vegan sources of protein chart
Medically reviewed by Sara Osman,RD,PT

Introduction

Protein is a major functional and structural component of every cell in the body.

It is made up of a long chain of amino acids and there are 20 of them of which 9 are considered to be nutritionally indispensable (essential) in humans because the body is not able to synthesize it [1,3].

Amino acids are foundational blocks of proteins and proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass which helps metabolism [1]. The most important aspect of protein is its amino acids composition[1,2].

Thus, the quality of a dietary protein source is determined by its digestibility and amino acids composition[1,3,4].

The food sources that contain all the essential amino acids are referred to as complete proteins. Most plant-based sources are categorised as incomplete proteins except soy and quinoa. Hence vegans and vegetarians are recommended to combine different dietary protein sources throughout the day to meet the daily protein intake [3].

Also, Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) and Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) are 2 composite metrics used to rate the dietary protein source based on its essential amino acid composition, true faecal digestibility and its ileal digestibility[4,5].

According to FAO, UN, plant-based foods are the leading source of protein and comprises 57% of daily protein intake, followed by meat (18%), dairy (10%), fish and shellfish (6%), and other animal products (9%) globally [11].

  • Animal proteins are more digestible (>90%) compared to plant proteins(45-80%). Certain anti-nutrients, fibres, and other factors reduce the digestibility of plant protein [1].
  • Mixing different plant-based proteins could compensate for the lower anabolic capacity of these protein sources. For example, cereal proteins (deficient in lysine) when consumed with legumes (deficient in sulfur amino acids) could improve protein absorption rate [6].
  • However, once the antinutritional factors are removed, purified plant protein sources (soy protein isolate, pea protein concentrate, and wheat gluten) display a digestibility rate similar to that of animal-based protein sources[9].
  • Also, the human body can absorb a maximum of 20 – 25 grams of protein per meal and anything excess than that is not absorbed efficiently[2].
  • In a 70 kg adult man, the body protein pool is around 10-12 kg of body weight of which
    43% resides in the skeletal muscle, 15% in both skin and blood tissues, 10% in liver and kidneys
    and the remaining protein is distributed across other organs [3,4,5].
  • Also, four proteins (myosin, actin, collagen, and haemoglobin) represent almost 50% of the total protein content in the body, collagen may comprise 25 per cent of the total [4].
  • The body takes longer to break it down than carbohydrates due to their complex structure and hence they are a much slower and longer-lasting source of energy than carbohydrates [2].
  • Excess protein intake is stored as fat in the body [2].
  • Amino acids are irreversibly lost in the faeces (25-30 %), by metabolic oxidation (70-75 %)
    and relatively small amounts of losses in urine, sweat, skin, nails and hair loss [3,5].

Body Functions

Recommended Daily Intake

how much protein is recommended daily
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Deficiency Symptoms

Protein Food Sources

foods high in protein vegan
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Excessive Intake/ Toxicity Side Effects

Optimal Muscle Mass Protein Intake

The primary variable responsible for regulating the maintenance or gain in skeletal muscle mass is muscle protein synthesis[7].

It is the naturally occurring process in which protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by exercise[1,3,7].

Of all the 20 amino acids needed for preserving or gaining muscle mass, leucine is particularly one of the most important ones. The other 2 being methionine and lysine [6,7].

Recent research suggests consuming plant-based foods that could provide at least 3g of leucine per meal(equivalent to 23g of whey) to maximise postprandial muscle protein synthesis [1,7].

The below charts highlights the dietary plant food sources of leucine along with the recommended intake.

foods high in protein vegan

Nutrient Profiles For Food Groups

Fruits ( i )

Raw or frozen – 0.96 g
Canned – 0.86 g
Dried 0.97 g
Juice – 0.98 g

Legumes ( i )

Flour – 36.05 g
Dry – 24.46 g
Raw- 17.87 g
Cooked – 8.94 g
Canned – 5.83 g

Nuts & Seeds ( i )

Nuts – 10.30 g
Seeds – 13.91 g

Veggies ( i )

Dried – 5.68 g
Raw or frozen – 2.99 g
Cooked – 3.60 g
Canned – 3.16 g

Cereal grains & Flour ( i )

Flour – 11.85 g
Raw grains – 11.59 g
Cooked – 3.32 g

Oils ( i )

Cooking oil – 0 g
Other edible oils – 0 g

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Medically reviewed by Sara Osman,RD,PT

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