05 August 2011

TDIV Q&A: How do vegans get enough protein?

How do vegans get enough protein?

Protein in the vegan diet—all vegans have been asked this question, or have been told by skeptical meat-eaters that it’s just not “safe." Let’s clarify!

Proteins are composed of amino acids. Our bodies are able to make some of these, but they are “nonessential amino acids." Then there are the essential amino acids that we acquire through diet. Many are under the misconception that the only rich source of these essential amino acids is found in meat or dairy but as a vegetarian or vegan, there are other ways to get your essential daily protein.

If you eat well, get adequate calories, and eat a variety of foods, you won’t have any trouble getting your protein. Eating a “variety of foods” throughout the day is important. Your beans will contain amino acids that your rice doesn’t contain and vice versa, to just give an example—and no one wants to eat the same thing over and over again, anyway.

So, which plant foods contain complete protein?

Quinoa, the seed of the goosefoot plant, has more protein than any other plant food, including twice the protein of rice, and five times the amount of protein than corn.

Other important plant sources of protein are your legumes (garbanzo beans, black beans, lentils, peas, etc.), whole grains like oatmeal, wild rice, millet, buckwheat, and whole wheat breads, and of course seeds and nuts. These are all very basic, delicious, versatile and easy to prepare meal-bases that when combined, will provide you with all of the protein you need.

There are a lot of people who are actually allergic to soy, but soy is a complete protein. Soy protein is comparable to protein found in meat. We are able to digest 92% of the protein from meat, and 91% from soy. One cup of soybeans—not tofu—contains about 30 grams of protein and all essential amino acids.

It is recommended to consume 0.4 grams of protein per day for every pound of healthy body weight. I’m not good at math, but if you weigh 160-pounds, you would need approximately 60 grams of protein per day.

Consuming too much protein is a waste, literally, because your body does not store excess, it is eliminated. As our bodies age, excess protein can actually do more harm, including losing calcium through the urine. This calcium is actually coming from your bones, which means that too much protein can increase your risk of osteoporosis. If you drink too much milk, which is high in protein, this can also increase your risk of osteoporosis.

So remember to eat a balanced diet, full of delicious, natural foods, and you’ll be all set! If you’re new to the vegetarian/vegan diet, try keeping a food log to keep an eye on your protein intake. You may even find that you’re getting a lot more than you actually need.

Kelly Beth | @veganbotanicals
Kelly Beth is a smiley vegan herbalist and wanderer, and currently resides in Boulder, Colorado with her fiancé and kitty (kitty face). She created twig & leaf botanicals, a vegan & organic herbal apothecary 3 years ago to bring healthy, plant-based alternatives to mainstream medicine and home care. Follow Kelly Beth on her blog and Facebook.

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