The amount of contradicting information out there about nutrition, can be quite overwhelming, confusing and sometimes resulting in fear of eating certain foods. 

A question I get asked most, by vegans and non-vegans alike is “How can I get enough protein from plants? Are they really enough? 

Should I? meme

A question I get asked most, by vegans and non-vegans alike is “How can I get enough protein from plants? Are they really enough? 

These doubts usually revolve around the following points:

  • The quantity of protein is lower in plant sources – A palm sized chicken breast will give you about 25g of protein; and a ½ cup of sprouted & boiled chickpeas will give you about 8-10g of protein. You’d need to eat 1cup + another ¼ cup (about 300g) of chickpeas to get approximately 25g.
  • Plant proteins are considered incomplete (they do not have all the 9 essential amino acids) – Chicken is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids, chickpea isn’t. It doesn’t have the essential amino acid methionine in sufficient quantities.
  • Plant sources that have proteins also have higher portion of carbohydrates in them – ½ a cup of the chickpeas also has about 25 g of Carbohydrates.

While these are facts, it isn’t the whole truth and it doesn’t mean that you cannot sustain or achieve your goals being a plant-based eater. All you need to do is learn to be mindful and restructure your meals so that you’ll get the most from it.

We’ll get to that, but first…

These doubts usually revolve around the following points:

Proteins are large biological molecules that are needed for maintaining the structure and function of our body. There are different types of proteins in our body & here are some that you might be familiar with:

1. Muscle proteins – responsible for muscle contraction and movement

2. Collagen – proteins in our connective tissue that support structure and movement.

3. Hormones – messengers that sense and regulate the body’s functions

4. Antibodies – needed to create a strong immune system

5. Enzymes – All reactions in the body need enzymes to facilitate.

6. Transport proteins – Carrier proteins are responsible to move molecules around in our body.

7. DNA proteins – protect and shield the genetic material crucial for life.

What is food used for?

Since our body needs proteins for all its vital functions and it also doesn’t store proteins like carbohydrates & fats, we will have to constantly supply it through food. 

A healthy person would need to consume about 0.8-1g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight to just prevent protein deficiency & an athlete or a person who does intense training would need about 1.4-2g of protein per kilogram of body weight.

When dietary protein enters our digestive system, it gets broken down into amino acids. 

Amino acids are -

  • building blocks of proteins.
  • there are 9 essential amino acids (EAAs), which means that our body cannot produce them and have to be provided via food and 11 non-essential amino acids i.e. our body makes these mostly by itself.
  • absorbed in the intestine, where some of them are retained for further use and most are sent to the liver where they have different fates. A small percentage of this goes into muscle synthesis.

Completing the incomplete

When a protein source has all the EAAs in sufficient quantity i.e. enough to meet the body’s requirement, then they are called complete proteins, e.g. Meat, Fish, Eggs, Dairy.

When a protein source doesn’t have one or more of the EAAs in sufficient quantity to meet the body’s requirements, they are called incomplete proteins e.g. Legumes, Beans, Lentils, Nuts, Seeds, Grains. They have all the EAAs, but may be one or two of them might be in lower quantities than the rest.

Incomplete does not mean Inferior & there is a way our body works around this!

All foods have some amount of protein in them, but the protein quantity and the amino acid profile varies.

Variety is the key here!

Nutrition Proportions

Our body doesn’t care, where the protein source is coming from, it just adds up the EAAs from whatever we eat throughout the day. 

So, eating from a wide variety of plant sources will ensure that your EAA need is met.

Let’s see for example: If there is a limiting amino acid in chickpeas, it can be complemented by eating rice or roti (whole wheat flat bread) in the same meal or you could just eat a few almonds for a snack a couple of hours later. In both cases you will get the 2 separate amino acids which was less in the other. 

You don’t have to meticulously plan to get two protein sources that complement each other in the same meal, you could also choose to consume it anytime during the day. 

Instead of getting complete proteins from one food source (meat/eggs/fish/dairy), you could choose from 2 or 3 types of plant-based proteins and still meet the body’s needs for sufficient EAAs.

