With the exception of sugars and oils, all plant foods contain protein. The highest protein contents are legumes, soy products (tofu, tempeh , soy milk and other soy products), seeds, nuts, cereals and some vegetables. The experience of Estonian nutrition counselors shows that for many Estonians, eating legumes on the morrow is limited to eating peas or beans, salt is removed from the beer and raw green peas are eaten in the summer 1 . The role of nuts and seeds on our diet is also usually negligible. However, consumption of these two categories of food is associated with positive health effects.

Legumes are cheap, delicious, rich in protein and other nutrients, and play an important role in a healthy diet. Legumes are low in fat but high in soluble fiber that help lower cholesterol and keep your blood sugar under control. Eating legumes provides protection against diabetes, heart disease and obesity. 2 The importance of legumes is also evidenced by the fact that the UN / FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Legumes 3 . The initiative aims to raise awareness of the many beneficial properties of these vegetable protein sources, to increase legume production and to encourage their increased use.

Nuts and seeds contain healthy fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients. Eating nuts and seeds helps to lower blood LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), raise HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) and lower blood pressure. 4

The following table provides an overview of the best sources of plant protein.

The explanations at the bottom of the table will help you to understand the table. Using the example of hard tofu, half a cup of tofu gives one serving, weighs 126 g and contains 16 g of protein. It is a very good source of protein, as one serving of tofu provides an amount of protein that ranges from 20-50% of a woman’s daily protein requirement.

The World Health Organization (WHO) general recommendation for adults is 0.83 g of protein per kg of healthy body weight per day 5 . Thus, a normal 60 kg adult should consume at least 50 g / day and a 75 kg adult 62 g / day. According to Estonia’s new dietary recommendations, protein intake should be between 10-20% of the food energy consumed. At 2000 kcal, this means 50-100 g of protein per day, and at 2700 kcal it means 68-135 g. As you can see from the table, it is quite easy to design a plant-based diet that contains enough protein.

Common myths about plant proteins
One of the main reasons why the consumption of animal protein is considered to be indispensable is the fear that vegetarian nutrition will not provide enough good protein to meet body needs. These fears are based on a number of plant protein myths:

Myth # 1: Vegetarian food is protein-poor

The protein content of plant foods is often underestimated. While the recommended proportion of protein in food is at least 10%, legumes provide on average 28% of food energy, vegetables 27%, cereals 15%, nuts-seeds 12% and fruits 6% 6 . Thus, foods that contain a diverse selection of all plant food groups and also provide sufficient food energy are likely to provide adequate protein intake.

Protein deficiency can occur if a menu consists of a significant amount of sugary and oil-rich foods such as potato chips, French fries, sweets, sugar-containing soft drinks, etc., but also how many calories are derived from alcohol. Foods composed primarily of fruits may also be protein-poor and may not provide the recommended amount of protein.

Myth # 2: Plant proteins lack some essential amino acids

Proteins are composed of linked amino acid chains. There are 20 basic amino acids, and they are divided into substitutes that the body can produce on its own, and indispensable ones that need to be obtained from food, because they are not synthesized by the body itself. Nine amino acids are considered essential for a healthy adult human: leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, phenylalanine and histidine.

It is widely believed that many plant foods lack one or more essential amino acids, and with the exception of some plant-based exceptions (such as soy products), the only source of complete protein is animal products. However, the reality may be surprising: plants and microorganisms synthesize all 20 essential amino acids for their life activities, while animals (including humans) synthesize only about half. Thus, 10 amino acids, in addition to the nine amino acids listed above, are considered essential for pigs, cattle, chickens, fish and other edible animals, as well as arginine. Thus, all the essential amino acids in animal products are originally derived from plants or microorganisms because animals are not able to synthesize them themselves.

Some national food composition databases (eg USDA Database 7 ) contain information on the amino acid composition of foods. They show that all plant foods contain all essential amino acids (with the exception of the sugars and vegetable oils mentioned above).

Myth # 3: Plant proteins must be carefully combined

The third common myth is that the amino acid composition of plant proteins needs to be precisely known and carefully combined with each meal to obtain the appropriate proportion of amino acids for the body.

