How Vegans Can Absorb More Protein From Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds

By Vesanto Melina, RD, www.nutrispeak.com

Absorbing more protein from plant foods is the final topic in this blog post. To discover that information, be sure to read all the way to the bottom, past the first set of endnotes.

What’s the story with complete and incomplete proteins?

In the early 1970’s Frances Moore Lappé wrote about a need to combine “incomplete proteins” in the same meal. Many people got the impression that it was helpful to classify foods as either “complete proteins” (better) or “incomplete proteins” (worse).

Ten years later, Ms. Lappé retracted her statement. Since the 1970’s, our understanding of human protein needs has come a long way.

Some misconceptions about protein arose due to studies on animals. As it turns out, baby rats — who double their weight in four days and grow fur all over their bodies — have very different amino acid requirements from humans, who have no desire to do either.

For example, baby rats do OK on cow’s milk, but will die on a diet of human milk. In animal studies, rats were given a single plant protein source — such as wheat protein — plus enough vitamins, minerals, and calories. The rats didn’t do well at all on a single source of protein.

Rats require as much as 50% more of certain amino acids than humans do. Our early reliance on such studies has led many people, including scientists, to undervalue plant protein quality.[1-4]

But unless you were living in severe poverty with limited food choices, you would not live on a single food (such as wheat or rice) as your protein source. Humans require a variety of foods for optimal health.

Essential Amino Acids

Adults require eight essential amino acids in specific amounts. They’re called “essential” because you must get them from food. (Infants require nine essential amino acids, with histidine as the additional amino acid.)

In the tables below, the phrase “amino acid scoring pattern” describes the amount of each essential amino acid humans need – per gram of protein. For example, according to the 2007 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, adults require 45 mg per gram of protein and 6 mg of tryptophan per gram of protein.

In early studies, foods were deemed “incomplete proteins” when their amino acid patterns did not match the amino acid pattern required by humans.However, with the exception of gelatin (an animal product), plant and animal proteins provide every one of the essential amino acids.

Table 1: Amino acid scoring patterns from the 1973 and 1985 FAO/WHO/UNU reports. On the left is the list of amino acids, on the right is a score representing the mg per gram of protein.[3a]

Amino Acids 1973 Report[1a] 1985 Report[2a]
Preschool
(2–5 y)b
Schoolchild
(10–12 y)
Adult
(under 75)
Histidine 40 19 19 16
Isoleucine 28 28 13
Leucine 70 66 44 19
Lysine 55 58 44 19
SAA 35 25 22 17
TAA 60 63 22 19
Threonine 40 34 28 9
Tryptophan 10 11 (9) 5
Valine 50 35 25 13
Total 360 339 241 127
[1a]
To be used for young and older children and adults recognizing it might underestimate the quality for adults.
[2a]
Calculated with safe protein intakes, (g/kg/d). i.e. children (2—5 years), 1—10, children (10—12 years), 0—99 adults, 0—75.
[3a]
Requirement as mg/kg/d divided by the safe or average protein requirement as indicated.

Table 2: Amino acid scoring patterns from the 2007 FAO/WHO/UNU reports. On the left is the list of amino acids, on the right is a score representing the mg per gram of protein.[5a]

Amino Acids 2007 Report[4a]
Infants Preschool
(1–2 y)
Schoolchild
(3–10 y)
Adult
(under 66)
Histidine 20 18 16 15
Isoleucine 32 31 30 30
Leucine 66 63 61 59
Lysine 57 52 48 45
SAA 27 25 23 22
TAA 52 46 41 38
Threonine 31 27 25 23
Tryptophan 8 7 7 6
Valine 43 41 40 39
Total 336 310 291 277
[4a]
Calculated with average protein requirement values (g/kg/d). i.e. infacts 1 to 12 months, preschool children 1 to 2 years, children and adolescents 3 to 10, adults up to age 66.
[5a]
Requirement as mg/kg/d divided by the safe or average protein requirement as indicated.

Diets of just one thing (“mono diets”) are a bad idea, even for a food that has a high rating in terms of amino acid pattern. Your dietary needs are too complex to be met by any one food. However, if you ate enough of any one protein source, plant or animal, you’d get every amino acid you needed.

What is the “ideal” reference pattern for human requirements?

The answer to this question is the subject of controversial debate among nutritional scientists. The answer varies at different stages of life — infancy, adulthood — as shown in the table below.[1-7]

This chart gives amounts (in milligrams) of each of the 9 amino acid acids per gram of protein. All plant foods contain every one of these essential amino acids.

Why are there no lists of amino acid scores in current scientific literature?

The ideal “human scoring pattern” is still the subject of much debate, making it difficult to choose a reference. (Examples of scoring patterns that have been used are shown in the table above.)

Today, the standard method for evaluating protein quality is the “protein digestibility corrected amino acid score” or “PDCAAS”. However, this method is controversial and evolving.

The PDCAAS depends on two factors: digestibility and amino acid content. Gram for gram, it compares the amino acids in a food (corrected for digestibility) with human protein requirements.

