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Busting The Vegan Myth Of Protein Deficiency

How does a vegan get his protein? Can you get enough protein at all from plant-based foods? What is the quality of vegetable protein sources? Do they contain all the essential amino acids? And what if you do a lot of sport? Do you have to drink protein shakes then? Finally, what are the best vegan protein sources?

At least one thing is sure: There are questions upon questions about protein and veganism! That is why we sat down, did extensive research and tried to answer the most important and most common questions on this topic in this article!

The myth of protein deficiency in vegans

The reason why vegans are confronted with this question again and again is that the food industry propagates animal products as the only true source of protein. It is, therefore, not surprising that a supposed protein deficiency is a frequent topic of discussion among vegans.

You are constantly asked: But how do you get enough protein as a vegan?

It is a common prejudice that as a vegan, you cannot get enough protein, or at least it is challenging and complicated to get enough protein.

But is this myth justified or not?

To better understand the topic of protein in general, we have also written an article on basic knowledge of proteins. If you want, you can find out here before it’s getting serious! ūüėČ

High-quality proteins and essential amino acids

Out of 21 amino acids, we have to absorb 9 essential amino acids through food, because our body cannot produce them ourselves. However, it is far too complicated for most people to deal with the amino acids of the individual foods.

And now honestly: Who wants to calculate every milligram of each individual amino acid in their meals? Right – nobody! Not even all top athletes do that.

Here’s the good news: Nobody has to count amino acids or do calculations to get enough protein – whether vegan or non-vegan.

It is much more important than exact gram analyses to get a feel for the different quality of protein sources. Ultimately, we now know which foods are high-quality protein suppliers and which have an advantageous amino acid profile.

So if you don’t want to make things too complicated, you can simply memorize these foods and regularly include them in your eating plan.

vegan breakfast with wholewheat bread and hummus

The best vegan protein sources

For each of the 9 essential amino acids, we have selected the best vegetable protein sources and summarized them in a useful PDF! So you can download, save or print the document and hang it on your fridge! ūüôā

Extra: Tyrosine in children

In children, there is a 10th essential amino acid: it is called “Tyrosine”. However, since a vegan diet in children has not yet been scientifically researched enough, an adequate doctor should be consulted in any case!

Foods rich in Tyrosine:

  • Peas
  • Soybeans
  • Peanuts
  • White beans

High quality vegetable protein sources (with high DIAAS)

(DIAAS= Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score)

  • Soybeans and soy products such as tofu and tempeh
  • Oats
  • Chickpeas
  • Peas (esp. yellow peas)
  • Beans (esp. white beans)
  • Mungbeans
  • Peanuts
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole-grain bread/pasta
you can cook dried oats to get a healthy oatmeal for breakfast

The quintessence of protein sources

From these lists, 4 particularly suitable vegetable protein suppliers can be identified:

  • Soybeans and soy products such as tofu and tempeh
  • Seitan (Vital gluten)
  • Oats
  • Legumes (esp. lentils, white beans, chickpeas)
dried red lentils provide many essential amino acids

Can vegetable protein replace animal protein?

To make it short: Yes, but there are a few points to keep in mind.

Vegetable proteins, when combined to provide for all of the essential amino acids, provide an excellent source for protein considering that they will likely result in a reduction in the intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Hoffman, J. R., & Falvo, M. J. (2004). Protein – Which is Best?.¬†Journal of sports science & medicine,¬†3(3), 118‚Äď130.

Animal products actually have on average more protein with a complete amino acid profile than plant-based foods. But you can also get enough protein with a varied and wholefood vegan diet without any problems and without great effort.

The crucial point for an optimal protein supply is not the high protein level of one food alone. A specific combination of plant-based foods guarantees an excellent and completely sufficient supply with all essential amino acids.

quinoa salad with fresh tomatoes orange and carrot

By the way: Even omnivores get almost half of their protein from plant-based foods! (Nutrient Profiles of Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian Dietary Patterns )

Protein supply – it’s all about the right combination!

Since our body absolutely needs all of the 9 essential amino acids, we must integrate the right foods into our diet every day, if possible.

Often, a high biological value in plant foods fails due to the lack of just a single essential amino acid. However, if you compensate this missing amino acid with a second food, you get a high BW overall!