This myth is based on a somewhat erroneous classification of food proteins as full and low value. Proteins having a ratio and amounts of essential amino acids close to those of the human body are considered “complete” and proteins having relatively fewer one or more amino acids are considered “low value”. Animal, but also, for example, soybean proteins are considered “full”, while most vegetable proteins are considered “poor”: for example, legume proteins contain relatively less methionine and cereals contain less lysine. However, while the menu includes both legumes and cereals daily, the amino acid compositions of the various proteins complement each other to form a combination well suited to the needs of the body.

The world’s largest nutrition expert organization, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has argued since 1993 that a dietary mix of plant protein sources is not necessary and that it is sufficient to consume protein sources from different plant food groups throughout the day 8 .

Myth # 4: People need to consume animal protein

Humans do not have a biological need for animal or vegetable proteins, but instead we need amino acids for protein building blocks. Namely, the body breaks down food proteins into amino acids, which make them the proteins that are right for it. Although proteins of animal origin are generally somewhat more bioavailable than vegetable proteins, it is quite easy to ensure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, all the essential amino acids by consuming only vegetarian food.

To compensate for this lower intake, vegans, or full vegetarians, are advised to consume about one tenth of the total recommended protein: 0.9 g per kg of healthy body weight for adults 9 . For example, an adult vegan weighing 60 kg needs at least 54 g of protein per day, while a vegan of 75 kg needs 68 g.

A number of large nutrition organizations 10,11,12,13 , including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 8 , affirm that animal protein free diets, when expertly designed, are appropriate for humans at all stages of life, including breastfeeding and pregnancy, infant, toddler and adolescents, and people with a variety of physical activity, including athletes. The suitability of plant-based nutrition for people of all ages has also been confirmed in several national dietary recommendations 14,15,16,17 , including Finland’s 2016 Dietary Recommendations 18 .

Why prefer vegetable proteins?
There are three main benefits to consuming vegetable proteins compared to animal proteins:


Several major health organizations have taken a clear stance on the promotion of vegetarian nutrition. For example, according to the WHO, five categories of healthy diets, all of which are of plant origin: fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains, constitute a healthy diet 19 . The World Agency for Research on Cancer also recommends that herbs be the main source of cancer prevention 20 .

The largest studies on the relationship between diet and health show that in general, many diseases (hypertension 21.22 , cancer 23.24.25 , diabetes 26 , cardiovascular disease 27 ) and disease risk factors (cholesterol level 28 , body mass index 26 ) have a positive effect. the higher the consumption of animal products. The following graph illustrates this gradual effect 22,24,26,27 :

Comparison of nutrition groups’ health indicators.

The environment

Livestock production has a significantly greater negative impact on the environment than crop production and is one of the major contributors to environmental damage such as deforestation, soil erosion, freshwater scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Raising animals to feed humanity in ways and to the extent that is currently unsustainable. Given that the world population is growing by some 220 thousand people every day 29 , it is clear that if we continue to do so, the problem will continue to get worse. According to the United Nations Environment Program, the negative environmental impact of livestock production can only be reduced if there is a significant global change in dietary habits towards the reduction of the consumption of animal products 30 . Free nutrition of animal products has the lowest negative impact on the environment when compared to different diets 31 .


In addition to health and environmental considerations, there is an increasing number of people who, on ethical grounds, refuse to consume animal products.

How to increase the intake of plant proteins?
There has been a significant shift in the dietary recommendations of several countries in recent years in favor of vegetable protein preference. A prominent example of this is the recent United Kingdom recommendations, which have now renamed the “Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other protein sources (except dairy products)” group: “Beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other protein sources”. The purpose of the protein group name change is to emphasize the importance of plant proteins in a healthy and environmentally sustainable diet and to encourage people to increase their plant protein intake. 32

The easiest way to increase your vegetable protein intake is to get to know and love the rich and delicious world of legume foods. The group of legumes consists of beans, lentils, peas, chick peas, soy products and peanuts. Peanuts are botanically leguminous, but due to their high fat content and nutrient content, they are usually classified in the nut-seed group. However, peanuts are also high in protein, like other legumes, and are therefore included in portions of legumes.