Before furthering this point, we want to make clear that we don’t recommend eating beef, and we recognize that vegans don’t eat eggs. However, the best way to understand the common concerns about plant proteins is to compare them with animal proteins.

The PDCAAS scores for egg and cow’s milk is 100, for beef is 92, and for soy is 91, and for wheat is 42.[1-7]

Note that these are estimates; human digestibility is estimated rather than measured exactly. So you may see slightly different numbers depending (for example) on how these foods are prepared.

Beef, egg, and soy have patterns close to estimated requirements from the 1985 report of preschool children suffering from malnutrition (shown in the table above) and of the 2007 adult requirements.

Does this mean we should eat eggs or beef daily?

Getting all — or even most — of your protein from beef or egg would put your cholesterol intake through the roof. Also, it would put you at risk for a great many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer.

As a further example, since soy foods are highly nutritious, two men chose to center their diets on massive amounts of soy. The first man had twelve servings of soy per day. The second consumed twenty, which was the majority of his calories. This led to serious health problems.

That sort of dietary imbalance deprives you of essential nutrients and phytochemicals that would otherwise come from other highly nutritious, protein-rich foods.

It is no longer certain how closely amino acid patterns in food match the requirements of healthy children (who are unavailable for research purposes), or even of adults (because it is a matter of some debate).

The patterns of soy protein isolate and egg white meet an adult amino acid pattern so closely they are given a score of 100%. Soy and beef are a match of approximately 91-95%. In other words, if you eat about 5-10% more of the particular lacking amino acid, you meet your protein requirements.

In practical terms, this means raising your recommended protein intake to 0.9 grams of protein per kg body weight, as suggested in Lesson 14.1.

Other foods have lower scores. Researchers see different scores for various plant foods depending on the rodent or estimated human amino acid pattern that was used as a reference. However, by using a mix of plant foods, they can easily match the overall amino acid pattern to requirements.[1-7]

For vegetarians, eggs and dairy products are good sources of protein, in terms of their amino acid contribution.

Now we know that every plant food contains every one of the essential amino acids. But when one or two are in short supply, can you meet your amino acid requirements by eating more of that same food?

From a health perspective it does not make sense for you to eat a single food, such as soy or egg, to meet your protein needs. Using any one food as your sole protein source would bring you health risks and would be unwise. You need a mix of foods for optimal nutrition. Each food you eat will provide a slightly different pattern of amino acids.[9-11]

Food exceptions include human breast milk and infant formula. Nature and formula companies have specially fashioned these to meet infant requirements.

Do complimentary foods need to be eaten in the same meal?

Suppose you eat whole wheat toast for breakfast, brown rice with vegetables for lunch, and black bean soup for dinner.

Both whole wheat toast and brown rice are low in lysine but relatively high in methionine. Black beans are low in methionine but relatively high in lysine.

In other words, while each meal would have all of the essential amino acids, each meal would beslightly short in one amino acid. That’s relative to the estimated reference pattern in Table 1, above.

Does it matter how far apart, or how close together, these meals are eaten?

No, because your body can pool and retain amino acids over the course of a 24 hour period. Thus, your body can draw on all the amino acids it needs from the “pool” for its protein building and maintenance requirements.

You should note that every vegetable will contribute its unique pattern of amino acids, further adding to the mix.[12-14]

It doesn’t matter which foods you eat at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Humans worldwide do well on a variety of different meal patterns.

The protein you derive from various food groups is shown in the table below.

The minimum servings listed in Column 1 will meet the recommended protein intake for someone weighing 120 lbs (including a safety margin). But you can easily eat more than the minimum servings.

Legumes (beans, lentils, soy products, and peanuts) are significant protein providers. So are nuts and seeds. So it’s wise to include them at each meal, or at two meals and one snack.

For example, spread 4 Tbsp nut butter on two slices of whole grain bread, and you’ll get four servings of protein (2 servings from the nut butter and 2 servings from the bread). Between meals, you can snack on a handful of nuts or raw peas in the pod.[15-17]

You can also whip up a salad dressing containing ½ cup silken tofu or ¼ cup tahini, consume it with lunch and dinner, and you’ll get another serving of protein.

Note: Tofu and tempeh can be twice as high in protein as shown in the chart below, per half cup. Check labels.

Protein From Each Food Group

Food group
(minimum servings per day)
Examples of a single serving Approximate protein contribution per serving, grams Total protein from minimum servings, grams
Legumes
(3 or more servings)
½ cup cooked beans, peas, lentils, tofu, or tempeh
1 cup raw peas or sprouted lentils or peas
¼ cup peanuts
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 cup soy milk
1 ounce vegetarian meat alternative
9.6 g 28.8g
Grains
(3 or more servings)
½ cup cooked cereal, rice, pasta, quinoa, or other grain or grain product
1 ounce (1 slice) bread
½ cup raw corn or sprouted quinoa, buckwheat, or other grain
1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal
3.3 g 9.9 g
Vegetables
(5 or more servings)
½ cup raw or cooked vegetables
1 cup raw leafy vegetables
½ cup vegetable juice
1.3 g 6.5 g
Nuts and seeds
(1 or more servings)
¼ cup nuts and seeds
2 Tbsp nut or seed butter
5.5 g 5.5 g
Fruits
(4 or more servings)
1 medium fruit
½ cup fruit or fruit juice
¼ cup dried fruit
0.85 g 3.4 g
TOTAL PROTEIN 54.2

Vegans are often slim; is this due to less muscle mass or protein intake?

