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Can vegans get enough protein?

To listen to a radio interview with Cris LaBossiere on the topic of getting enough protein without eating meat, go to the CJOB audio vault for August 31, 8:00am. The interview starts at about 8:12 am and was on the Weekend WakeUp Show with Kevin Wallace.

It's usually one of the first questions about eating vegetarian or vegan; Can you get enough protein in a diet without meat?

Yes. No problem.

Vegans/ vegetarians can get their protein by mixing incomplete plant protein sources and from plants that have complete protein profiles:

Mixing legumes (beans) with grains
Mixing legumes with nuts and seeds

Anything that grows contains protein. Nothing can grow without protein, which forms the basic building blocks of life. All plants - all fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds contain protein.

Broccoli? 40g of broccoli (about 1 cup) contains about 1.3g of protein. Not too much for sure, but no one should say that veggies don't contain protein. While broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, beats, etc. are very nutrient dense and contribute somewhat to the total protein intake of the vegetarian diet, these veggies really are too low in protein to be considered for meeting daily protein needs.

Starchy veggies, grains, nuts, and seeds are where the protein is at for vegan/ vegetarian diets.

Common incomplete protein sources:

Potatoes- a medium potato has about 4.3g of protein
Red kidney beans - ½ cup - 8g of protein
Baked brown beans - ½ cup 6g
Pasta ½ cup 2.5g
Rice ½ 2.5g
Almonds (20) 5g
Peanut butter 1 tbsp 8g

Complete protein sources:

Quinoa ½ cup 4.5g

Amaranth cup ½ 14g

Tofu, firm ½ cup 10.3g

Spirulina ½ cup 32g

Vegans won't eat eggs or dairy, but many vegetarians will. For vegetarians that do milk and eggs, a greater variety of protein sources is available. Without getting too much into the boring details of biochemistry, there are about 20 amino acids (proteins) that we need to make our bodies do their thing (live). Our bodies make most amino acids, but there are 8 "essential" amino acids we can't make and must get from the food we eat. This is why they are referred to as "essential".

All animal sources of protein; dairy/ eggs, meat, fish, poultry, contain all amino acids and are "complete" proteins. Some plant sources also have all 8 essential amino acids. Most plant sources have some, but not all of the essential amino acids. These are called incomplete proteins.

You can get the needed complete proteins by eating two plant sources that separately have incomplete proteins, but combined complement each other to form complete proteins.

1/2 cup of Red Kindey Beans provides about the same amount of Lysine (essential amino acid) as one egg. Rice is very low in Lysine containing only a trace amount.

Rice and beans (a great Caribbean dish, called "rice and peas") provide a complete protein profile. You can have beans at lunch and rice at dinner and you'll still get your complete protein for your body to use. It's more common to eat them together though.

Beans make up the lion's share of protein contribution to the mix, with rice topping up the protein profile.

Other common combo's

Peanut butter with whole wheat/ multigrain bread
Pita and hummus
Beans and pasta
Beans and nuts/ seeds together in a bean salad is great.

The average adult needs about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day. Endurance athletes and bodybuilders need between 1.5 and 1.8 g/ kg/ body mass/ day when training volume is high.

If you're not a vegan or vegetarian, no need to be fearful of not getting the protein you need without eating meat for a meal here and there. In fact most meat eaters don't eat enough fruit, veggies, and grains; adding a few non meat meals to the diet is a great way to add variety and get the vital vitamins and minerals that are lacking in the common "meat eaters" diet.

I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I eat many non meat meals. There is a lot non - vegetarians can learn about eating healthy from vegetarian and vegan diets. If you're one of those meat eaters that can't get their head around eating a meal without meat, get your head out of the sand; try some vegetarian/ vegan dishes- you'll be pleasantly surprised how great these dishes can taste while delivering a dose of vitamins and minerals that are lacking in most meat-centric meals.


2008 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca