It is a common misconception that vegan or vegetarian diets are lacking in protein.
The average recommended protein intake ranges from 40 to 60 grams.
Legumes are little protein powerhouses that can deliver more protein per calorie than meat. But which legume has the highest amounts of protein?
The legumes with the highest protein content are fava beans, lentils, split peas, kidney beans, and chickpeas.
In addition, the other high-protein legumes include navy, pinto, black beans, and soybeans.
Our bodies need protein to repair and maintain muscles and tissues.
In addition, protein is also critical to provide fuel and maintain healthy energy levels.
It is responsible for circulating oxygen through the bloodstream and supplies antibodies to support a healthy immune system.
We don’t store protein, so it’s crucial to consume protein daily to meet our nutritional needs.
About half the protein you consume in a day goes to making enzymes that aid digestion.
Athletes and bodybuilders usually have a high protein diet that speeds tissue recovery, reduce muscle loss, and aids in building lean muscle.
Legumes are the unsung heroes of protein bombs.
Per 100g, these beans contain the following protein content.
- Fava beans – 26g
- Lentils – 25.8g
- Split peas – 24.5g
- Red kidneys – 21.7g
- Chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) – 19.3g
Do Beans Have More Protein Than Meat?
Per weight, meat contains more protein than beans and other legumes.
However, per caloric intake, beans win this one, hands down.
Legumes are low in calories and high in fiber.
Dietary fiber is necessary to feed the healthy gut bacteria that live in our colon, as well as support healthy bowel movements.
In comparison, meat has zero fiber. Legumes are an excellent way of obtaining plant-based protein without the saturated fat of meat or poultry.
Saturated fat raises cholesterol levels and can contribute to a higher risk of heart disease.
Let’s look at the nutritional content of 100g of beef vs. 100g of beans.
- Calories – 238
- Cholesterol – 106mg
- Calcium – 13mg
- Fiber – 0
- Iron – 3.7mg
- Magnesium – 23mg
- Potassium – 263mg
- Zinc – 10mg
- Vitamin B12 – 2.5mcg
- Protein – 31g
- Calories – 132
- Cholesterol – 0
- Calcium – 27mg
- Fiber – 15g
- Iron – 2.1mg
- Magnesium – 70mg
- Potassium 355mg
- Zinc – 1.1mg
- Vitamin B12 – 0
- Protein – 25g
When stacked against each other, lean beef has a higher protein content yet is double the calories.
Can Beans Replace Meat Protein?
The growing popularity of plant-based protein has led food manufacturers to accommodate vegan and vegetarian diets more than ever before.
Beans are jam-packed with protein and can replace meat as a healthier protein source.
However, replacing meat protein with beans or other legumes can lead to a deficiency of Vitamin B12. B12 can only be found in animal food.
A supplement can take care of that.
In addition, your body needs a complete collection of amino acids, otherwise known as the building blocks of protein.
There are nine essential amino acids, and most beans do not contain all nine of them.
These amino acids play various roles in your physical health.
They grow tissue, produce energy, support immune systems, and facilitate nutrient absorption.
Food that contains all nine acids is referred to as complete proteins. Complete protein sources include:
The only legume that is a complete protein source and contains all nine amino acids is soybeans. (Source)
If following a plant-based diet, you can still achieve an intake of all essential acids by eating a variety of proteins a day.
In addition to legumes, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables contain these acids and will enable you to leave animal products out of your diet.
Whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat also contain all nine acids.
The Environmental Impact Of Meat
In addition to the numerous health benefits of followers of a plant-based diet, the environmental impact of the meat industry also has contributed to the increase of vegans and vegetarians.
Animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions after the fuel industry.
Seventy billion animals are raised and slaughtered annually for our consumption, while a third of grain production worldwide goes into feeding these animals.
The impact of animal agriculture is devastating to the environment.
As our population rises, we are getting to the point that continuing to feed our excessive meat consumption is unsustainable.
Are Beans A Good Substitute for Meat?
Beans are an excellent meat substitute.
Eating a wide variety of beans and adding whole grains and other vegetables into your diet will ensure all your nutritional needs are met.
However, beans are not a complete source of protein, often lacking in one or two essential amino acids.
The only exception is the humble soybean, which contains all nine essential amino acids.
Complete proteins are found in meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy.
