Yes, it’s Easy to get Enough Vegan Protein – here’s how.

Protein and amino acid deficiency in vegans is rare, and the idea that protein needs to come from animal products is a misconception. Eating a wide variety of foods high in vegan protein ensures an adequate intake of essential amino acids.

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Is vegan protein hard to find? 

The new wave of plant-based athletes suggests that quite the opposite is true. But what about for the rest of us? Is it easy to ensure adequate protein intake on a 100% plant-based diet? 

Thankfully, the answer is yes. 

“The amounts and proportions of amino acids consumed by vegans are typically more than sufficient to meet and exceed individual daily requirements, provided a reasonable variety of foods are consumed and energy intake needs are being met. The claim that certain plant foods are 'missing' specific amino acids is demonstrably false. All plant foods contain all 20 amino acids, including the 9 indispensable amino acids… The terms 'complete' and 'incomplete' are misleading. In developed countries, plant proteins are mixed, especially in vegetarian diets, and total intake of protein tends to greatly exceed requirement. This results in intakes of all 20 amino acids that are more than sufficient.”

– Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets—A Review

François Mariotti and Christopher D. Gardner
US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health​

One of the more common questions vegans still get asked is “where do you get your protein?” Additionally, vegans are asked if we get “enough” protein. A popular belief amongst nonvegans is that protein primarily comes from meat and eggs, or that vegan protein alone won’t be enough for a healthy diet.

Contrary to this belief, there is an abundance of plant foods that make it easy for vegans to get an adequate amount of protein every day.

For context, the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight. This adds up to 56 grams of protein for the average man and 46 grams of protein for the average woman.

With the DRI in mind, consider the following food combinations (sourced from USDA nutrition labels.) A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread has around 15 to 20 grams of protein depending on the brand; a cup of oatmeal with soy milk contains 18 grams of protein; a cup of rice and lentils provides over 20 grams of vegan protein: nearly half the DRI of protein in less than 500 calories!

Vegan protein: creamy hummus with bowl of chickpeas

There’s no shortage of protein-packed meals for vegans to create and choose from, and that’s because there are tons of plant foods that are high in protein. Although protein can be found in nearly all plant-based foods, nuts, legumes, seeds, grains, and some leafy greens typically contain the most per serving. Below is a brief list of high-protein vegan foods:

  • Soybeans (29 g per cup)
  • Tempeh (16 g per 3 oz)
  • Edamame (17 g per cup)
  • Lentils (18 g per cup)
  • Beans (15 g per cup)
  • Nutritional yeast (14 g per oz)
  • Nuts and seeds (about 4-9 g per oz)
  • Wild rice (7 g per cup)
  • Quinoa (8 g per cup)
  • Amaranth (9 g per cup)

In addition to these foods, vegans can also find plenty of protein in plant-milks such as soy milk, vegan protein powders like pea and peanut protein powder, and mock meats.

Note: eating a wide variety of high-protein foods will also ensure an adequate intake of essential amino acids.

With this information, it’s easy to understand why protein and amino acid deficiency in vegans is rare, and that the view that protein needs to come from animal products is a misconception. However, it can still be beneficial for a new vegan to track their protein intake using a free nutrition tracker like Cronometer to come to a solid understanding of how easy it is to design desirable meals that meet one’s protein (and other nutritional) goals.

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