Vegans typically have less body fat (and are slimmer) than lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores. Is this good news or bad news?

Let’s begin with two large studies which found that the average vegan’s body size is healthier, rather than underweight… the EPIC-Oxford study in the UK and the Adventist Health Study-2.

These studies compared the BMI (Body Mass Index) of vegans with other dietary groups, including health-conscious meat eaters, fish eaters, and lacto-ovo vegetarians. “Meat eaters” were defined as those who consumed meat more than once per week.[18-20]

The Body Mass Index is a weight-to-height ratio; anything from 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy. Anything below that is considered “underweight”.

In the first study – the EPIC-Oxford study – vegans had the lowest Body Mass Index, ranging from 21.98 to 23.6.

Health-conscious meat eaters had a Body Mass Index at the top end of the healthy range. Of course, the British population tends to be slimmer than North Americans.

In the second study – the Adventist Health Study-2 – vegans were the only dietary group whose average Body Mass Index was in the healthy range.

Despite these studies, there may be a higher proportion of vegans who are underweight, compared to the general population. However, data is currently very limited.

A small American study reported that 36% of its vegan participants (9 out of 25) had a Body Mass Index of less than 19. In this report, a larger proportion of vegans fell near or below the BMI cutoff for underweight (vs. the general population).

The Oxford Vegetarian Study analyzed approximately 11,000 vegetarians and vegans. More than 20% had a Body Mass Index of 18 to 20. (Again, the healthy range is considered to be 18.5 to 24.9.)

In fact, more of these participants had a Body Mass Index under 18 (underweight) than a Body Mass Index over 28 (overweight).[19]

The Giessen (raw food) study in Germany reported high rates for raw vegans being underweight. 25% of raw vegan women and 14.7% of raw vegan men who participated in the study were underweight. On the positive side, only 5% of the women and 6% of the men in this study were overweight or obese.[22]

Further research is warranted to understand the rates of underweight people in vegan populations and the resulting health consequences.

Generally, vegans with low body weight and muscle mass are making one of the mistakes described in lesson 14:11; they’re eating fruitarian diets, eating too few calories, or eating mostly flour products and processed foods.

If you’re a vegan who wants to build muscle mass, you should eat considerably more than 0.9 g protein per kg of body weight per day. Aim for 1.3 to 1.9 g/kg/day.

It’s entirely possible for you to build muscle with a vegan diet. However, if you are currently underweight, it may take a change in habits. You may need to eat more protein and more calories.

(Editor’s note: see Lesson 19: of our Mastery Program, written by vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke. It’s called “Nutrition for Vegan and Vegetarian Athletes”.)

Vegan athletes who restrict calories – or don’t eat enough legumes, tofu, tempeh, or other meat alternatives – are at risk for low protein intakes. On a raw diet, the equivalent is eating too few nuts, seeds, peas, sprouted lentils and sprouted mung beans.

You don’t need to combine specific plant proteins at each meal. However, it is important to consume good sources of protein at each meal. It can be helpful to add vegan protein powders such as hemp, rice, pea, pumpkin seed, or soy protein to smoothies.[23, 24]

Research has established that plant protein is suitable for building and retaining muscle. In fact, a study of men who did resistance training found a soy-rich diet to be just as effective as a beef-rich diet for improving muscle strength and power.

For purposes of that study, either soy or beef was added to a vegetarian diet. In both cases, the men’s daily protein intake averaged 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight over twelve weeks.

Their program included resistance training, done at a gym three days per week.[21, 22] Muscle mass increased equally and significantly in both the beef group and the soy group.

Researchers found no added benefit from components, such as creatine, that are present in meat but not in soy. They concluded that either soy or beef protein, combined with the right exercise, can delay muscle loss and increase muscle quantity, tone, and strength.[21, 23, 24]

Is the protein from plant sources the same to the body as animal protein, or less available?

The amount of fiber in a plant’s cell walls affects the “bioavailability” of its protein (i.e. how much of its protein you can absorb).

The proteins in most whole plant foods tend to be less bioavailable, in the range of 75% to 92%. As explained earlier in this lesson, vegans can offset this by consuming a little extra protein than the standard recommendation of 0.8 g protein/kg/day.

However, you can make plant foods more bioavailable with the food prep techniques you’ll discover in a moment.

Some believe that you adapt and absorb more from plants once you eliminate animal foods from your diet. However, there’s little research to document that.

Some plants have the same bioavailability of protein as animal products, which have no fiber. However, these are typically refined plant foods from which fiber has been removed, as shown in the following table.

