When Davy and I were raw vegans years ago, pretty much all of our family and friends asked the typical question – where do you get your protein.
Even other vegans and vegetarians asked us this question!
At first glance, eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds might appear to be a “protein deficient” diet.
You can, indeed, get sufficient protein quite easily from even the most strict raw vegan diet. However, protein insufficiency may be a problem. Read on to find out why.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
A quick and easy way to calculate your protein needs is to do some simple math.
Step 1: Calculate Your Ideal Body Weight
For men, use this formula: 106 pounds for 60 inches of height (5 feet) and add 6 pounds for every inch over 60.
For women, use this formula: 100 pounds for 60 inches of height and add 5 pounds for every inch over 60. For example, I am 5′3″ or 63 inches tall, so my ideal body weight is 115 pounds (52 kilograms).
Step 2: Calculate Your Protein Requirements By Using Your Ideal Body Weight
Using the minimum recommended daily allowance (RDA) of .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, my daily protein goal should be 41.6 grams.
If you are very active or athletic, your protein needs may be higher.
Sources of Protein on a Raw Food Diet
Every food we eat has protein. This includes all fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains.
Not only that, but it is easy to make protein-rich, raw vegan foods that will meet or exceed protein recommendations set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – as long as you eat a calorie-sufficient diet!
Here is where raw vegans get their protein:
Did you know that fruit has protein? It does!
Many fruits contain between 4-8% protein. While they are not a significant source of protein in the diet (unless you are fruitarian), they contribute to your overall protein needs.
Plus, fruit is a complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids! Shocking, I know, but it’s true.
When I was a raw vegan, i’d get anywhere from 18-22 grams of protein from fruit (I did the 80/10/10 diet), which provided almost half of my daily protein requirements.
Non-sweet fruit like tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers also have protein.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables contribute to your overall protein intake.
Some people say that leafy greens like spinach contain more protein than beef, but that’s an exaggeration. Sure, 100 calories of ground beef has 10 grams of protein while 100 calories of fresh baby spinach has 12 grams.
Per calorie, spinach does have more protein than ground beef.
Percentage-wise, spinach is 30% protein while ground beef is 40% protein (and 60% fat).
On the surface, it sounds like good advice to “eat more greens for protein”. Except that that in order to get 12 grams of protein from 100 calories of spinach, you’d have to eat almost an entire pound of it!
Picture a 12-inch by 12-inch (30cm by 30cm) container packed full of spinach. That’s a LOT of spinach for anyone to eat in a meal, let alone an entire day!
Two cups of kale has 4 grams while dandelion will have 3 grams. A head of leaf lettuce will provide about 5 grams.
Basically, two large bunches of dark leafy greens each day will supply anywhere from 14-20 grams of protein. I eat most of my greens in green smoothies or shredded up in salads.
Vegetables are another source of complete protein on a low fat, raw vegan diet.
No, you can’t meet your daily protein requirements with just vegetables, but along with fruit, leafy greens and a small amount of nuts and seeds, vegetables like carrots and celery help supply enough protein to meet your needs.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are packed with protein. Just once ounce of cashews provides 5 grams while the same amount of chia seeds provide 4.4 grams.
One-fourth cup of sunflower seeds provide 7.3 grams and a tablespoon of ground flax seed in your green smoothie adds almost 2 grams.
I got most of my protein from greens, fruits, and vegetables when I followed a raw vegan diet. I didn’t go overboard on fats from nuts, seeds, or avocados.
Other Raw Vegan Protein Sources
- Mushrooms (crimini, shiitaki, portobella): Not much, but again, they contribute to your overall protein needs.
- Sprouted Beans (mung beans, chick peas/garbanzo, etc…)
- Sprouted Lentils
- Sprouted grains (quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice)
- Spirulina (blue-green algae): Expensive, but protein-rich.
Protein powders are great when you are transitioning to a vegan diet or getting started with raw foods to ease your mind about getting enough protein while you figure out how to get enough from food.
A protein supplement did help ease my mind about getting enough protein and the full range of essential amino acids every day.
I regularly use NutriBiotic vegan rice protein powder, which is low-temperature processed and very high quality.
Complete vs Incomplete Protein
Many people think plant-based protein is incomplete and translate that into meaning “low quality” or “inferior”. The truth is that different types of plant proteins have different amino acid profiles.
For example, while sprouted legumes might have higher levels of some amino acids and lower levels of others, a green smoothie with protein-rich leafy greens and fruit has a complementary amino acid profile that helps fulfill my overall requirement and provides all the essential amino acids and protein I need for the day.
Nutritionists now agree that it is no longer necessary to “combine proteins” in the same meal (ie: eating rice with beans) provided you eat a combination of different plant protein sources throughout the day.
The easiest way to ensure that you are getting complete protein from plant sources is to meet your calorie requirements with a varied diet consisting of fruits and vegetables (especially dark leafy greens) and small amounts of nuts, seeds and sprouted foods.
So, Raw Vegans Don’t Have To Worry About Protein At All?
Well, not quite.
While it can be easy to meet established protein intake guidelines, even on a low fat, raw vegan diet (such as the 80/10/10), there are two essential amino acids that can be problematic.
Any raw vegan who consumes less than 2000 calories per day should track their intake of the amino acids lysine and methionine.
These two amino acids are found in low amounts in all plant-sourced foods. It is possible to meet protein intake guidelines (grams of protein per day), but still fall short of these two amino acids.
Low creatine on a blood test might hint at a inadequate methionine intake.
While you are highly unlikely to become protein deficient, I believe that protein insufficiency can manifest as vague symptoms that may derail your efforts on a raw vegan diet over the long term.
Use a website or app (I recommend Cron-o-Meter) to ensure that you are meeting not only your basic protein requirements, but that you are also meeting your intake requirements for all essential amino acids.
For more information, be sure to read my comprehensive guide to plant-based nutrition.