Dr. Fuhrman Dr. Fuhrman

Protein in a vegan diet

statue of muscular man

There seem to be two kinds of people in the world: people who think vegans can never ever get enough protein from plant foods alone, and people who think protein is never a problem and people should stop nagging vegans about it.

First things first: it is true that it is very easy to get all the protein you need on a vegan diet. All natural foods contain some protein. That does not mean that it is impossible to get protein deficient on a vegan diet. Extracted oils contain no protein at all. Some fruits and fruit juices contain practically no protein. Sugar, of course, contains no protein. Some nuts and grains do not contain much protein. So, if you are eating a substantial amount of these products, you must make sure to eat protein rich foods as well to compensate. Also: if you are on a very low calorie diet, you risk not getting enough protein.

Why do you need protein?

Protein is necessary for growth, maintenance, and repair of all body cells (muscles, hair, nails, red blood cells). From Harvard's page about protein: Lack of protein can cause growth failure, loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system, and death. Protein is necessary for maintaining muscles, and muscles are necessary for antibodies to fight disease. Recent research also suggests that a moderately high protein diet prevents osteoporosis. Hair loss and being sick often may be a sign of protein deficiency.

How much protein do you need?

There are many different opinions and complicated formulas about this. Most experts today agree that you should get about 1 gram protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bodyweight. For a 60 kg (130 pounds) woman that means 60 grams of protein a day. Since one gram of protein is four calories, this means that 240 calories of your diet should come from protein. This is about 13% of an 1800 calorie diet.

What about food combining?

It is commonly believed that plant protein is of lesser quality than animal protein. It is true that we require a little more protein from plant foods than from animal foods, but if you eat the recommended one gram per kilogram, you likely get enough protein. Some plant foods do not contain substantial amounts of some amino acids (the building blocks of protein), but that's not unique to plant foods. Beef, for example, contains less methionine/cysteine. Spinach, on the other hand, has a better protein profile than milk. Dr. Harris has a great (somewhat technical) article explaining why you should not worry about amounts of amino acids at all if you eat a varied diet. (He recommends 0.9 gram protein per kilogram bodyweight, which I think is a little low, but the information is still valuable.)


I recommend to track your food intake for a couple of days in a nutritional analysis program such as FitDay. If you notice your protein intake is low, increase your intake of green vegetables and beans and limit foods with no protein such as oils and sugars. If you are eating rice, choosing a higher protein grain such as oats is also helpful.

Protein contents of plant foods

This is just for the number geeks among you: a list of protein content of various plant foods per 100 grams (3.5 oz). Click on a column heading to sort by that column.

FoodProteinCaloriesProtein PercentageGrams of food needed for 10 grams proteinFood Group
Buckwheat flour, whole-groat12.6233515.179Grains
Bulgur, dry12.2934214.481Grains
Millet, raw11.0237811.791Grains
Oat bran, raw17.324628.158Grains
Rice, brown, long-grain, raw7.943708.6126Grains
Wheat, hard red spring15.432918.765Grains
Wheat, hard red winter12.6132715.479Grains
Wheat, sprouted7.4919815.1134Grains
Apples, raw, with skin0.265223846Fruits
Apricots, raw1.44811.7714Fruits
Avocados, raw, all commercial varieties21605500Fruits
Bananas, raw1.09894.9917Fruits
Blackberries, raw1.394312.9719Fruits
Blueberries, raw0.74575.21351Fruits
Cherries, sweet, raw1.06636.7943Fruits
Dates, medjool1.812772.6552Fruits
Figs, raw0.75744.11333Fruits
Grapefruit, raw, pink and red, Florida0.55307.31818Fruits
Kiwi fruit, (chinese gooseberries), fresh, raw1.14617.5877Fruits
Lemons, raw, without peel1.12915.2909Fruits
Mangos, raw0.51653.11961Fruits
Melons, cantaloupe, raw0.84349.91190Fruits
Oranges, raw, all commercial varieties0.944781064Fruits
Pears, raw0.38582.62632Fruits
Pineapple, canned, juice pack, solids and liquids0.42602.82381Fruits
Pomegranates, raw0.95685.61053Fruits
Raisins, seedless3.072994.1326Fruits
Raspberries, raw1.2529.2833Fruits
Strawberries, raw0.67328.41493Fruits
Tangerines, (mandarin oranges), raw0.81536.11235Fruits
Watermelon, raw0.61308.11639Fruits
Beans, adzuki, mature seeds, raw19.8732924.250Legumes
Beans, great northern, mature seeds, raw21.8633925.846Legumes
Beans, kidney, all types, mature seeds, raw23.5833328.342Legumes
Beans, navy, mature seeds, raw22.3333726.545Legumes
Beans, pinto, mature seeds, raw21.4234724.747Legumes
Beans, white, mature seeds, raw23.3633328.143Legumes
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), mature seeds, raw19.336421.252Legumes
Lentils, pink, raw24.9534528.940Legumes
Lentils, raw25.835329.239Legumes
Lima beans, large, mature seeds, raw21.4633825.447Legumes
Mung beans, mature seeds, raw23.8634727.542Legumes
Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, raw3.043040.5329Legumes
Peanuts, all types, raw25.856718.239Legumes
Soybeans, mature seeds, raw36.4941635.127Legumes
Tempeh, cooked18.1919637.155Legumes
Tofu, raw, regular, prepared with calcium sulfate8.087642.5124Legumes
Nuts, almonds21.2657814.747Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, brazilnuts, dried, unblanched14.326568.770Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, cashew nuts, raw18.2255313.255Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, hazelnuts or filberts14.956289.567Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, macadamia nuts, raw7.917184.4126Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, pecans9.176915.3109Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, pistachio nuts, raw20.6155714.849Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, walnuts, english15.236549.366Nuts and Seeds
Seeds, flaxseed18.2953413.755Nuts and Seeds
Seeds, sunflower seed kernels, dried22.785701644Nuts and Seeds
Alfalfa seeds, sprouted, raw3.992955251Vegetables
Asparagus, raw2.22044455Vegetables
Beet greens, raw2.22240455Vegetables
Beets, raw1.614315621Vegetables
Broccoli raab, raw3.172257.6315Vegetables
Broccoli, raw2.823433.2355Vegetables
Cabbage, chinese (pak-choi), raw1.51346.2667Vegetables
Carrots, raw0.93419.11075Vegetables
Cauliflower, raw1.982531.7505Vegetables
Chard, swiss, raw1.81937.9556Vegetables
Collards, raw2.453032.7408Vegetables
Cucumber, with peel, raw0.651517.31538Vegetables
Dandelion greens, raw2.74524370Vegetables
Eggplant, raw1.012416.8990Vegetables
Kale, raw3.35026.4303Vegetables
Leeks, (bulb and lower leaf-portion), raw1.5619.8667Vegetables
Lettuce, green leaf, raw1.361536.3735Vegetables
Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, raw3.043040.5329Vegetables
Onions, raw0.92428.81087Vegetables
Peppers, sweet, red, raw0.992615.21010Vegetables
Potato, flesh and skin, raw2.027710.5495Vegetables
Purslane, raw1.31632.5769Vegetables
Radishes, raw0.6816171471Vegetables
Spinach, raw2.862349.7350Vegetables
Squash, summer, zucchini, includes skin, raw1.211630.3826Vegetables
Sweet potato, raw, unprepared1.57867.3637Vegetables
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average0.881819.61136Vegetables
Turnip greens, raw1.53218.8667Vegetables
Turnips, raw0.92812.91111Vegetables

June 21, 2006