Getting enough protein in your plant based diet is crucial to maintaining a healthy body. You can easily get enough protein for good health on a vegan diet, provided you follow some simple steps.
The typical American consumes twice the amount of protein necessary which can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. Changing to a plant-based, whole food diet can promote bone strength, weight loss, and energy (if done correctly!)
Protein as a Percentage of Total Calories
According to the National Research Council (NRC), the average adult male requires 56 grams of protein per day. This equates to 224 calories from protein every day on a recommended 2700 calorie per day diet. Protein should therefore make up 8.3% of daily calories consumed per day.
The average adult female requires 44 grams of protein equating to 8.8% of daily recommended calories from protein per day.
Most plant-based foods have a higher percentage of calories from protein than 8%. So clearly a vegan diet will provide adequate protein.
A 100 gram serving of these common foods contains the following number of calories and percentage of calories from protein:
- Potato – 76 calories, 11% from protein
- Broccoli – 32 calories, 45% from protein
- Corn – 96 calories, 15% from protein
- Carrots – 42 calories, 10% from protein
- Almonds – 598 calories, 12% from protein
- Chickpeas – 360 calories, 23% from protein
- Rice – 360 calories, 8% from protein
- Tomato – 22 calories, 20% from protein
The Nine Essential Amino Acids
There are 20 amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Our bodies can only manufacture 11 of them. The remaining 9 must be ingested from our food. They are called the 9 essential amino acids.
While plant-based foods have plenty of protein, soybeans contain all of the 9 essential amino acids in the correct proportion. Soy products should therefore be a staple of any vegan diet.
Allergic to soy? No problem! It is also possible to obtain all of the 9 essential amino acids from plant-based foods by combining different grains, legumes, nuts, and vegetables.
For years it was thought that it was necessary to consume amino acids in the appropriate quantities at the same meal. Multiple studies of human nutrition have shown this to be false.
As long as you consume a variety of plant-based foods you will have plenty of the 9 essential amino acids and therefore enough protein for robust health.
Damage from Too Much Protein
A diet high in protein, especially protein from animal sources, can lead to increased risk for many diseases.
Cancer risk is elevated by cooking certain animal products such as chicken and red meat at high temperatures. Grilling and frying these foods produce compounds called heterocyclic amines that have been linked to increased colon and breast cancer. The consumption of red meat has been associated with an elevated risk of colorectal cancer.
High protein diets also put a significant strain on the kidneys. Over time, people who consume large quantities of protein, especially animal protein, are at risk of losing kidney function.
Diets high in protein from animal sources can lead to heart disease. Meat typically contains significant levels of saturated fat and cholesterol which can contribute to heart problems and increase the risk of heart attacks. Plant-based protein contains very low or no saturated fat or cholesterol.
Rather than be concerned about getting enough protein, the typical American should be eating more fruits and vegetables.
Diet Myths About Protein
Popular diets have promoted high protein consumption as a method of losing weight. Not only are these diets virtually impossible to stick to, but they have profound negative health risks. Most people who succeed in losing weight on these diets do so because they are consuming fewer calories, not because high protein leads to weight loss. And most people cannot sustain the weight they have lost once they revert to a balanced diet.
You can obtain enough protein from a plant-based diet, and you will lose weight provided you stick with it overtime, and are consuming less calories than you burn off. Further, you will decrease your risk of grave health issues such as cancer, heart disease, kidney impairment, and bone loss.
But don’t just take my word for it. Read The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell.
The China Study is the ultimate resource to understand why a vegan diet works. It will convince you that adopting a plant-based, whole food diet will result in long term weight loss and vibrant health. It’s written in a compelling, fast-paced style and the author’s personal journey is fascinating as well.