The health benefits of a plant-based diet is plentiful. Plant-based meals can be cheaper, nutrient-rich, environmentally sustainable and better for animal welfare and your body. Despite that many people worry that they won’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet, and this is far from the truth.
Whether you are solely plant-based, vegan or vegetarian, transitioning into either of these, or simply choose to reduce your animal intake for better health for yourself and the environment; you can be sure that protein requirements can be readily met on a plant-based diet. These protein requirements can be met for any goals too. Whether that be overall health and wellness, fat loss or muscle growth (just google vegan bodybuilders and athletes and you will be amazed). Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has become a activist for veganism.
For vegetarians eggs and dairy are sources of high-quality protein and can be added alongside a plant-based diet. For vegans there are a number of plant-based proteins that are incredibly healthy (more below). However, there are two things to be mindful of. Firstly, the protein digestibility and secondly that you are consuming complete proteins.
Complete vs Incomplete Protein Sources
A complete protein is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of the nine essential amino acids. These amino acids are termed “essential” as they can’t be produced by the body, or produced in adequate amounts. Therefore, we must get them from dietary sources.
Some plant-based sources of protein are complete proteins, whereas others may be missing one or more of the essential amino acids. Some of the incomplete protein sources can be combined in a meal to create a complete protein. For example – rice and beans – which make a great vegan chilli dish or Mexican inspired meal!
However, there is no need to get caught up in ensuring EVERY meal has complete protein sources, particularly if your goal is every health, wellness, or even fat loss. The (easy) trick here is to ensure you are consuming a variety of protein sources over the day which will meet your essential amino acid requirements.
If your goal is more specific (i.e. muscle growth/hypertrophy, or if you specifically track your macros), you can easily ensure each meal contains complete proteins and the right protein amount for your goals.
Complete Protein Sources (g = grams of protein / per):
- Quinoa, cooked (8g /1 cup)
- Tofu, cooked (8-10g /100g)
- Tempeh, cooked (18g /100g)
- Buckwheat, raw groats (23g /100g)
- Rice & beans, cooked (10-15g /1 cup)
- Soybeans, raw (36g /100g)
- Hemp seeds (11g /30g)
- Chia seeds (4g /2 tablespoon)
- Spirulina (4g /1 tablespoon)
Incomplete Protein Sources:
- Grains (e.g. brown rice = 5g /100g cooked)
- Nuts and seeds (average: 6-9g /30g)
- Legumes/beans (average: 7-9g /100g)
- Vegetables (e.g. Green Peas = 8g /1 cup. Spinach & Broccoli =4-5g /1 cup)
- Nutritional Yeast (4g /1 tablespoon)
Plant-based vs. Animal protein sources
The protein digestibility between plant protein (70-90%) and animal protein (85-100%) sources differ slightly. Therefore, when consuming a solely vegan diet, your protein requirements may increase.