What Every Vegan Should Know About Protein and the Essential Amino Acids

Our bodies need protein, which comes from both essential and non-essential amino acids highlighted here.

The body produces non-essential amino acids, but the 9 essential amino acids: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine, must come from food sources. It is important for vegans to take note of the essential amino acids they are getting daily from their diet and make an effort to achieve the standard for the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)

There are numerous options for vegans other than proteins from animals but it is necessary that an effort is put into what you eat, when you eat it and what benefits you are getting from what you are eating. Here is a resource for the nutritional content on numerous food items. (Note: It sometimes converts to grams so you may have to do your own metric/imperial conversion.)

The FDA recommends that 10% to 35% of daily calories come from protein. This roughly translates to .40 to .50 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example a woman weighing 120 lbs. should strive to intake between 48 and 60 grams of protein per day. Another method is to multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 to calculate the amount of protein-needed daily.

The body only builds muscle for about two hours a day so if you spread your protein consumption across the meals you eat during the day you can build and not break down muscle.

Lysine

Lysine is the most important when it comes to meeting the protein needs on a vegan diet. If you meet lysine requirements on a vegan diet, you will most likely meet protein requirements.

Below are some good vegan choices, of foods containing Lysine.

Sources of Lysine

  • Tofu
  • Soy Meats
  • Lentils
  • Seitan

Histidine

Histidine is an essential amino acid that is necessary for developing and maintaining tissues, regulates immune system, controls inflammatory processes, blood cell production and the creation of the neurotransmitter histamine. If children do not eat enough histidine-containing foods they can experience eczema.

Below are some good vegan choices, in descending order, containing Histidine that range from meeting over 144% (Pumpkin Seeds) of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) to Miso with 10% of the RDI.

Sources of Histidine

  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Soy Beans
  • Lentils
  • Roman Beans
  • Yellow Beans
  • Kidney/Pink/or Black Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
  • Freeze Dried Tofu (Koyadofu)
  • Kamut Wheat, cooked
  • Quinoa
  • Soy Flour
  • Soy Chips
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Watermelon Seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Wild Rice
  • Sesame Seeds, Almonds & Peanut Butter
  • Chi Seeds and Pistachio Nuts
  • Cooked Tofu
  • Flaxseeds
  • Boiled Soybeans
  • Brown Rice & Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Miso

Isoleucine

Isoleucine is a building block for the proteins made within the body and helps with muscle health/recovery and the production of energy. Isoleucine also plays a vital role in the production of hemoglobin (red blood cells).

Below are some good vegan choices, in descending order, containing Isoleucine that range from meeting over 257% (1/2 cup serving) of Dried Seaweed Spirulina of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) to Lima Beans (1 cup serving) with 19% of the RDI.

Sources of Isoleucine

  • Seaweed Spirulina
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Dry-Roasted Pistachio Nuts
  • Chives, Freeze Dried
  • English Walnuts
  • Soybeans, Sprouted/Raw
  • Soybeans, Green/Raw
  • Soybeans, Green Cooked/Boiled
  • Pinto Beans
  • Lentils, Boiled
  • Ancho Peppers, dried
  • Edamame, frozen and unprepared
  • Lima Beans

Leucine

Leucine helps to regulate blood sugar, supplies the body with energy and helps build muscles and recover after workouts. Medically leucine is oftentimes used to help patients recovering from surgery and trauma.

Below are some good vegan choices, in descending order, containing Leucine that range from over 203% (1/2 cup serving) of Dried Seaweed Spirulina of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) to Sesame Seeds, Whole Roasted (1-oz serving) with 13% of the RDI.

Sources of Leucine

  • Seaweed Spirulina, Dried
  • Dry Roasted Soybeans
  • Peanuts
  • Soy Flour
  • Tempeh
  • Soybeans, boiled
  • Sunflower Seeds, Dried with Kernels
  • Miso
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Firm Tofu
  • Beans, White, Cooked
  • Pinto/Kidney Beans
  • Yellow/Navy
  • Black Beans
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Peanut Butter
  • Sesame Seeds, Whole-Roasted

Lysine

Helps create collagen and absorb calcium. Deficiency can lead to fatigue, muscle depletion and anemia. It is responsible for the proper production of a nutrient called carnitine, which converts fatty acids into fuel to aid in lowering cholesterol.

Below are some good vegan choices, in descending order, containing Lysine that range from meeting over 117% (1 cup serving) Dry Roasted Soybean of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) to Dry Roasted Cashews (1-oz serving) with 11% of the RDI.

Sources of Lysine

  • Dry Roasted Soybeans
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Lentils
  • White Beans, cooked
  • Split Peas
  • Roman Beans
  • Yellow Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black Beans
  • Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
  • Sesame Seeds, Whole Roasted
  • Tofu Dried-frozen (Koyadofu)
  • Soy Chips
  • Pistachio Nuts
  • Fried Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Sunflower Seeds, Dry Roasted
  • Chia Seeds, Dried
  • Watermelon Seeds
  • Cashew Nuts, Dry Roasted

About Me

Hi, I'm Roxanne.

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My family heritage is Italian and French so needless to say, I love preparing meals for family, friends and anyone with an appetite and the openness to try something new.

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