So, do you have to know which food has what limiting Essential Amino Acid? ….God No!

If you just consciously add a portion from a variety of plant sources in your meals, there isn’t any need to worry about completing your “incomplete” proteins! 

Not so incomplete after all 😊

What about quantity of protein in a serving you ask?

Let us say a person of 70kilos will have an average target of getting about 70g of protein/ day (1gm protein/kg of bodyweight – remember this quantity is just enough to prevent deficiency). 

Instead of getting 23-25g of protein/ meal, 3 times a day from one source (meat/fish/dairy), you’d just have to choose from a variety of plant-sources with different quantities of protein throughout the day to make it up to the average 70g.

Again…. Variety is key here. 

Beans and lentils are the more known sources of plant-proteins but here are a few more options you could easily mix and match.

Protein Mapping

Do you have to count grams each time you choose your food?

Thankfully no. But you would have to get familiar with portions. Once you get used to it, you can eyeball the serving. 

Let me make it simpler -

Look at the table again, the ones that make it to the top of the list have more grams of protein per portion and as you go down the list, the protein quantity goes down as well. Even some veggies & fruits have made it to the list.

Build your plate by picking one source from each of the coloured boxes at every meal if you’d like to hit a good amount of protein/meal; but you could also spread the protein intake across the day to make it up to your daily need. 

Here’s a sample of a full day vegan-meal plan along with the protein quantity.

Meal Food choices ~Protein

2* savoury lentil pancakes (adai) with 1tbsp hemp in the batter + ½ cup spinach

* 1 pancake/dosa will have about 4tbsp or a ¼ cup of assorted soaked lentils blended with water.

¼ cup boiled peanuts (can also add spices to add flavour)

1.5 cup lentil spinach dal* + 1 cup beans & peas stir-fry + ½ cup rice.

* you will get ½ cup cooked lentils in the 1 cup thinned down dal + the other ½ cup is cooked spinach

1 tbsp Almond butter

1.5 cups* broccoli soup with a Salad**

** ¼ cup Buckwheat + 1 cup Mung sprout + 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds ½ tbsp sesame seeds

* 1.5 cups of soup will be a thinned down from 1 cup of cooked broccoli

Total Protein from all meals

So even if you aren’t a vegan, a few of your meals could be based on this and that way you will reap the benefits of eating a variety of plant produce (not just for proteins but also for vitamins/ minerals/ antioxidants et.al).

I have created a free infographic based on all the facts mentioned above, so that it becomes easy for you to proactively plan and prep for your meals in advance. (in a pdf format that you can download here)

What was the last point of worry? About plant sources of proteins also having carbohydrates, right?

Yes, they do and what’s the problem with that? No, I am not being sarcastic. 

Carbohydrates aren’t the problem, earning them is. Earn your carbs and let them nourish you. 

A long-term low carbohydrate diet especially for plant-based eaters, can be the reason for protein deficiencies & all your vital functions depend on it. Stay away from processed and refined carb sources and choose more whole food options (whole grains/ millets/ starchy veggies/ fruits etc). 

If you are a level 1 (read my blog to know what level you are), then carbohydrates, coming from whole foods should be the least of your concerns. 

The sample menu above, is great for a level 1. If you are a level 2 or 3 (for an athlete trying to increase performance or someone looking towards a body transformation for a physique competition) this would be different.

Book a free 30-minute session with me to understand how you could use this information to eat to your nutritional level and meet your fitness goals. You could also leave a question below in the comments.

If you are a plant-based eater/vegan, I hope you feel more empowered and also relieved that you can get sufficient & good quality proteins from plant sources. If you are someone who has only been consuming animal-based protein, I hope you will also consider adding plant proteins in your diet.

Thank you for reading this super long article, that took me a loooong time to write. I do hope you find it useful and would love your feedback.

Some additional reading material:




P.S: Information/products mentioned here are for educational purposes. Please consult a health care practitioner before making any changes to your diet.

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