Do vegans get enough protein?Posted on
If you have ever considered going vegan, one of your first concerns may be around the topic of protein. After all, a vegan diet excludes animal products, which have a bunch of protein. But don’t worry too much, the fear around protein is built around misconceptions and misunderstandings. After reading this blog post, you’ll be wondering: where don’t vegans get their protein?
Complete and incomplete protein
All life on earth is made from protein, including plants. The idea that only animal products contain protein is incomplete!
All plant-based proteins contain all nine essential amino acids. The reason they’re considered incomplete is because there is at least one essential amino acid present in a negligible quantity. This is why it’s so important to consume enough calories through a variety of foods- there’s nothing you can possibly miss! Animal products are considered complete because they contain high levels of each essential amino acid.
There’s complete plant-based proteins too, and they include soy, quinoa, buckwheat, chia seeds, hemp, and nutritional yeast. But it’s not necessary to live off of complete plant-based proteins, especially since Indian diets are full of variety by default. Consider a dosa made with rice and black gram- that’s a complete protein! And who can live without dosas?
Aren’t vegans protein deficient?
Protein is important for our bodies because it helps us:
- Build bones, muscles, cartilage, and skin
- Repair tissue
- Transport nutrients and oxygen
It’s kind of a good thing that it’s extremely hard to be deficient in protein. Most people eat a balanced diet everyday, and will never experience kwashiorkor, a serious protein deficiency. People who develop this disorder are often struggling with severe eating disorders or in areas with famine and food insecurity. It doesn’t take a lot of protein to avoid this disorder, so comparing veganism to a life-threatening condition is totally misguided.
Plant proteins are healthier
Not all proteins are digested equally. When the body breaks down animal proteins, the kidneys need to work harder to flush out acids and toxins. Since animal proteins are naturally high in purines, the body converts it to uric acid. Consuming too much animal protein can increase levels of uric acid and can result in the development of gout and kidney stones. Animal proteins are the primary contributor to acid loads in the human diet, whereas plant-based foods increase basicity. Researchers think that because plant-based proteins contain nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C, it can help improve kidney function...unlike animal products.
How much protein do we need?
The amount of protein you need depends on a variety of lifestyle factors. Age, sex, physical activity level, and pregnant women all have different recommendations. According to the World Health Organization, the global recommendation for protein is 0.83g per kilogram of bodyweight. If you weigh 60kg, you would just multiply 60 X 0.83 to get about 50g of protein. Try it, it’s pretty straightforward!
If you’re an athlete, you’ll need between 1.2 to 2.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, depending on how vigorous your training is. You can use this calculator to determine how much protein you require if you’re physically active.
But where do Indians get their protein?
An Indian diet is chock full of plant-based proteins. The top sources of protein for Indians include cereals, pulses, and millets regardless of your diet, household type or wealth quantile. Even if you think vegans don’t get protein, you’re already consuming most of your protein from cereals like wheat, rice, millets, barley, and maize.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, 56g of pulses is the recommended daily intake for a low-cost vegetarian diet. The most commonly consumed pulses and their protein content is pretty impressive:
Despite helpful tools and recommendations for protein, there’s no real way we can measure protein levels in our bodies. Like anyone else, you’ll just need to be mindful of how you feel. If you’re feeling chronically fatigued or depressed, it could be that you’re not getting enough protein. The easiest way to close the gap is to add plant-based protein powders into your diet. Quick fixes like that can make a world of difference. We recommend you listen to your body and check out our Indian Beginner’s Guide to Veganism to learn more about a vegan lifestyle.