Overall a vegan diet has been shown to be the healthiest (as long as you eat a variety of vegetables), with a high oily fish/nuts diet coming second, closely followed by vegetarian (with variety, but dairy and eggs). Unfortunately a meat based diet consistently comes out worst for us.

Vegetable protein is just as good as meat protein as long as you eat a wide variety (to ensure you have all the essential amino acids). Your body can absorb the protein from vegetable and animal sources equally well.

Whole lentils (eg green or brown) have the same protein content as steak.

Split lentils, beans, peas, tofu, sprouts etc have the same protein as most fish or chicken.

Tofu is very versatile and can be turned into anything from milks and sauces to solid burgers. Explore different techniques online. Tempeh is a little less versatile, but very healthy. Give it a go.

Quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth have a little less protein than fish, but not much.

Tinned beans and lentils are easier but dried are cheaper. You need to soak dried beans overnight and then cook before eating.

Sprouted lentils and beans are good sources of protein and can be eaten raw or used in cooking in the same way as other beans.

Mushrooms contain some proteins not found in other vegetables. Eat at least twice weekly.

Nuts and seeds are good protein and also healthy fats. Eat a wide variety in moderate quantity.

Oily fish and seafood appear to have some heart and brain protective effects (more than taking a supplement). They are also high in B12. The best oily fish in NZ are: kahawai, mackerel, salmon, sardines, pilchards, anchovies (but watch the salt).

Eggs are animal protein, but are more nutritious than meat. Ideally you want to avoid eggs, but they are better than meat if choices are limited.


2 thoughts on “Protein

  1. Is this a weight appropriated comparison? ie does one have to eat a lot of lentils to get same benefit as meat? Always being told about this protein issue (lack of), being a vegetarian….
    Thank You


    1. Thanks for your question Indu.
      This is always tricky because of the different quality and types of meat/animal protein and how much you eat.
      It is also complicated by how much protein we actually need each day and where else you are getting it from.
      As a vegetarian or vegan, legumes are your best source, but nuts, seeds, wholegrains and even vegetables all contain some.
      If you only eat processed food and animal protein, then you need to look to the meat for your protein. If you eat a varied plant-based diet then your protein is coming in from all over the place.
      On average you need about 0.8g protein per kg body weight. So a 60kg woman needs 48g per day. An 80kg person needs 64g. These amounts were caculated a long time ago, and probably refer to lean body weight than actual. So if you are overweight, you shouldn’t eat protein to that weight, but a guestimate of your “normal” or “healthy” body weight. You don’t need to eat this every day, as it is stored. You can have more on some days and less on others. There have been recent fads around high protein diets and certainly, you need a bit more if you are going to be a body builder or professional athlete, but in general it isn’t good to go over 1g/kg/day or you can risk kidney damage.

      If you eat a muesli breakfast, like the one on this website, this gives you 10g protein per portion (80g portion), a little more if you add some extra seeds.
      200-300g dhal or beany casserole for lunch will give you 25-35g and the same again for dinner – and you are quickly up to the protein needed per day.

      When you cook lentils they swell with water and are heavier, so calculating the protein content per 100g cooked, looks low because of the extra water – but I reckon I easily eat 200g in a serving and it would be low fat and really healthy. The other really good thing about legumes is they have lots of fibre (animal protein has none) and the fibre keeps you satiated (full) for much longer. Protein will make you feel full initially but it wears off after a couple of hours. You really want to get 3-5 hours of satiety from a meal.

      Meat either stays the same or loses water when cooked, so the protein content rises in proportion to the weight. This depends on the quality of the meat or the type (eggs stay about the same, poor quality chicken or bacon loses water as it has often been plumped up).
      100g meat is a reasonable portion, but many people will eat 200g. The other downside here is you get the other bad effects of animal protein – cancer risk, cardiovascular etc.

      So…on paper:
      lentils (whole) or soybeans, cooked, 100g 13-18g protein.
      larger beans, cooked, 100g, 10-12g protein.

      chicken, cooked, 100g 20-25g protein
      egg, cooked, 100g 13g protein
      beef, v low fat, cooked 100g 26g protein.

      But in reality, you’ll get more health benefits by eating more legumes as well as feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll get all the protein you need.



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