For example, the amino acid Methionine is usually only present in small amounts in legumes, but all the more so in seitan, oatmeal, Brazil nuts and rice! So, if you combine legumes with seitan or rice, for instance, you get an excellent protein supply.

different types of lentils and beans

Modular system for the combination of vegan protein sources

1. Grains/ Pseudo grains2. Legumes3. Nuts/Seeds
OatsSoybeans (+tofu/tempeh)Sunflower seeds
QuinoaWhite beansPumpkin seeds
Brown riceLentils (different types)Hempseeds
BarleyChickpeasFlaxseeds/Chiaseeds
MilletKidney beansPeanuts
CornMungbeansAlmonds
BuckwheatPeasBrazil nuts
RyePole BeansSesame
SpeltAdzuki beansSprouts
pink and green fresh sprouts

Digression: A balanced diet consists about 2 servings of fruit and at least 3 servings of vegetables daily. These contain important vitamins!

Protein supply in athletes

It is also possible for athletes to get more than enough protein with a vegan diet!

Supplemental protein is an option but not needed for most athletes who carefully construct their diet, paying attention to the higher-protein plant foods.

Fueling the vegetarian (vegan) athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports 2010 Jul-Aug; 9(4):233-41.

These are some examples of top vegan athletes who leave no doubt about it:

Venus Williams (Tennis); Rich Roll (Ultra-Endurance), Nimai Delgado (Bodybuilding), Patrik Baboumian (Strongest Man 2011), Lewis Hamilton (Formel-1), Tom Brady (NFL), Andreas Kraniotakes (MMA), Alex Morgan (soccer), Tia Blanco (surfing), Steph Davis (climbing) and many more!

Because this topic would go beyond the blog post, we would like to refer to other trustworthy sources of information:

Protein rarely comes alone

Now we have written a lot about vegan protein sources and good food combinations. But one thing you should never forget when discussing about protein: Food is not all about the protein content!

It is even more important with which “package” of other nutrients the protein gets into our body. Animal products often have a high protein content, but usually also a lot of fat and hardly any fiber.

And not all fats are the same. Plants sometimes also contain higher amounts of fat – for example, soybeans. However, these are mainly unsaturated fatty acids. These lower cholesterol levels and therefore are good for our health.

dried soybeans as a healthy protein source

Animal products, in turn, contain predominantly saturated fatty acids and trans fats. These are responsible for the bad fat in our blood, the LDL. The following foods have a particularly negative impact on our cholesterol level:

  • Full fat milk products (butter, cheese, curd, cream)
  • Meat (pork, beef, bacon, sausage, fried chicken)
  • Eggs
  • Pastries, sweets
  • Deep-fried stuff, pizza, ready-meals
  • In the past also margarine, but the production process has been improved

Conclusion

Many different plant foods can be classified as good and healthy sources of protein! In addition, these are usually also rich in fiber, minerals and phytochemicals, as well as low in unhealthy fats! Regardless of whether you are vegan or not, a varied and balanced diet is always crucial for health.

Animal products often contain more protein, which is also better available to the body than plant-based foods. But they also contain more “unhealthy” fat, more calories and have little to no fiber.

For a holistic and selfless consideration of your diet or lifestyle, you should never ignore the ethical reasons and the effects of farm animals on climate change.

Our conclusion: It is desirable to have a diet that is rich in legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Meat, eggs and other animal products are not necessary for adequate protein intake.

Attention: We are not doctors or nutritionists! We strive to do good research. Nevertheless, we recommend everyone to find out more about it elsewhere. Also, a doctor should always be consulted in the event of health impairments.

Extra: a balanced and varied diet

With the lists above, you have got an idea of ‚Äč‚Äčproper sources for each amino acid and how to combine those best. However, we are not fans of strict nutritional plans because eating should be a pleasure!

fresh papaya used as muesli bowl filled with berries fruits seeds and coconut

We therefore simply recommend a varied, balanced and wholefood diet! Wholefood means that you eat as unprocessed food as possible. The focus should not be on a single food ingredient such as the protein. It is much more important to acquire healthy eating habits in the long term.

In the end, the “feasibility” of a diet counts, i.e. it has to be simple, healthy and tasty. We wrote a guide for a healthy and balanced diet (without any nutritional tables and calorie counting): A healthy, wholesome plant-based diet – a guide for beginners.

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