Digestibility of protein in various foods.

Plant foods Digestibility %
White (refined) flour or bread 96
Soy protein isolate 95
Peanut butter 95
Tofu 93
Whole wheat flour or bread 92
Oatmeal 86
Lentils 84
Black, garbanzo, kidney,
and pinto beans
72-89
Animal products Digestibility %
Eggs 97
Milk, cheese 95
Beef, fish 94
Table data: [26-29]

At a glance, you might wonder if white bread (96% bioavailable) is a better source of protein than whole wheat bread (92% bioavailable). Or you might wonder if soy protein isolate (95% bioavailable) is a better choice than tofu or cooked beans. Yet the choice isn’t so simple.

Sure, processing plant foods increases the digestibility of their protein by removing fiber and other materials in cell walls. But it also strips these foods of valuable vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.[26-29]

Overall, the protein in the standard American diet (centered on animal products and refined carbohydrates) and Chinese diet (centered on white rice) has been rated as 96% digestible. The protein in Brazilian and Indian diets of rice and beans has been rated 78% digestible.[28, 29]

Soaking and Sprouting Plant Proteins Makes Them More Bioavailable

The following food preparation techniques will help you absorb more protein. In fact, using these techniques can begin the digestive process.

For example, cooking beans and lentils — or sprouting buckwheat and peas — starts the breakdown of their proteins, resulting in increased absorption by your body.[31-34] When legumes and grains are soaked or sprouted, their proteins split into shorter chains of constituent amino acids. This essentially begins the digestion process.[31-32]

Soaking and sprouting nuts, seeds, and legumes also increases protein bioavailability. This is true whether you eat them raw or cook them after soaking.

For example, when you soak raw, dried, whole peas for 6 hours, their digestibility increases by 8%. If you soak them for 18 hours, it can increases by as much as 31%.

In other words, soaking and cooking peas increases the protein digestibility by 25% to 30%. Soaking and then pressure cooking results in an increase of 30% to 33%. That’s twice the protein digestibility of the exact same peas, when cooked without pre-soaking!

Scientists believe that soaking legumes activates plant enzymes, and this begins protein breakdown. So, when you soak legumes, you bring about the destruction of phytates and of trypsin inhibitors that can limit digestion.[31], [35-37]

Allowing raw peas to sprout for 48 hours increases their protein digestibility by 25% to 28%. As a further benefit, studies have found that sprouting beans for six days removes most (70% to 100%) of the oligosaccharides that sometimes cause flatulence.[37-40]

Sprouting can further improve protein quality by slightly increasing the amount of essential amino acids, such as lysine.[40, 41]

Blending fibrous vegetables (like kale) might make the amino acid lysine more available, but any claim beyond that is conjecture.