Leguminous plants can be produced by a nutritious and tasty leivamäärdeid (hummus, oapasteedid, hernepesto, peanut butter), they can be added to soups, salads, pasta and riisiroogadesse, Karridene, wrap ‘idesse vegetable cutlets, and to use, and the preparation of burgers. Legumes can also be used to make delicious gluten-free pastries (muffins, muffins).

Soybean products have a wide range of uses and offer, among other things, an easy way to replace animal products: soy milk is used instead of cow’s milk, tofu meat, egg and curd, and minced meat from soy pulp. In addition, there are a variety of soy-based animal-based products such as vegetable sausages and sausages. According to the American Cancer Association, the consumption of traditional soy products (tofu, soy milk, tempeh ) may reduce the risk of breast, prostate and uterine cancers as well as some other cancers 33 . The American Heart Association is of the opinion that soy products can support cardiovascular and general health 34 .

People with a protein-rich vegetarian diet are advised to eat at least three portions of legume food per day. One serving size is half a cup of boiled legumes or tofu, a cup of soy milk, a quarter cup of hummus or peanuts, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and a cup of legume.

Nuts and seeds are well suited for middlings, they can be made into lubricants (eg, tachin, various nut butter), added to smoothies, salads, pastries, pasta dishes and curries. An easy way to get essential omega-3 fatty acids is to add ground flaxseed to breakfast cereal or muesli, use chia seeds in smoothies, or add hemp seeds to salads.

It is recommended to eat at least one portion of nuts and seeds per day. The portion size is about 30 g, which gives 2-3 tablespoons of seeds, a quarter cup of nuts or 2 tablespoons of lubricating butter.

Sample menu of protein rich vegetarian food

The following is a one-day sample menu of 2000 kcal and 83 g vegetable protein. Based on the female reference weight (57 kg), this menu provides approximately 1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight. Proteins provide about 14% of dietary calories, carbohydrates 58% and fats 28%. The menu also includes at least about twice the recommended amount of all essential amino acids 35 .Therefore vegetarians can easily ensure the proteins in sufficient quantity and quality

Protein rich vegetable menu.

The menu shows you how easy it is to add protein-rich plant foods to your diet.

Comment by Reelika Õigemeel, Vice Chairman of the Estonian Nutrition Advisers Association:

Veganism is a lifestyle and we all have the right to choose the kind of life we ​​want to live. Healthy nutrition can also be a full-blown diet, but as with mixed nutrition, vegant nutrition should follow dietary recommendations. Suggestions for vegant nutrition by the Estonian Nutrition Therapy Association are as follows:

vegetables 7-12 servings (portion size ca 100g)
cereals 9 servings (portion size ca 100g cooked cereal, slice of bread, wheat bread)
legumes 3 servings (portion size ca 30g cooked legumes, 100g turkey beans)
nuts-seeds 3-4 servings (portion size ca 10g)
fruits 4-5 servings (portion size ca 100g)
Certainly, a vegan lifestyle follower should consume vitamin B 12 daily as a dietary supplement , as well as vitamin D throughout the year. Vitamin D is also recommended throughout the year for people with a diet.

Particular attention should be paid to the availability of calcium, selenium, iron and vitamin A. Rich vegetable sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables, tachin, chia seeds, white beans, oranges, black molasses syrup, almonds, carob or carob, enriched vegetable milk and calcium-curded tofu. The daily needs for selenium can be met by 1-2 peanuts, iron-rich legumes, nuts-seeds, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and broccoli, and a rich source of vitamin A, for example sweet potatoes or carrots.

Also the iodine content in the vegan menu may be too low. Iodine may be used as a dietary supplement or may be used in the preparation of iodinated salt. However, iodine often remains scarce in the diet, even for those with a diet.

A well-planned and balanced, vegan menu, consulted with a nutrition counselor if necessary and with certain conditions ( along with Vitamin B 12 and D and iodine as a dietary supplement), is health-supportive and covers the body’s needs at every stage of life. Omnivores could also reduce the proportion of animal products in their menu and instead consume more plant-based foods, including legumes as a protein source and nuts and seeds as a protein and fat source.


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