Where do vegans and vegetarians get protein? Do they really get enough? Let's toss out the myths and talk about the science.
Plant-Based Protein Myth:
Plant foods don't have any protein. Vegetarians are deficient in protein.
Plant-Based Protein Reality:
With a little planning, you can easily meet all of your protein needs eating nothing but plants (body builders and other athletes included).
If you're considering going vegetarian or vegan, first think about your real motivations for doing so. Is it because you love animals or feel passionate about the environment or maybe just because you noticed you feel really great after a meal rich in plants? If you're thinking about going vegan to lose weight, read this post differentiating between vegan diets and lifestyles first.
Why do we need protein?
Protein is absolutely essential to life – it makes up hormones that send chemical messages, enzymes that carry out chemical reactions, antibodies that protect us from infection, transporters that carry important molecules, and structural components that allow us to move. It’s safe to say that protein and its smaller amino acid components definitely take on a heavy workload.
Do we need "complete" proteins?
A "complete" protein is one that contains all of the essential amino acids that we humans need to survive. Many vegetarians worry about needing to eat complete proteins (like soy and quinoa) in order to get all our necessary aminos but luckily, we can spread out our different proteins throughout the day without any problems.
There's no need to get every single amino acid at every meal. Just including a variety of plant foods like beans, soy, grains, and vegetables is usually enough to do the trick.
How much protein do we actually need?
A 150 pound person needs about 60 grams a day, give or take depending on your size, activity levels, and current state of health.
What does 60 grams of plant-based protein actually look like?
Here's an example of a typical day's intake of about 60 grams of protein:
Breakfast: oatmeal made with soy milk and topped with slivered almonds and berries
Lunch: 2 black bean tacos on whole wheat tortillas
Dinner: tofu and green pea stir fry with quinoa
Plant-Based Protein Sources for Vegans and Vegetarians:
- Beans (black, pinto, kidney, white, chickpeas, etc.)
- Nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, etc.)
- Seeds (hemp, pumpkin, flax, chia, etc.)
- Wheat Berries
Best High-Protein Vegan Recipes:
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(Last updated May 2017.)