References

  1. [1] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2014.
  2. [2] Millward DJ et al. Protein quality assessment: impact of expanding understanding of protein and amino acid needs for optimal health. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1576S-1581S.
  3. [3] Schaafsma G. The protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score. J Nutr. 2000;130(7):1865S-7S.
  4. [4] Schaafsma G. The Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS)–a concept for describing protein quality in foods and food ingredients: a critical review. J AOAC Int. 2005;88(3):988-94.
  5. [5] Craig WJ et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109 (7)1266-82.
  6. [6] Reeds PJ. Dispensable and indispensable amino acids for humans. J Nutr. 2000;130(7):1835S-40S.
  7. [7] Ruales J. Nutritional quality of the protein in quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, Willd) seeds. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1992 Jan;42(1):1-11.
  8. [8] Millward DJ et al. Amino acid scoring patterns for protein quality assessment. Brit J. Nutr. 2012;(108)S31-S43.
  9. [9] Craig WJ et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109 (7)1266-82.
  10. [10] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2014.
  11. [11] Mangels AR, Messina V, Messina M. The Dietitians Guide to Vegetarian Diets. Jones and Bartlett Learning Ltd. 2011.
  12. [12] Craig WJ et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109 (7)1266-82.
  13. [13] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2014.
  14. [14] Mangels AR, Messina V, Messina M. The Dietitians Guide to Vegetarian Diets. Jones and Bartlett Learning Ltd. 2011.
  15. [15] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2014.
  16. [16] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Express Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2013.
  17. [17] Mangels AR, Messina V, Messina M. The Dietitians Guide to Vegetarian Diets. Jones and Bartlett Learning Ltd. 2011.
  18. [18] Mangels R, et al. The Dietitian’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications. Third Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. Sudbury MA. 2010.
  19. [19] Spencer EA, et al. Diet and body mass index in 38000 EPIC-Oxford meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(6):728–34.
  20. [20] Tonstad S, et al. Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(5):791–6.
  21. [21] Davis B et al. Becoming Raw. The Book Publishing Co. 2010.
  22. [22] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2014.
  23. [23] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Express Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2013.
  24. [24] Haub MD et al. Beef and soy-based food supplements differentially affect serum lipoprotein-lipid profiles because of changes in carbohydrate intake and novel nutrient intake ratios in older men who resistive-train. Metabolism. 2005;54(6):769-74.
  25. [25] Haub MD et al. Effect of protein source on resistive-training-induced changes in body composition and muscle size in older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76(3):511-7.
  26. [26] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2014.
  27. [27] Davis B et al. Becoming Vegan: Express Edition. The Book Publishing Co. 2013.
  28. [28] Mangels AR, Messina V, Messina M. The Dietitians Guide to Vegetarian Diets. Jones and Bartlett Learning Ltd. 2011.
  29. [29] Millward DJ, Layman DK, Tome D et al. Protein quality assessment: impact of expanding understanding of protein and amino acid needs for optimal health. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1576S-1581S.
  30. [30] World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization/United Nations University. Expert Consultation. Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition. WHO Technical Report Series – 935. (World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization). 2007.
  31. [31] Bishnoi S et al. Protein digestibility of vegetables and field peas (Pisum sativum). Varietal differences and effect of domestic processing and cooking methods. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1994;46:71-6.
  32. [32] Hernot DC et al. In vitro digestion characteristics of unprocessed and processed whole grains and their components. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56:10721-6.
  33. [33] Oste RE. Digestibility of processed food protein. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1991;289:371-88.
  34. [34] Zia-ur-Rehman et al. The effects of hydrothermal processing on antinutrients, protein and starch digestibility of food legumes. Int. J. Food Science Technol. 2005;40:695–700.
  35. [35] Frias J et al. Evolution of trypsin inhibitor activity during germination of lentils. J. Agric Food Chem. 1995.43:2231-2234.
  36. [36] Ibrahim SS, et al. Effect of soaking, germination, cooking and fermentation on antinutritional factors in cowpeas. Nahrung. 2002;46:92-5.
  37. [37] Sathe SK et al. Effects of germination on proteins, raffinose, oligosaccharides, and antinutritional factors in the Great Northern beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). J Food Sci. 1983;48:1796-1800.
  38. [38] Chang KC et al. Effect of germination on oligosaccharides and nonstarch polysaccharidesin navy and pinto beans. J Food Science. 1989; 54(6):1615.
  39. [39] Oboh HA et al. Effect of soaking, cooking and germination on the oligosaccharide content of selected Nigerian legume seeds. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2000;55(2):97-110.
  40. [40] Chavan JK et al. Nutritional improvement of cereals by sprouting. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1989;28:401-37.
  41. [41] Chavan JK et al. Nutritional improvement of cereals by fermentation. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1989;28:349-400.

35 Comment(s)

  1. Essential Amino acids — 12 not 9 is what I read ,and been told.

    Evelyn | Reply

  2. Hi Evelyn – as the body develops, it’s able to make more amino acids. For a young child, 12 of the 22 amino acids are considered essential. These 12 are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine, cysteine, tyrosine, and arginine. Once you become a teenager, the number of essential amino acids is reduced to nine because your body can now synthesize, e.g., cysteine, tyrosine, and arginine.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  3. OK, so there is protein in food sources and
    digestibility of food sources, but what about the way our cells can efficiently use the protein. Are there not ways of cells using protein which can be more or less efficient for cell and mitochondria use?
    It was my understanding that plant proteins can better (more efficiently) be used by human cells than animal sources of protein.

    Lyn | Reply

  4. Hi Lyn — the mitochondria string together amino acids into protein chains, similar to making a bead necklace. No mitochondria can utilize a whole protein, it can only work with single amino acids. Different cells make different proteins. So only after the mitochondria have made the protein, can the same cell or another cell use it.

    Bottom line? It’s how easy it is for your digestive enzymes to break down the protein into its individual amino acids. Once a protein is broken up into individual amino acids, it makes no difference where the amino acid came from.

    The problem with animal proteins is that the amino acids are tightly bound in muscle meat — like braided hair, very difficult for our enzymes to snip apart — or tightly bound in a globule like milk meat (milk is a form of meat not a form of vegetable). At the opposite end of the spectrum is green vegetable juice where individual amino acids are freely circulating in the leaf’s veins (being transported by the leaf to where they’re needed). So green juice is an instant source of amino acids that the mitochondria can instantly use.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  5. This is very informative and useful to me. Thank you. I look forward to joining you on the 16th.

    M. Spencer | Reply

  6. Thanks for information! Great article!
    I have read that spirulina is a good plant based protein source.
    Maybe you hold some information about it? How digestible or bio-available is it?

    Many Thanks,
    Nora

    nora | Reply

  7. Hi Nora — it depends on the form of the spirulina. If it’s in a tablet with binders and fillers, it’ll be tougher for your digestive enzymes to extract the amino acids, than if it’s in wholefood form like a dried powder.

    With the powder, you want to increase your water intake to help absorb it. Same with any dried food.

    Spirulina itself is a simple, one-celled organism. It’s an excellent source of vital amino acids and minerals easily assimilated by your body. Two tablespoons will provide a good protein substitute for a meal.

