of calcium (1).
Quinoa, an ancient grain, is a nutritious and protein-rich grain that may be used as a basis for meals or as an aside. Per one cup serving, quinoa provides 8 grams of protein.
A good dose of protein may be found in bagels and whole-wheat bread. Each piece of vegan bread has 8-11 grams of protein. Whole grains are good sources of iron, riboflavin, fibers and zinc (1).
Protein may be added to your diet in a variety of ways, and soy milk is one of them. Soy milk has 7 grams of protein in a single serving. If you want to consume soy milk on its own, you may do it in a variety of ways. Including a range of these items in numerous meals, a day is essential to maintaining a healthy diet. As a vegan, this ensures that you’re receiving enough protein in your diet. As soy milk is fortified with calcium, it is an alternative as calcium supplementation (1).
Mycoprotein is a protein derived from fungus. It is a sustainably produced protein-rich whole food source, cultivated by the continuous flow fermentation of the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum, that is relatively high in protein (45% protein, 20.9% essential amino acids, 24.6% non-essential amino acids, 9% branched chain amino acids, 3.9% leucine), high in fiber (25 %; two-thirds b-glucan and one-third chitin), and with a relatively low-energy-density (3).
A 1/2 cup serving of mycoprotein contains around 13 grams of protein. Meat substitutes containing mycoprotein are commonly sold as “chicken” nuggets or cutlets and may be purchased in a variety of flavors. Many of these goods, however, include egg white, so consumers should double-check the label before purchasing.
Mycoprotein brand Quorn is derived from Fungus Fusarium Venenatum; a tiny percentage of individuals are allergic to it. Consider a different protein source if you are allergic to mushrooms or have a history of food allergies.
Other FAQs about Vegans that you may be interested in.
In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is a vegan diet high in protein?” and discussed why protein is necessary for the body?
- Wu, Guoyao. Dietary protein intake and human health. Food func, 2016, 7, 1251-1265.
- Richter, Margrit, et al. Vegan diet. Position of the German nutrition society (DGE). Ernahr umsch, 2016, 63, 92-102.
- Monteyne, Alistair J., et al. A mycoprotein-based high-protein vegan diet supports equivalent daily myofibrillar protein synthesis rates compared with an isonitrogenous omnivorous diet in older adults: a randomised controlled trial. Brit J Nutr, 2021, 126, 674-684.
- Bakaloudi, Dimitra Rafailia, et al. Intake and adequacy of the vegan diet. A systematic review of the evidence. Clin nutr, 2021, 40, 3503-3521.
- Protein. The Nutrition Source. University of Harvard.