Best sources of protein for plant-based diets

Vegan and vegetarian diets are increasing in popularity.  A plant-based diet has been associated with a decreased risk of type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers. In addition to the health benefits, studies show that a vegetarian diet, particularly a vegan diet is associated with a lower weight when compared to meat-eaters. The difference in the macronutrients, with meat-eaters consuming higher protein and lower fiber, was strongly associated with the higher weight. With such emphasis on protein in our diets, you may be concerned that you would not meet your protein needs on a plant-based diet will not meet your protein needs. Protein requirements vary from individual to individual depending on body weight, activity level and the presence of certain conditions. Protein has many roles in the body and is needed for the structure and function of organs and cells as well as muscle repair.

Plant-based protein sources are missing important essential amino acids (EAA) and are considered incomplete proteins. A diet that includes a variety of plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes, seeds, tree nuts and chickpeas will ensure that all EAAs are included. You do not need to combine protein sources at one meal in order to achieve complete EAAs as long as these foods are a part of your regular diet. It is not only the quantity of protein in the diet that is a factor but the quality. The availability of protein in meat is greater than in plant sources with the exception of soy. Vegetarians and vegans may need to consume more protein in order to meet EAA requirements. Plant based protein sources can be found in Table 1. A vegan diet requires careful planning to ensure adequate protein as well as vitamin B12 and vitamin D, iron, zinc, calcium and iodine. Supplementation may be needed to prevent deficiencies of these nutrients.  


Nick VanMeter