It’s the question that vegans get asked all time and it’s hardly surprising as it was the first nutrient to be discovered, and it is one of the 3 macronutrients that are needed as one the main components of our diet to maintain a healthy body. But why do most government guidelines and “health experts” still think that animal sources are the primary (some still say only) source and therefore the most heavily recommended?
“Proteins are not just for our muscles; they are our bodies building blocks and are crucial for all of our organs, skin, hair and nails.”
The complete protein concept
Much has been made of the fact that many sources of animal protein are “complete” that is that they contain all nine “essential” amino acids. These include meats, fish, poultry, milk and eggs and until relatively recently these have accepted as the best way to obtain these. So much so that governments and health experts have called for sources of complete proteins to be part of every meal, hence the advice to have animal based protein in most meals. The acceptance that plants also can be complete as well is a relatively new concept but is now becoming recognised
thanks to pioneers such as T. Colin Campbell the need to have complete sources of protein (animal or otherwise) is now being challenged and is now widely accepted that plant based diets provide enough amino acids and therefore protein. These arguments are also helped by the growing prominence of vegan athletes in the media.
While not all plant based foods are regarded as “complete” (because some have essential amino acids in low qualities) eating a good combination of plant based foods throughout the day (i.e. eating a balanced and varied diet) ensures that those on plant based diet can obtain the essential amino acids they need.
Example of complete plant based foods*:
How Much Protein Do We Need?
The amount of protein you need is dependent on your age and activity levels and closely linked with your calorie needs. For example; children and adolescents need both good nutrition and calories to ensure that they develop properly, likewise a professional athlete would need higher levels of both than someone leading a relatively sedentary lifestyle.
As plant based diets tend to be lower in calories it’s important to to ensure that you consume enough food each day. But if you are maintaining your bodyweight on a plant based diet (or developing naturally if young or an adolescent) then it’s almost impossible to be deficient in any nutrient, protein included, as plant based foods are nutrient rich. For example while 100g of raw broccoli only provides 28Kcal and 3g of protein it has over 100 mg of protein per kcal. An egg contains five times as many calories (143 kcal) but only four times as much protein (90 mg per kcal).
The above comes with an important caveat that if you eat a highly processed plant based food diet you will receive lower levels of macro and micro nutrients. This is just as true for meat based diets as it is for plant based, while you might be getting the calories you can be just as undernourished eating “junk-food” plant based foods as eating “junk-food” meat based foods. If you are on a highly processed diet you would probably benefit from supplementing your nutrition levels in the short term or until you can reduce your dependance on processed foods. Learn more about nutrition on our nutritional therapy pages.
So how do I answer the question?
I guess the best answer is:
“I make half of it myself and the rest I get from plants”.
About the GrassRoots Health Blog
The Grassroots Health blog is written by Dean and Joanne. Joanne's passion is vegan raw food, nutrition and wellbeing while Dean likes to explore the real science behind health.
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