Protein / Amino Acids

The most common question most vegans are asked about their diet is, ‘but where do you get your protein?’

Unfortunately, most people confuse meat with protein, and assume that vegans therefore aren’t getting enough. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth – studies show that most vegans get enough protein (more specifically their amino acid RDA is met) from a balanced diet and many meat eaters in fact get TOO MUCH protein, which leads to all sorts of things like heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and so forth.

So what is protein?

Protein is an important nutrient that is required for the building, maintenance and repair of body tissue. The building blocks of protein are amino acids.

There are 20 different amino acids and our body can make 11 of this by itself; the other 9 are called essential amino acids because we need to obtain these from our diet.

Do I need to combine foods at every meal in order to get a complete protein?

It was once thought (due mostly to the publication of a book by Francis Moore Lappé in the 70’s called ‘Diet for a small planet) that various plant foods had to be eaten together to get their full protein value. Research debunked this view a few years later by showing that the liver stores amino acids for some time (and Lappé retracted her statement in a recent edition of her book) and so we now know that combining foods is not necessary to obtain all of the essential amino acids (a ‘complete protein’). As long as your diet contains a variety of grains, legumes and vegetables, you will be getting enough protein, with the advantage over meat-eaters that you won’t also getting loads of fat!

Protein Facts

  • Protein is an important nutrient required for the building, maintenance and repair of body tissue.
  • The building blocks of protein are amino acids. As long as your diet contains a variety of grains, legumes and vegetables, you will be getting enough protein.
  • Studies have shown that most vegans get enough protein eating a balanced diet, while many meat eaters get TOO MUCH protein leading to numerous health problems such as heart disease and cancer.

What are good vegan sources of protein?

Complete proteins contain a balanced set of essential amino acids. Some complete proteins are: spirulina, quinoa, soy, buckwheat, hempseed and amaranth. Remember though, you don’t need to get a complete protein at every meal – as long as you’re not a fruitarian or living on junkfood (see ‘Exceptions to the rule’ below) you’ll be fine!

Exceptions to the rule:

“With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diets very heavily dependent on [1] fruit or on [2] some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on [3] junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.” – Francis Moore Lappé

Out of interest: the essential and “conditionally essential” amino acids:

Note that each of these link to Wikipedia articles:

Essential:

 

Required by infants and growing children:

 

Conditionally essential (conditionally essential amino acids are not normally required in the diet, but must be supplied exogenously to specific populations that do not synthesize them in adequate amounts).

 

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