To ensure you get all nine essential amino acids, eat a wide variety of beans and pair them with other protein sources such as whole grains and other vegetables.
In addition, Vitamin B12 cannot be found in plants, and can only be found in animal products, so a supplement might be a good idea for followers of a purely plant-based diet.
Vitamin B12 helps maintain the nerves and blood cells in the body and is essential in preventing a condition called megaloblastic anemia.
Vitamin B12 can also be found in fortified cereals and oats.
What Is Veganism?
A term first coined by Donald Watson in 1944, the word “vegan” comes from a combination of letters of “vegetarian”.
When the Vegan Society was set up in the UK back in 1944 by Donald Watson, his wife, and two friends, there were 25 subscribers to their newsletter.
Today, there are about 75 million people worldwide that identify as vegans.
There are approximately 20 million vegans in the United States alone.
The plant-based food market is currently worth about $7 billion and grew 27% between 2020 and 2021.
Veganism is at an all-time high, with numbers steadily growing year on year.
Common reasons given by some surveyed vegans cite environmental, health, and animal welfare reasons.
Protein in Beans vs. Chicken
Lean chicken is one of the most popular protein sources.
Pound for pound, chicken breast has more protein than beans. 100g of lean chicken breast will contain 27g of protein.
In comparison, 100g of chickpeas contain 19g of protein.
To estimate how much protein you need in your daily intake, the Dietary Reference Intake suggests 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight or 0.8 grams per kilogram.
This roughly equals 46 grams for females and 56 grams for males, assuming both have a sedentary lifestyle and low activity level.
Other factors determining your protein needs include age, lifestyle, metabolism, muscle mass, and health.
More active folks like athletes and bodybuilders will have higher protein needs to repair and maintain muscles and tissues.
10% to 35% of daily calories should come from protein, while 45% to 65% should come from carbohydrates.
Fat completes the diet at 20% to 25% of daily calories.
Nutritional Value of 100g of Chicken Breast
- Calories – 239
- Fat – 14g (21% of Recommended Daily Intake)
- Cholesterol – 88mg (29%)
- Protein – 27g (54%)
- Potassium – 233mg (6%)
- Vitamin B6 – 20%
Chicken also contains no carbohydrates or dietary fiber.
In comparison, the nutritional value of 100g of chickpeas are:
- Calories – 364
- Fat – 6g (9%)
- Cholesterol – 0
- Potassium – 875mg (25%)
- Protein – 19g (38%)
- Vitamin B6 – 25%
- Carbohydrate – 61g (21%)
- Dietary Fiber – 17g (68%)
Replacing chicken with legumes increases dietary fiber, carbohydrates, and other minerals while lowering fat and cholesterol.
Facts About The Vegan Lifestyle – Did You Know?
- Veganuary is a non-profit movement that encourages a vegan diet for the month of January. When it started in 2014, there were 3,000 participants. In 2021, there were almost 600,000 signups.
- Two of the earliest vegetarians were Pythagoras and Siddhartha Gautama.
- The greenhouse gas emissions by the animal agriculture industry roughly equal the emissions of all vehicles worldwide.
- A vegan lifestyle is not just about diets. It encompasses excluding animal products in all aspects like clothing, shoes, and other household products.
- The Economist dubbed 2019 the “year of the vegan”. A survey showed that 25% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 identify as vegan.
- Countries with relatively large percentages of vegans and vegetarians are the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Austria. (Source)
- Tel Aviv is one of the most vegan-friendly cities, with over 400 vegan restaurants scattered throughout the capital.
- If we grew our crops to feed humans instead of animals, we could feed an additional 4 billion humans.
A plant-based diet has been proven to be a healthier choice that is kinder for your body and better for the environment.
Yet while replacing meat with purely plant foods, care has to be taken to ensure adequate nutrition.
Vegan diets have been getting some flak for being deficient in a few nutrients such as B12 and iron.
With some research and knowledge, you can safely switch to a plant-based diet and yet still optimize nutrition.
We wish you good luck and the best of health!
I’m Chris Watson & the Founder of EatForLonger.com. I’m a food and wellbeing enthusiast researching and sharing foodstuffs and simple food-based concepts, such as fasting and clean eating.
I hope it inspires you to make tiny changes to what you eat and when you eat while optimizing your healthspan and all-around well-being.
Read more About Me here.