    Look for organic. Avoid spirulina contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. And don’t take spirulina if you have a seafood or iodine allergy, or have hyperthyroidism.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  8. Great info, things have sure changed. I’ve become more interested since turning 70, and economic considerations. My weight has been dropping. I’ll tune in on the 16 th @ 5. Thanks

    P-daddy Worrall | Reply

  9. Thank you very much for this instructive lesson. Looking forward to future info. I have really gained a lot from this. Thanks again

    Grace | Reply

  10. Thanks for debunking the rat model as one suitable for humans, in such an understandable way.
    Sprouting nuts makes the protein more digestible and removes he dark skin enzyme inhibitor, but does it also decrease fat?. Great article.

    Valerie Waroway | Reply

  11. Hi Valerie — sprouting won’t decrease the fat, but Udo Erasmus (author of “Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill”) once personally told me it will break the fat down into its individual fatty acids and hence make it more bio-digestible. Normally, lipase is the enzyme that breaks down fats into fatty acids and glycerol. Bile (made in the liver) breaks the fat into small droplets that are easier for the lipase enzymes to work on. Sprouting the fat is thus pre-digesting it.

    Renee Loux Underkoffler in Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods also writes that sprouting will break fats down into free fatty acids.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  12. Article was very informative. Being that the article mentioned that certain types (8) of proteins are needed, it would have been beneficial to mention what types of food provides these types of protein. This way since I’m vegan I can make sure that I eat these foods daily in the correct combination.

    Norma | Reply

  13. are fruit/vegetable washes effective to remove pesticides?
    if so, what is a good recipe for such a wash>

    elliot dembner | Reply

  14. Hi Elliot — a popular wash — made famous by the Environmental Working Group and books like Paul Pitchford’s “Healing With Whole Foods” — is to soak your fruit or veg for 10 minutes in a solution of 3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar. Actually I just pour a couple of tablespoons of vinegar into a bowl of water, soak my produce for a few minutes (not ten, I don’t want it absorbing the vinegar!) and then rinse in a second bowl of filtered water.

    White vinegar kills 98% of bacteria and helps to dissolve the wax and pesticide residues on fruit & veg skins.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  15. My mother always soaked her beans over night. i do most of the time. But i sometimes use the “QUICK SOAK METHOD”, where you bring beans to a boil, turn off, an soak for 1 hour…then cook them. do you know if this method increases their digestability or not??

    Kimberly Braten | Reply

  16. Yes that also improves digestibility. However, you should still dump out the soak water, then cook with fresh water.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  17. I am all for the idea of sprouting legumes (more nutrition, less gas) and am wondering what nutrition is lost from the legume by discarding the soaking water?

    marlene | Reply

  18. Hi Marlene — you certainly lose minerals! You can test this by feeding the soak water to your house plants. They grow into ecstacy :)

    Soaking breaks down cell membranes so that water-soluble nutrients leach into the soak water, such as calcium, magnesium, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin).

    Also the oligosaccharides (short chains of simple sugars like raffinose and stachyose) pass out into the soak water. On the one hand, this means less gas/flatulence since bacteria in our large intestine break these oligosaccharides down into gas (carbon dioxide) and water. On the other hand, oligosaccharides are an energy-source for these same bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria or Lactobaccilli. You want to feed your microbiome!

    The favorite food of your gut flora is resistant starch –- the kind you find in beans.

    Your flora ferment this starch into short chain fatty acids, which give you extra energy. One of those acids, butyrate, reduces inflammation in your colon, and hence protects you from colitis.

    However, I would not drink the soak water. I feed it to my plants. The skin of beans has low-level toxins to protect them from being eaten. Some beans, such as red kidney beans, are more toxic than others. Soaking, sprouting, simmering, will all reduce these toxins — sprouting because each time you rinse the beans, the toxins flush out in the rinse.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  19. You mentioned soaking and sprouting whole dried peas. I assume that sprouting means soaking until I see a little sprout emerging from the seed and depending on the size of the seed, the soaking time may vary before I would see a sprout. Do I need to see a little sprout to get the protein availability benefit or does the benefit of the sprouting process happen before the sprout shows and I can just monitor the soaking time?

    In the article you mention soaking raw,dried, whole peas for 18 hours increases protein digestibility by ~31%, and allowing raw peas to sprout for 48 hours increases protein digestibility by 25-28%. Are these two the same foods and if so, what is the benefit of increasing the soaking time?

    Do the recommended raw dried whole pea soaking/sprouting benefits of protein availability hold true for beans, lentils and split peas?

    Soaking beans for 6 days seems a little daunting to me, but I would love to reduce the oligosaccharide levels. Assuming the benefits/soaking time graph is a bell curve, when is the peak of the benefit/time curve?

    Thank you for considering all these questions! I appreciate the information and explanations you have shared thus far.

    marlene | Reply

  20. Hi Marlene —

    > I assume that sprouting means soaking until I see a little sprout emerging from the seed

    No. To sprout beans you soak them for about 8 hours, pour off the soak water, then rinse them twice a day morning & evening by filling the jar with water then pouring it out.

