My latest Chic Vegan column…
How much protein does a vegan person need daily? Is animal protein superior to plant-based protein?
This is definitely the question I get asked most.
When eating a varied whole-food plant-based diet that is adequate in calories it is actually difficult to become protein deficient (i.e. spinach is 57% protein while hamburger is 37%). According to Dr. Pam Popper,
“[We] are suffering from excess, not deficiency. [Americans] are eating too much fat, too much protein, and too many calories.”
So many people are so concerned about protein deficiency. While protein is a very important macronutrient, so are carbohydrates, and you never hear anyone expressing a concern about carbohydrate deficiency. Without the appropriate amount of carbohydrates our brains do not function well and that should be a big concern!
There is an elemental difference between animal-based and plant-based protein. Since the amino acid structure of animal-based protein most closely mimics that of our own bodily protein, it is more available for our body to utilize immediately…But that does NOT mean that it is a more superior form of protein for our bodies to use. We must remember that animal-based protein is acidifying and results in our bodies need to buffer that acid by removing it from our body’s alkaline stores (most notably calcium from the bones). I don’t know about you, but I want to keep as much calcium IN my bones as possible.
While plant-based protein does not generally provide all 9 essential amino acids (there are some exceptions; soy, quinoa, spinach), it is not acid producing which is a major benefit. The essential amino acid issue so many people have harped about for years is insanely easy to rectify. It was once thought that vegetarians and vegans needed to eat complementary protein foods at each meal to result in a complete amino acid profile, but it is now known that it is not necessary to do so. The Vegetarian Resource Group states,
“We recommend eating a variety of unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables throughout the day, so that if one food is low in a particular essential amino acid, another food will make up this deficit 8,9.”
Current protein recommendations for vegetarians vary from 0.6-1.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight. To determine your protein needs, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (this will give you your weight in kilograms). Take that number and multiply it by the protein recommendation. Let’s use a 150 pound man as an example:
150lbs. / 2.2 = 68kg (rounded down for ease)
68kg x 0.6 = 41 grams of protein
68kg x 1.0 = 68 grams of protein
The protein recommendations for a vegetarian male range between 41 to 68 grams of protein per day. When you look at the protein content of many vegetarian foods (click here to do so), it becomes clear that consuming adequate protein is not a problem. Vegan protein powders alone can provide up to 24 grams of protein per scoop.
Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/he-boden/