Myths about veganism 2: Vegans don’t get enough protein.

A very persistent myth about veganism is the unusually common belief that vegans don’t have a sufficient plant-based protein intake. Upon turning vegan you might have been quite surprised how often you heard the phrase: “But where do you get your protein from?”
Especially if you are a vegan athlete or an athlete who thinks about going vegan you might wonder whether the increased protein requirements you have can be met by a solely plant-based diet. It turns out that even vegan athletes do not have to worry about their protein intake if their diet is a healthy one.

It is estimated that a normal person needs about 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams of protein for each pound) and that an athlete needs between 0,8 and 1,9 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight  (0,36-0,86 grams of protein for each pound). Very few athletes require the amount of protein at the upper end of this range, but even this can be covered by a plant-based diet. In case bodybuilders are still worried about their protein intake, there are various vegan protein-drinks that can be integrated into a healthy diet.

Now let us have a look at some plant-based protein sources and the amount of protein they contain.Generally, it can be said that legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are relatively high in protein. Products frequently used for meat-replacement such as tofu and seitan (wheat gluten) are also high in protein.

The following table provides some examples of plant-based foods that are high in protein, but is obviously not exhaustive.

Food Amount of protein per 100g Amount of protein per ounce
Chickpeas, cooked 9g 2,55g
Lentils, cooked 8,5g 2,41g
Kidney beans, cooked 8,5g 2,41g
Quinoa, cooked 5g 1,42g
Peanuts 26g 7,37g
Sunflower seeds 21g 5,95g
Tofu 14g (varies) 3,97g (varies)
Seitan (wheat gluten) 22g (varies) 6,24g  (varies)
Bread 12g 3,4g

As a comparison, 100g of lean beef steak include about 27g of protein which equals 7,65g of protein per ounce.  From the table, it should be clear that many plant-based products are actually high enough in protein to make it easily possible to get the recommended amount of daily protein with a vegan diet.

Another issue concerning plant-based protein intake is that not all protein sources contain an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids. While animal products usually contain all essential amino acids, i.e. can be considered whole proteins, some sources of plant-based protein do contain less from (or more from) some essential amino acids, therefore being incomplete protein sources.  Some plant-based protein sources, such as quinoa and soy, are actually complete, but incomplete protein sources are less problematic than previously thought.

Upon finding out that some plant-based protein sources do not contain an adequate proportion of all essential amino acids, the idea to combine different protein sources during one meal became quite popular, resulting in sometimes complicated combinations. Luckily, this is not necessary: It is absolutely sufficient to have protein intake from diverse sources over the day. A healthy vegan diet should include different protein sources, naturally resulting in an overall balanced intake of all essential amino acids, but it is not required to cleverly combine them during each meal.

To sum up, vegans get sufficient protein intake if their diets include adequate amounts of plant based protein. This also results in an overall balanced intake of all essential amino acids if diverse protein sources are consumed throughout the day.

Have you encountered this myth as a vegan and do you know other myths you would like me to write on? Please let me know in the comments.

This blog post is part of the series “Myths about veganism.”
See also:
Myths about veganism 1: Vegans can’t be good athletes

Source of the protein values ; photo credit: pixabay