Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vegan Protein

"How do you get your protein?"

It's one of the first questions vegans usually get asked. There are two things about that question that make it a non-issue for vegans who have healthy, varied diets. First, humans don't need as much protein as many Americans seem to think. The average American consumes twice as much as the body needs. Yikes! Second, there is protein in almost all plant-based foods, the amounts of protein just vary. It is easy to get the necessary protein as a a vegan a pregnant a vegan child.

From PCRM:
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average, sedentary adult is only 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. To find out your average individual need, simply perform the following calculation:

Body weight (in pounds) X 0.36 = recommended protein intake (in grams)

However, even this value has a large margin of safety, and the body’s true need is even lower for most people. Protein needs are increased for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In addition, needs are also higher for very active persons. As these groups require additional calories, increased protein needs can easily be met through larger intake of food consumed daily. Extra serving of legumes, tofu, meat substitutes, or other high protein sources can help meet needs that go beyond the current RDA.

The best way for vegans to get their protein is a diet based on the new Four Food Groups (legumes, grains, vegetables, fruits).

Per Day (for plant-based protein):
*Aim for 2 to 3 servings of legumes.
*Aim for 5 or more servings of grains.
*Aim for 3 or more servings of vegetables.

Fruit isn't high in protein, but the recommendation is to aim for 3 or more servings of fruit per day. [And don't forget to make sure you are getting some Vitamin B12.]

Here are some links to great charts that list the some of the best protein-rich vegan foods, and more general information on vegans and protein.

Also, Jack Norris RD has a brief article on getting plant-based protein without eating soy.

Quinoa, peas, lentils, black beans, peanut butter, spaghetti, oats....just some examples of foods with good amounts of protein.

You can always go directly to the USDA to find the amount of protein (or other nutrients) in a specific food.


BE said...

There are so many high-protein foods available, too, for those who enjoy quick, convenient vegan protein sources. For the vegans who like to eat a higher protein diet, we have "our own" protein powders. One worth checking out is NutriBiotic rice protein powder. As protein powders go, it's awesome. (By normal standards, this means "doesn't taste like artificially sweetened grout.") I love to have it with a frozen banana melted over it so the juices saturate it and make it like banana pudding, then re-frozen and slightly thawed. Comes out like ice cream! 24 grams protein per 110 calories.

Another favorite: Clif builder's bars. 20 grams protein for 270 calories, and they're dipped in luscious chocolate, vanilla, or lemon.

Costco charges $9.something for 16 large boca burgers, each of which has 18 grams of protein for 100 cals. Pop in the microwave for 2 minutes, and you're good to go.

Finally, I've gotta pimp the Hi-Lo. This cereal, sold at Sprouts and Whole Paycheck (er, Whole Foods) has 12 grams of protein per 90 calories and tastes like graham crackers.

The latter three are soy-based, so some may wish to go lightly on these.

My point is that even if you want to do a high protein diet, which I'm neither endorsing nor deploring, veganism is NO OBSTACLE!

Duke said...

I have a some vegan related questions maybe you can answer.

One is how to get enough vitamin B12. B12 is not really produced by plants. It comes from living animal organisms. Seaweed, tofu, and a few other plant related products contain some B12 but they get it from micro organisms attached to the plants or the roots, not a natural part of the plant. I've read a recent test of 54 Vegans showed 26 of them had B12deficiencies. Maybe it wasn't a valid test, I don't know. They have tests to show everything and I'm not saying it was correct. I just wondered how vegans insure they get the proper B12 in their diets.

The other nutrient I wondered about was Omega 3 fatty acids. The only form reported by doctors that is easily absorbed by humans comes from animals. Some vegan products have it but it's in a different form and absorbed only one 50th the rate of omega-3 from animals. There is some question if it's the same nutrient at all and if it does the same thing.

I guess people could take suppliments for these things but doctors call suppliments "bedpan bullets" for a reason. They aren't absorbed like the natural elements are and some doctors don't bother to order them anymore. Most B!2 and Omega-3 suppiments are from animals products anyway.

I always wondered about these two aspects of a vegan diet. There's probably a simple answer.

Kenike said...

Duke- Can you point me in the direction of those test results? Although I hear about the concerns of B12 deficiencies, I never hear about actual vegans with them. I mean, I am sure people with deficiencies exist, but it's not as common as that study seems to suggest, I don't think. But I have no proof of that.

B12 actually comes from bacteria...plants are covered with it and herbivores eat the plants with the B12. They also create some of their own internally, like we do. And then the carnivores eat the herbivores that have the B12 and that's how they get it. We used to get our B12 from plants too, but our modern farming system keeps them too clean for reliable sources of B12. Now most modern humans get it from animal products which are crawling with bacteria.

Because of our modern food sourcing, vegans should probably supplement B12 as a back-up, and that can mean taking a vegan vitamin or consuming fortified cereals and non-dairy milks. Because B12 is comes from bacteria, there is no problem finding vegan vitamin sources. There is a nutritional yeast that also offers B12, but it's hard to consider it reliable for several reasons mostly having to do with storage. Most nutritionists say that since there doesn't appear to be a problem with taking excess B12, that it is better to err on the side of caution, and supplement. The Food and Nutrition Board actually says that all people over 50 should be supplmenting their B12s, not just vegans.

I'll post something about Vitamin B12 in the next week or so. In the meantime, you can also read this:

I did a post on the Omega 3s a few weeks ago. Check it out and see if it answers your questions:

And a link I reference:

Kenike said...

BE- Thanks for the recommendations. Yes, there are tons of vegan protein powders, protein bars, and 'meat analogues' with high amounts of protein as well. And versions of these that healthy vegan super-athletes approve of too. In fact, VEGA is the one created by Brandon Brazier of Ironman and triathlete fame.

In the post, I was focusing on the less processed and less fortified versions of protein sources, priamrily. But some of the charts I linked to demonstrate the protein rich foods in the slightly processed/supplmental categories too. And it's good to know they exist should you need them.

In fact, I regularly keep Cliff bars handy for when I am hiking or traveling. And I almost always have one in my purse in case I get held up somewhere far from vegan food and find myself starving.

BE said... of my goals is to get back to how I was eating about a year ago...preponderantly whole foods (except for the rice protein powder) and my only soy consumption coming from edamame. I've found the processed stuff to be convenient, delicious...and addictive for both reasons, leading me to be consuming more soy than is wise, and in only processed forms. It will be a detox process "breaking up" (or at least going back to "just friends" status!) with my Hi-Lo (to which I add artificial sweetener), but it's all for the good of the country!

Duke said...

I couldn't remember where I saw the original article concerning B12 issues but I found this:

Donaldson, (2000, USA) studied 49people following a vegan diet consisting mostly of raw foods
with cooked whole grains and root vegetables.
Subjects in the study did not take B12 supplements other than nutritional yeast resulting in an
average intake of 5 ± 11 μg B12/month, with a median intake of .7 μg/month.

19 subjects had normal B12 levels with the remaining 30 showing evidence of consistent B12 deterioration levels over time.

I guess it says Vegans need to take suppliments to maintain B12 but there is no reason it has to be low.

Kenike said...

Thanks for looking anyway.

I'm confused...the mostly "raw foods" bit makes it sound like a Raw Vegan diet, which is a little different than a vegan diet, it's more restrictive. But then they mentioned cooked grains, so I dunno.

I think that is true, overall, though, Vegans probably need to take B12 supplements because it's a reliable source, but it's an easy fix and low B12 is easily avoided if so desired. And most vegans don't have B12 issues for years and's a slow disappearance of the B12 if nothing is coming in. I had mine tested a year or two ago and all was well. But I take a supplement, so I expected it to be fine anyway.