How To Get Enough Protein On A Vegetarian Or Vegan Diet

By GMB doctor / health advisor Dr Sandy Krafchik

There are many different reasons that people follow a vegetarian/vegan diet. Here are some of the most common

1. Health

Diets rich in plant foods (such as grains, legumes e.g. beans/chickpeas/lentils/peas, fruits, vegetables, soy) reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Animal products and full-fat dairy products have been linked to vascular disease, heart disease and stroke. Hormones and preservatives may be found in some meat products and these are detrimental to your health. A vegetarian/vegan diet is low in cholesterol, calories and fat and high in vitamins and fibre and is thus associated with a healthier and longer life.

Heart health

Consuming red meat can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, liver disease, respiratory illness, infections, and kidney disease.

Reduces risk of metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions: high blood sugar, high blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, high cholesterol or triglyceride levels. People with this syndrome have a high risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. A vegetarian/vegan diet can reduce the risk of developing this syndrome.

Maintenance of healthy weight

In general vegetarians/vegans maintain a healthier weight than meat eaters. A plant-based diet is lower in calories and fat than a standard diet. A lower weight also means less risk of developing: heart disease/diabetes/stroke/cancer.

2. Environmental

Some people become vegetarian/vegan because of the impact that eating meat has on the environment (e.g. deforestation/water demands/global warming/antibiotic use).

3. Economic

Animal products are an expensive protein source compared to foods of plant origin. Vegetarians/vegans save money by combining proteins from plant and grain products to add essential amino acids to their diets.

4. Ethical

Some people become vegetarian/vegan because they disapprove of the poor treatment of animals raised for food.

5. Religious

Vegetarianism forms a part of some religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Seventh Day Adventist and Jains. Following a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle advocates nonviolence and is part of spiritual fulfillment.

Quick and easy ways to include protein in a vegetarian/vegan diet

  1. Legumes: Add to salads/soups/stews/sandwiches or wraps:

    Lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas - e.g. Stamina State Snacks Chibbs puffed chickpeas – available in 4 delicious flavours: French onion/Lightly salted/Sweet tomato/Hot and spicy.

  2. Tofu/ Tempeh: in stir-fry/salads/wraps

  3. Nuts: add to salads

  4. Nut butters: use as a spread (on bread or rice cakes) / in baking / in sauces (e.g. satay sauce)

  5. Grains: quinoa/polenta/rice/teff/lupin etc

  6. Smoothies: add a protein powder (plant based)

Daily protein requirements

The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8- 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. i.e. 56-91 grams per day for the average sedentary man and 46-75 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.

Although these amounts may be enough to prevent deficiency, studies show that it is far from sufficient to ensure optimal health and body composition. In fact, the "right" amount of protein for any one individual depends on many factors: e.g. activity levels, age, muscle mass, physique goals and current health status.

Protein ratio comparisons

Since the average amount of protein in most legumes is approximately 15 grams per cup, you’ll get 9 -30 % of your total protein requirement for a 2,000-calorie diet from one serving. Protein needs to account for 10 - 35 % of your overall calories each day according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Because protein has 4 calories per gram, you’ll need 50 to 175 grams daily for a 2,000-calorie diet, depending on your activity level.

Comparison of protein content of various foods

Meat and Fish

  • Chicken, breast, skin off, roasted, 100g = 34g

  • Lamb, chops, 100g = 28g of protein

  • Sausage, beef, grilled, 100g = 13.9g of protein

  • Beef, 100g = 27g of protein

  • Snapper 1 x fillet (approx. 170g) = 45g of protein

  • Salmon 1/2 x fillet (approx. 180g) = 39g of protein

  • Tuna, tinned, 85g = 22g of protein

Dairy and Eggs

  • Eggs, 1 x large, poached = 6g

  • Milk, cow’s, full fat, 100mL = 3.5g of protein

  • Milk, cow’s, skimmed, 100mL = 3.7g of protein

  • Cheese, cheddar, full fat, 100g = 24.6g of protein

  • Fetta, goat/sheep, 100g = 17.4g of protein

  • Ricotta, reduced fat, 100g = 10.1g of protein

  • Cream cheese, full fat, 100g = 11.1g of protein

  • Haloumi, 100g = 21.3g of protein

  • Yoghurt, natural, full fat, 100g = 6g of protein

Plants

Red lentils, 100g = 6.8g of protein
Yellow split peas 100g = 6.6g of protein
Quinoa, 100g = 4g of protein
Chickpeas (garbanzo) canned 100g = 6.3g of protein
Cannelini beans, tinned, 100g = 6.2g of protein
Kidney beans, tinned, 100g = 6.6g of protein
Tofu, firm, 100g = 12g of protein
Tofu, silken, 100g = 8.1g of protein

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds, raw, 25g = 6g of protein

  • Walnuts, raw, 25g = 4g of protein

  • Cashew nuts, raw, 25g = 5g of protein

  • Brazil nuts, raw, 25g = 3.6g of protein

  • Peanut butter, no salt or sugar, 1Tbs = 6g of protein

  • Pumpkin seeds, raw, 25g = 6.1g of protein

  • Sunflower seeds, raw, 25g = 6.7g of protein

Bread and Grains

  • Bread, white, 100g (approx. 2 slices) = 9.7g of protein

  • Bread, wholemeal, 100g = 9g of protein

  • Bread, gluten free, 100g = 9.8g of protein

  • Bread, rye, light, 100g = 9g of protein

  • Oats, whole, raw, 100g = 2g of protein

  • Pasta, white, 100g = 4.2g of protein

  • Pasta, wholemeal, 100g = 4.9g of protein

  • Rice, white, 100g = 2.7g of protein

  • Rice, wholegrain, 100g = 2.9g of protein

  • Pearled barley, 100g = 2.9g of protein

  • Polenta, cooked in water, 100g = 2.6g of protein

The term "complete protein" refers to amino acids, the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids that can form a protein, and 9 that the body can’t produce on its own and needs to be sourced from your diet. These are called essential amino acids. To be considered “complete,” a protein must contain all 9 of these essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts.

Vegetarians and vegans should eat legumes and nuts daily, along with wholegrain cereals, to ensure that they obtain adequate nutrients. A well-planned vegetarian/vegan diet can meet varying nutritional needs during all stages of life.

References:
Healthline. 2018. Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day. [Accessed 20 April 2018].
Katie 180. 2018. Protein Content of Foods List. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.katie180.com.au/nutrition/protein-content-of-foods-list/. [Accessed 20 April 2018].
LoveToKnow. 2018. Why Do People Become Vegetarians | LoveToKnow. [ONLINE] Available at: http://vegetarian.lovetoknow.com/Why_Do_People_Become_Vegetarians. [Accessed 19 April 2018].
HowStuffWorks. 2018. Why do People Choose Veganism? - Why Choose Veganism? | HowStuffWorks. [ONLINE] Available at: https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/vegan1.htm. [Accessed 18 April 2018].
Gianna Rose. 2018. Five Reasons People Become Vegetarian | LIVESTRONG.COM. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/505442-five-reasons-people-become-vegetarian/. [Accessed 18 April 2018].

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