Dr. Fuhrman Dr. Fuhrman

Examples of low protein vegan diets

Dr. Fuhrman recently wrote two articles that touch the subject of protein in a vegan diet, something I also wrote about last week (see: Protein in a vegan diet): Unrefined carbohydrates encourage weight loss and Vegetables deliver protein with micronutrients. Dr. Fuhrman's conclusion: if you eat healthful foods, you will automatically get enough of all three macronutrients as long as you do not consume too many calories from white flour, sugar, and oil. This is a bit different from what the doctor wrote earlier inDr. Fuhrman Addresses Osteoporosis and Protein: adequate protein intake is important and vegetarian diets should be designed so that adequate protein intake is consumed. Vegetarian diets where the vast majority of calories come from grains and roots such as rice and potato are not ideal for long-term health.

The sentiment that protein is not a problem in a vegan diet is common among vegan apologists and I do not agree with it. In this article, I will present two vegan diets that consist of a variety of plant foods, but do not contain enough protein.

Diet 1: Anna, low fat vegan

This is Anna's diet. Anna is a 125 pound woman who wants to live a healthy life and be free of cancer and heart disease. She eats a low fat, low calorie, vegan diet. She cannot tolerate beans so she eats lots of fruits and vegetables, and two servings of starches. She knows some fatty acids are important, so she takes a tablespoon of flax seed with her breakfast smoothie.

Food ItemMeasureCalsCarbsProt.Fat
Blueberries, raw1 cup8321.011.070.48
Seeds, flaxseed1 tbsp594.112.344.08
Bananas, raw1 large12131.061.480.45
Oranges, raw, navels1 fruit6917.561.270.21
Lettuce, cos or romaine, raw1 head10620.67.71.88
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average1 large337.131.60.36
Cucumber, with peel, raw1 cucumber4510.931.960.33
Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked1 cup21644.775.031.76
Vegetables, mixed, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1 package (10 oz)179367.860.41
Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt1 cup18041.424.020.3
Apples, raw, with skin1 large11029.280.550.36

This is not an unrealistic diet for someone on a low fat diet. It is very low on calories, but many people who eat this many vegetables say they simply cannot eat more and do not seem to need more calories. I included lots of fruit and green and other vegetables, healthy starches and flax. There are no refined products at all. In fact, I think this diet would be considered very healthy by many vegans. Yet Anna, who needs about 56 grams of protein a day, gets only 35 grams.

Diet 2: Mary, somewhat health concious vegan

Here is Mary's diet. Mary is a 125 pound woman who is not as much concerned about health, but still thinks she eats pretty healthy. She gets almost all of her calories from unrefined plant foods and eats more vegetables than everybody she knows. She does use a little oil in cooking and in her hummus. Doesn't everybody? She adds one tablespoon of maple syrup over her toast with apples breakfast. She does like beans, in moderation (hence the hummus), but she does not like soy products. She eats no cookies, french fries, potato chips or other foods like that.

Food ItemMeasureCalsCarbsProt.Fat
Bread, whole-wheat, prepared from recipe, toasted2 slices25647.387.724.96
Apples, raw, with skin1 large11029.280.550.36
Syrups, maple1 tbsp5213.4200.04
Bread, whole-wheat, prepared from recipe2 slices25647.287.724.96
Hummus, home prepared4 tbsp10612.082.925.16
Cucumber, with peel, raw1 cucumber4510.931.960.33
Oil, olive, salad or cooking1 tbsp1190013.5
Vegetables, mixed, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1 package (10 oz)179367.860.41
Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked2 cup43389.5410.063.52
Tomato sauce, no salt added0.5 cup459.041.580.24
Bananas, raw1 large12131.061.480.45
Orange juice, raw1 cup11225.791.740.5

Again, I think this is a quite realistic diet for someone who is quite health concious but hasn't given it much thought. It is easy to see how this diet might be improved, but it is also easy to see how it could be much, much worse. I am sure Dr. Fuhrman would say that Mary is not eating enough healthful foods, but I think the issue is that Mary herself honestly does think she eats a healthy diet, with all those fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

One of the first questions new vegans often post on message boards is what snacks and sweets they still can eat. Most vegans do not eat as healthy as Anna and Mary. I am afraid that the message protein is not a problem if you eat a healthy diet that consists of a variety of unrefined plant foods (which I already do not agree with) is translated in many peoples heads as just protein is not a problem.

You do not need to jump through loops to get enough protein on a vegan diet. It really is very easy to get all the protein you need (see my first article and stay tuned for the next episode in this series), but you do need to be aware of it. Do not automatically assume you get enough just because baby's thrive on mother's milk and mother's milk is about 5% protein. Mother's milk is also 50% fat (most of it saturated) and full of cholesterol. Baby's nutritional needs are different from those of adults.

June 28, 2006