PROTEIN ON A RAW VEGAN DIET: WHICH FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND NUTS ARE BEST?
By Michael Lustgarten, PhD
The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for protein intake to remain in positive nitrogen balance (and, to avoid muscle catabolism) is 0.8g/kg body weight/day for sedentary people, while endurance athletes and high intensity athletes have been estimated to require 1.11 and 1.6 g/kg/day, respectively (Tarnopolsky 2004). This translates into 44g, 61g, and 87g for a 120 lb (54.5 kg) female at the three different fitness levels. For a 160 lb. (72.7 kg) man the values are 58g, 81g, and 116g, respectively. Is it possible to craft a raw vegan diet that reaches these protein goals, without having to eat soy at every meal? The answer is yes, but it will take knowledge of which fruits, vegetables and nuts are highest in protein.
Table 1 summarizes the protein content of commonly consumed fruits, each normalized to 100 calories. There, we see that strawberries, watermelon and oranges each contain 2g of protein per 100 calories. On the other end, apples and dates are lowest in protein. To illustrate the these differences, if one consumes 1000 calories from oranges they get 20g of protein, while the same amount of calories from apples yields only 5g.
Table 2 summarizes the protein content of commonly consumed vegetables, each normalized to 100 calories. Although kale is touted as the All-Star of green vegetables, in terms of protein, it’s in the middle of the list. Spinach, swiss chard, soybeans, broccoli, collard greens and romaine lettuce each rank higher than kale. It is important to note that the protein concentration of spinach, with 12.4g of protein per 100 calories rivals that of cooked salmon, which has 14g of protein per 100 calories!
Table 3 summarizes the protein content of commonly consumed nuts and seeds, each normalized to 100 calories. At the top of this list is a surprise, pumpkin seeds, followed by peanuts and almonds.
So, if maintenance and optimization of muscle mass is your goal on a raw vegan diet, I hope these tables help in terms of meeting your daily protein goal, whether it is 0.8, 1.1, or 1.6 g/kg/day!
Michael Lustgarten is a post-doctoral associate at Tufts University, where he uses metabolomics to identify biomarkers of body composition and physical fitness in both young and old human subjects. In addition to publishing in academic journals, Michael also writes articles for Yahoo! about the role of nutrition on minimizing disease risk and maximizing longevity. You can find him on: Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and PubMed.gov