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June 20, 2014

Protein diet for a vegetarian

by Helene van den Berg

The RDA protein intake for vegetarians should be 0.9g/kg/day (0.41g/pd/day) – adult male vegan is around 63g/day; adult female vegans is around 52 g/day – considering some plant proteins are being digested somewhat differently from animal proteins and for the amino acid mix in some plant proteins.

It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Vegans eating VARIED diets containing vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds, rarely have any difficulty getting enough protein as long as their diet contains enough calories (energy) to maintain weight. Some of the best vegetarian protein sources are: quinoa, green peas, nuts and nut butter, beans, chickpeas, tempeh and tofu, edamame, leafy greens, hemp, chia seeds, sesame and sunflower seeds, seitan, non-dairy milk, unsweetened cocoa powder.

What about the issue of combining protein?. A simple rule is to eat 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 for it’s deficit. Even if you ate enough of one kind of grain, bean, potato or vegetable, you could meet your protein and amino acids needs, but that would be a monotonous way to eat and you would miss out on other nutrients.

The point is: almost all non-animal protein sources contain all of the essential amino acids!.

COMBINATION suggestions:

  • If low in lysine- combine with gouda, mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, tuna, salmon
  • If low in tryptophan – combine with pumpkin seeds, black walnuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, pistachios, cod, lobster, tuna.
  • If low in methionine + cystine; phenylalanine + tyrosine – combine with eggs, sesame seeds, chestnuts, brazil nuts, halibut, oatmeal, oat bran, eggs.

To supplement your diet with soy or whey protein as the main source of amino acids, consider the following:

Soybeans are limited in methionine and cysteine. Methionine assists in breaking down fats and prevents build-up of fat in the arteries and liver. Since it is converted to cysteine, it also assists with the removal of heavy metals from the body. It is a powerful antioxidant (removing free radicals). Lacking or limited amino acids, have serious health implications (e.g. muscles break down). If soy is the main source of protein, consume foods high in methionine, such as sesame seeds and brazil nuts. The best is to combine soy products with legumes or whole grains to achieve the ideal balance for the body’s requirements. Most fruits and vegetables contain little methionine (except spinach, corn and potatoes). Cysteine can be made by the human body, if sufficient quantity of methionine is available. Cysteine can be found in eggs, milk, yoghurt, garlic, red peppers, broccoli, oats, wheat germ etc.

INTERESTING NOTE: a heavy dose of cysteine is useful in combating the negative effects of alcohol (hangover and liver damage).

There are some concerns over excess soy consumption:

  • Soy contains phytoestrogens – some isoflavones in soy mimic and block the hormone estrogen.
  • Contains phytates – block the body’s uptake of minerals
  • Enzyme inhibitors – hinder protein digestion
  • Hemagglutinin – causes red blood cells to clump together and prevent proper absorption of oxygen, resulting in poor cardiac health.

Therefore it would be advisable (especially for vegetarians) not to rely heavily on soy products, to satisfy the bulk of the protein requirements.



  • Tempeh-1 cup: 31g
  • Soybeans (cooked)-1 cup: 29g
  • Lentils (cooked)-1 cup: 18g
  • Black beans (cooked)-1 cup: 15g
  • Kidney beans (cooked)-1 cup: 15g
  • Chickpeas (cooked)-1 cup: 15 g
  • Pinto beans (cooked)-1 cup: 15g
  • Lima beans (cooked)-1 cup: 15g
  • Black-eyed peas (cooked)-1 cup: 13g
  • Veggie burger-1 patty: 13g
  • Veggie baked beans-1 cup: 12g
  • Tofu-4 oz : 10g
  • Quinoa-1 cup: 8g
  • Peas (cooked)-1 cup: 8g
  • Textured vegetable protein (cooked)-½ cup: 8g
  • Peanut butter-2 Tbsp: 8g
  • Spaghetti (cooked)-1 cup: 8g
  • Almonds-¼ cup: 8g
  • Almond butter-2 Tbsp: 7g
  • Soy milk-1 cup: 7g
  • Whole wheat bread-2 slices: 7g
  • Bulgur (cooked)-1 cup: 6 g
  • Soy yoghurt (plain)-8 oz: 6g
  • Sunflower seeds-¼ cup: 6g
  • Cashews-¼ cup: 5g
  • Spinach (cooked)-1 cup: 5g
  • Broccoli (cooked)-1 cup: 4g

Note: 1oz = 28.35g


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