    > depending on the size of the seed, the soaking time may vary before I would see a sprout.

    Replace “soaking” with “sprouting” (that is, rinsing twice a day) and yes the sprouting time does vary, but not by that much, perhaps one day more for big starchy beans like garbanzo. Beans are read to eat after 2-3 days of sprouting.

    > Do I need to see a little sprout to get the protein availability benefit

    Yes the sprout will show that the bean’s enzymes are breaking up the tight protein chains in a dry bean, into smaller chains and even individual amino acids. However, because sprouted beans are so high in water, you have to eat a lot more to get the same protein when they’re cooked. The author of the article, Vesanto Melina, in her book “Becoming Raw” points out that a cup of dried lentils has 54 grams of protein, whereas a cup of sprouted lentils has only 7 grams.

    > you mention soaking raw, dried, whole peas for 18 hours increases protein digestibility by 31%, and allowing raw peas to sprout for 48 hours increases protein digestibility by 25-28%. Are these two the same foods and if so, what is the benefit of increasing the soaking time?

    No dried peas are a different food from fresh raw peas in their pod. Raw peas can be eaten as is, or sprouted, whereas dried peas must be soaked & sprouted, or cooked, before you can eat them. You don’t need to soak split green peas before cooking them because they’re so low in starch. Most of the low-starch beans, you don’t really need to soak before cooking, such as lentils, mung, dried peas. Or you can soak for 4 hours, instead of the usual 8.

    There’s no benefit to increasing the soaking time. The longer you soak, the more nutrients leach out into the soak water.

    There’s more benefit to eating QUANTITY, for instance Dr. Fuhrman advises minimum one cup of cooked beans a day to get your iron and zinc etc. And I recommend at least a tablespoon of sprouted beans a day to provide you with your MDR of vitamin C.

    > Do the recommended raw dried whole pea soaking/sprouting benefits of protein availability hold true for beans, lentils and split peas?

    Yes except for split peas. They won’t sprout because the germ of life is no longer dormant within them, it’s been broken up in the splitting process.

    > Soaking beans for 6 days seems a little daunting to me, but I would love to reduce the oligosaccharide levels. Assuming the benefits/soaking time graph is a bell curve, when is the peak of the benefit/time curve?

    You sprout them (that is, rinse twice a day) for 3-4 days — 6 if you want them to grow a green leaf but the longer you sprout them, the more bitter they taste. The peak sprouting time for nutrition is generally when the plant is at its youngest. LIFE ENERGY is your best nutrient, and you can see that life energy radiating in a young sprout — or an infant toddler running round.

    > Thank you for considering all these questions! I appreciate the information and explanations you have shared thus far.

    You’re welcome :) happy to help…

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  21. I have a question about protein. I am unable to eat nuts and seeds. What are alternatives?

    Valerie | Reply

  22. Hi Valerie – nuts & seeds are actually not a good protein source because they’re so high in fat. They’re your fat source, and only a backup protein source if you’re not eating sufficient protein.

    Best sources of protein on a vegan diet are cooked legumes (beans, peas, lentils), sprouted legumes, and dark green leaves such as kale, collard. A quick protein fix is to make yourself a green juice with lots of leafy greens. Add a little apple and ginger to taste.

    Take a look at the Ann Wigmore chart at greensmoothie.com/eat/wigmore.php which shows you all the ways to get your protein and other macro-nutrients.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  23. Resubmitting my question about proteins. Do you have a list of which foods have the types of proteins which are needed. The article mentions that there are 8 proteins which we need, it also gives you digestibility of some foods but it doesn’t tell you which foods contain which proteins. It would be very helpful to know that way you could combine your food correctly.

    Norma | Reply

  24. Hi Norma – sorry I missed this one. See my reply to Valerie above. The Ann Wigmore chart at greensmoothie.com/eat/wigmore.php shows you all the food sources for your protein and other macro-nutrients.

    This page at onegreenplanet.org gives you food sources for specific amino acids (not for proteins in general).

    Remember, nearly all plants contain all twenty amino acids, and nearly all of them contain the essential amino acids. It’s just that some are lower or higher in an essential amino acid. For instance grains are high in methionine and low in lysine, whilst beans are high in lysine and low in methionine. So eating a balanced diet that includes both grains and beans will give you a balance of these essential amino acids.

    The error Frances Moore Lappé made is that we must eat them at the same meal. That’s not needed because our body keeps a “protein pool.” Studies now show your body can combine complementary proteins that are eaten over the course of the day.

    Even potatoes provide sufficient amino acids to satisfy human requirements for sustaining life!

