In our society, there seems to be the misconception that only animal products, particularly meat, contain protein. This assumption, however, is incorrect and often causes people to think that a plant-based or vegan diet is nutritionally inadequate. That's why in this post, you'll learn everything you need to know about getting your protein from plants and discover how easy this is to do.
- Do you have a higher risk of protein deficiency if you get your protein from plants?
- What is protein?
- What are the functions of protein?
- How to get all the essential amino acids?
- What are the health benefits of plant protein?
- What are good vegan protein sources?
- How much protein do you need?
- How can vegan athletes get enough protein from plants?
- Summary – How to get your protein from plants
Do you have a higher risk of protein deficiency if you get your protein from plants?
Generally, protein deficiencies are very rare in the industrialized world, as long as enough calories are consumed. So, there is no need to worry that eating plant-protein is nutritionally insufficient.
There is the (unnecessary) concern that vegans don't get enough protein. Yet, most get just the right amount, not too much and not too little. Generally, vegans are closer to the recommendations provided by dietary associations than people who eat meat (who often exceed the recommendations).
So, why is protein from plants considered inferior? To understand that, we first need to have a basic understanding of proteins.Summary: Regardless of what diet you are following, protein deficiencies are very rare in the industrialized world, as long as you eat enough calories. There is no need to worry that eating plant-protein is nutritionally insufficient.
What is protein?
One protein is a combination of many amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids. Nine of them are essential, meaning that your body can't produce them, and you need to take them in with the food you eat.
In one serving animal protein (f.e. chicken), all nine essential amino acids are contained in sufficient amounts. Hence, they are called complete proteins. In one serving plant protein (f.e. white beans), not all nine essential amino acids are available in sufficient amounts. Thus, most plant sources are considered incomplete proteins.
Nevertheless, getting enough protein on a plant-based/vegan diet is no problem, and supplements or protein powders are not necessary. Additionally, getting your protein from plants has health (and ethical) benefits.Summary: One protein is made up of many amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids, nine of which are essential. Animal proteins are complete proteins because one serving contains all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Most plant proteins are incomplete as one serving doesn't provide adequate amounts of all nine amino acids. Still, getting enough protein (including all the essential amino acids) on a plant-based diet is no problem.
What are the functions of protein?
Protein is present in every cell of the body and has a variety of uses. Among others, it is a part of the immune system and plays a role in the production of DNA. Further, it is essential for muscle development and serves as building material.
How to get all the essential amino acids?
It is easy to get all essential amino acids, even though most plant proteins are incomplete. As long as you eat a variety of protein-rich foods, you are good to go.
For a long time, there was the misconception that to get all the protein from plants, you need to combine proteins. So, f.e. you should combine whole grains and legumes because the essential amino acids that are scarce in whole grains are contained in large amounts in legumes, and the other way around.
Thus, the amino acids from different plant sources come together to form complete proteins. This active combining, however, is unnecessary because our bodies are smart enough to do the combining itself.
Still, whole grains and legumes both are incredibly nutrient-rich, so I recommend you incorporate them into your diet regularly nevertheless ;).
Further, there are a few plant foods that are complete proteins. These are soy, quinoa, hemp, chia seeds, buckwheat, and spirulina. Regularly incorporating these foods into your meals is another effective strategy to boost your protein intake.Summary: By eating a variety of protein-rich plant foods, you'll be sure to get all the essential amino acids you need. It is not necessary to actively combine proteins to make sure you get adequate amounts. Further, there are a few plant foods that are complete proteins. These are soy, quinoa, hemp, chia seeds, buckwheat, and spirulina.
What are the health benefits of plant protein?
Getting your protein from plants has a variety of health benefits. Compared to protein from animal sources, it is lower in calories and fat while containing significantly higher amounts of fiber and essential nutrients.
Moreover, plant-protein is cholesterol-free, which is an important advantage because high cholesterol plays a role in the development of many chronic diseases, particularly heart disease.
Additional benefits of plant-protein are that it helps you stay full longer, reduces inflammation, improves athletic performance, and has a positive impact on gut and bone health.
Further, getting your protein from plants helps lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.Summary: Plant proteins have many health benefits. They are cholesterol-free and are low in calories and fat while being high in nutrients and fiber. Getting your protein from plants helps you stay full longer, reduces inflammation, improves athletic performance, and has a positive impact on gut and bone health. Further, it lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
What are good vegan protein sources?
- Legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, etc.)
- Hemp seeds
- Wild rice
- Chia seeds
- Nuts and seeds in general
Moreover, here is a list of 30 super delicious, protein-rich recipes I absolutely recommend you try.
How much protein do you need?
On a vegan/plant-based diet, it is recommended to consume 1g protein per kg of body weight every day. So, a person weighing 65 kg should consume 65 g protein (from various plant sources).
How can vegan athletes get enough protein from plants?
Nowadays, lots of professional athletes benefit from increased energy levels and quicker recovery by following a plant-based diet. So, it's certainly possible for vegan athletes to get enough protein. To meet the increased need, you should consume between 1.2-1.7 g protein per kg body weight or 12-15% of your daily calorie intake. You can do this by consuming protein-rich plant foods and incorporating more of them into your meals.
Using protein powders is not necessary and not always the best choice health-wise because most are highly processed. Moreover, no reliable studies have shown that they increase performance or muscular growth. Thus, it's recommended to stick with consuming more substantial quantities of complete proteins such as quinoa, peas, and hemp seeds.
Moreover, it's best to be skeptical about using Creatinine and BCAAs. Creatine may help improve performance for a short time, but it also increases the risk of muscular cramps and injuries. Trustworthy studies have not found any benefits of BCAAs.Summary: Vegan athletes should consume between 1.2-1.7 g protein per kg body weight or 12-15% of their daily calorie intake to meet the increased need. You can do this by consuming protein-rich plant foods and incorporating more of them into your meals. Using protein powders, Creatinine, and BCAAs is not necessary and not the best choice from a health point of view.
Summary – How to get your protein from plants
What is your favorite protein-rich plant-based meal?