Plant-based diets lack protein: myth or fact?

Vegetarianism and veganism were once considered fringe lifestyle choices, but today, it’s something of a fad. While trends tend to rise and fall, it’s surprising that people have started to seriously embrace plant-based diets. This has also brought an influx of misconceptions regarding these diets, and while most myths can be busted with basic logic, sometimes a quick scientific breakdown can be far more effective.

Myth 1: You can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet

Protein is all the rage nowadays, but many people are led to believe that they’re still not getting enough of it. Think of protein as the building blocks of your body; it’s a key aspect of our diet, irrespective of gender, age or activity level. It plays a pivotal role in every cell in our body, which means it’s needed for the growth and repair of our organs, skin, muscles, immune system and nervous tissue. It also plays an important role in transporting oxygen by blood and in hormone formation. 

Now, proteins are a chain of amino acids. When we intake protein, it’s broken down in the digestive system and the amino acids are used whenever our body needs it. Our body needs twenty different amino acids, each with its own functions. Our body is capable of manufacturing eleven of the twenty amino acids, but there are some our bodies cannot make. This is called essential amino acids that we need in the form of food.

Essential amino acidsPlant-based sources
IsoleucineAlmonds, soy, wheat
LeucineAlmonds, soy, wheat, rice
LysineSoy, beans
PhenylalaninePeanuts, almond
ThreonineBeans, peanuts, almonds
TryptophanRice, peanuts
ValinePeanuts, almonds, soy
HistidineRice, wheat

Complete proteins are those that contain all the nine essential amino acids our bodies cannot make naturally. The great news is that plant-based sources of complete protein do exist in certain whole grains, soy and more:

  • Miso
  • Quinoa
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Hemp seeds
  • Buckwheat
  • Chia seeds
  • Amaranath
  • Spirulina
  • Tempeh

Incomplete protein sources, on the other hand, might have some of the nine, but not all. They’re still an excellent and highly nutritious option which can be found in:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains
  • Beans/legumes
  • Vegetables such as spinach and broccoli

You might be tempted to believe that the term ‘complete protein’ is good whereas ‘incomplete protein’ isn’t, but it’s far from the truth. Yes, incomplete proteins do not contain all the nine essential amino acids, but they do bring something to the table. Therefore, what you’re looking for should be a healthy combination of both.

Myth 2: You’ll lose your gains on a plant-based diet

Remember that you don’t need to consume complete proteins at every single meal; your goal should be to get a good balance of essential amino acids throughout the day. Plant-based proteins also offer additional benefits in the form of vitamins and minerals and allow you to consume the recommended fibre intake too.

A lot of people are sceptical about going vegan mainly because they can’t imagine how to survive without meat. Thankfully though, this isn’t an issue anymore. In fact, it was never an issue, given the fact that plant-based meat alternatives have existed in several forms over the years. From soy-based imitation turkey to vegan burgers, the options available are virtually limitless and the best part? It very closely resembles the feel and taste of actual meat. However, when it comes to meat substitutes, one should be very cautious since most of them lack protein. This is why it’s safer to opt for wholesome options such as tofu, legumes, soybeans and so on. But how to tame those meat cravings when it strikes? We’ve got you covered!

Myth 3: Plant-based diets are restrictive 

Let’s cut right to the chase – read the package labels and list of ingredients. 

Sometimes, plant-based sausages and meat might taste a lot like meat and nail the spot texture-wise, but it could be lacking in the protein aspect. Look for products that are lower in saturated fat, fat, salt and sugar. Since an adult needs about 50 grams of protein a day, make sure that you check the label for protein.

Why following a plant-based diet is a good idea

Deciding to quit animal products is a very personal choice – some do it for moral reasons, others to reduce health complications and some others do so over environmental and animal welfare concerns. A lot of celebrities have embraced plant-based diets and it has become somewhat in trend, creating a massive shift in food culture and how it is perceived. It has also cleared the way for more plant-based food products to enter the market. 

From improving your mood to strengthening your heart health, following a plant-based diet is good for you, the environment, and the world. Moreover, it also reduces your carbon footprint, given the fact that livestock production makes up a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. While this sort of diet requires a lot of discipline, think of it as a template that promotes a healthier life instead of viewing it as a restrictive diet.

So, the next time someone pops the question “Oh, but where do you get your protein from?”, you’ll know exactly what to say!


My name is Katerina, and I am a certified fitness trainer and obtained my license in Fitnesstrainer B Lizenz. My interest in nutrition led me to study at NutraPhoria School of Holistic Nutrition and obtain my Holistic Nutrition & Health Coach Certification. I offer one-on-one personal training and also 1:2 services if you want to bring a friend. The first session, as always, is on the house.