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  25. hi, this is really good stuff,but it does make me a bit giddy. is there a site where we could post in what protein we have eaten in the last one or two meals and get a result of what we should include in the upcoming meal?

    this would be soooo helpful

    rhonda | Reply

  26. Hi Rhonda — the free online tracking tool that Dr. Doug Graham used for creating his recipes in “The 80/10/10 Diet” is nutridiary.com. You weigh your food and enter numbers in its diet-analysis program for about a week, to get a true sense of the level of each macronutrient in your diet (fat, carbs, protein). Another site is nutritiondata.self.com although I’ve not tried it personally.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  27. Is there a recommended amount of soaking time that would minimize the loss of minerals while maximizing the elimination the oligosaccharides? I’m assuming my gut biome would be fed in other ways too and would really like to reduce gas.

    marlene | Reply

  28. Hi Marlene – soak times vary based on how much starch is in a seed. Low-starch (that is, low-saccharide) seeds like mung and lentil you can soak for 4 hours (except mung wants a longer time in cold weather) and high-starch seeds like soya and garbanzo need 8 hours soaking.

    Sprouting is an art that you learn by doing! It’s different in different climates (north & south hemisphere) and seasons of the year. Experience will give you all the answers.

    Critical thing is to begin sprouting TODAY so you eat the LIFE FORCE every day. Living Energy is the most magical nutrient of all.

    Trevor Justice | Reply

  29. I’m wondering where I can find credible information on raising a vegan baby. My 11month old grandson has vegan since conception! Having vegan mommy’s breast milk along with beans, greens, veggies and some grains. His pediatrician has been pretty supportive , but is scaring the parents into thinking they must supplement his diet with eggs “for brain development”. They don’t want to – no of us do ! But we all want to do the right thing for him, and not cause any damage. Btw, he was born 9lbs. And very healthy!!! He is developing beautifully- his doctor always comments on how “advanced” he is. I has also never been sick in his 11 months of life, except for a sniffle that lasted one day- he get vitamin C and green daily-
    Signed, help this vegan baby in a non vegan world

    Joann | Reply

  30. Hi Joann — his pediatrician is right. Very young children (under 5) and the elderly (say over 65) don’t easily convert plant nutrients into their animal form that the body needs, e.g. beta-Carotene into vitamin A, Omega-3 fats in chia, flax & hemp seeds into DHA/EPA (for his brain) and vitamin K1 in leafy greens into vitamin K2 needed for healthy bone & teeth development.

    If he’s still breastfeeding, then his mother MUST either eat natto for K2 (google it) or take a vegan K2 supplement otherwise she’s at risk of cavities and he’s at risk of crumbling teeth. I’ve seen it again & again!

    Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book “Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right” is excellent. He advises in it that all vegan babies be given a vegan DHA/EPA supplement made from microalgae oil. Also a vitamin B12 supplement. Your grandson needs both DHA & B12 for his brain.

    Remember, vegans are the guinea pigs. There has never been a multi-generational vegan society in the history of the human race. But there ARE doctors like Dr. Fuhrman who are helping. Explore his articles on his website at http://www.drfuhrman.com/.

    valarcher | Reply

  31. Wow, I am learning so much from reading your article & then all the questions & your answers! They are answering all of my questions too! Thank you so much Trevor for the thorough & very helpful responses you post; I’m so glad I subscribed to your emails!

    Tania | Reply

  32. I am 61 working on a vegan lifestyle. I am concerned about soaking beans, pea and legumes due to possibly of promoting harmful food born bacteria and the fact that our immune system becomes less efficient with age. Thoughts please and how do I take measures to reduce risk when soaking and sprouting. Some of the mwthods I see on the Internet to reduce risk are so timely. Thanks.

    Amy | Reply

  33. Hi Amy – I have countless books on sprouting – and I personally have been soaking & sprouting legumes for 45 years since 1972 – and I’ve never read that it could cause any bacteria on the legumes (or in the air) to proliferate. I wonder where you heard that? One way to reduce mold is to soak the seeds in a mild vinegar solution – say a tablespoon to a bowlful of water – but honestly, if you rinse regularly 2-3 times a day, and harvest in a timely fashion within 2-3 days, you won’t get mold. Only wheatgrass seeds that grow for 10 days and have low germination, will develop mold on the seeds that don’t germinate.

    Val Archer | Reply

  34. I worked with Dr. Wigmore for over 22 years, and she gave me a book to read (not written or published by her) about sprouting that indicated that unless peas and beans were sprouted to the dark green leafy stage, there were 2 carcinogenic factors that would develop. Has this been refuted?

    Flora | Reply

  35. Hi Flora – I’ve been sprouting since 1972 – 45 years – and have never read this in any sprouting book. And as you know Ann Wigmore herself was healing cancer with a diet that included sprouted legumes that were *not* sprouted to dark leafy green stage. Sounds like this book’s claim is not based on sufficient evidence in humans, not even epidemiological evidence, let alone clinical testing.

    Val Archer | Reply

3 Trackback(s)

  1. Jul 17, 2015: from Protein from beans, grains, nuts and seeds | Posts Healthy Living Solutions
  2. Sep 23, 2016: from How to Get Enough Protein, and Absorb it too! On a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Vegan Diet |
  3. Mar 19, 2017: from Getting Protein without Meat and why I use a Complete Protein Powder | White dragon organics

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