Your Vegan New Year’s Diet: Don’t Forget the Protein

Your Vegan New Year’s Diet: Don’t Forget the Protein

By |2016-01-02T13:04:55+00:00January 2nd, 2016|Tags: , , , , |11 Comments

beans_usdaIt’s hard to resist the call of the New Year’s diet. There is something about the promise of new beginnings, especially after the season of indulgence.

If your goals for 2016 include weight loss, please make sure your vegan diet includes enough protein-rich foods. I’m not suggesting that you need to eat a high-protein diet. Nor am I saying that eating lots of carbs is bad. My concern is that some vegan weight loss plans are woefully short on legumes.  A menu that consists of oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, vegetable soup and a salad for lunch, and a dinner of chili might very well help you lose weight. But, it’s not the best recipe for muscle and bone strength. I see this in the menu plans in my facebook feed and in blogs and books—recommendations for diets that include as few as one to two servings of legumes per day.

How much protein you need depends on your body size and calorie requirements, but for weight loss, I recommend a set of “core vegan foods” that looks like this:

  • 5 servings* per day of legumes: beans, tofu, tempeh, TVP, veggie meats, peanuts
  • 3 servings of fruits
  • 5 servings of vegetables
  • 1 serving of nuts

This will provide you with about 1,000 calories on average. Add starchy foods and healthy fats plus more of the above foods in whatever amounts needed to reach your desired calorie level. This is the level that allows you to lose weight (or maintain it) in a way that is realistic and sustainable for you.

So if you aim for a daily intake of 1500 calories, you could add five servings of grains to the core foods if that’s how you like to eat. Or—if you’re more like me—you might add three servings of grains, plus a tablespoon of olive oil, and a glass of red wine. (I actually eat more than 1500 calories, so this is just a theoretical example). There is lots of flexibility here once you’ve satisfied requirements for protein-rich foods, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables.

Exercise is an important part of the picture, as well. It’s important for protecting muscles when you are shedding pounds. (And it’s just plain good for you for so many reasons.)

Again, the point is not to ditch carbs for an Atkins-type diet. It’s to make sure you are including good sources of protein in your plant-based weight loss diet. Vegans have slightly higher protein needs than omnivores and protein appears to have some advantages for weight management. In addition to protecting muscle, protein has satiety value and it boosts thermogenesis, the process through which the body turns calories into heat. (Alcohol boosts thermogenesis, too, but it’s obviously not a good idea to emphasize alcohol in your weight loss diet.)

It’s easy to get plenty of protein on a vegan diet. Protein in plants also comes packaged with other things that are good for health and possibly aid in weight management—like fiber and phytochemicals. Don’t be afraid of these foods and don’t ignore them. Plant proteins are good for you. Getting enough of these foods is always important, but especially so when you are losing weight.

*If you are petite and have low calorie needs–1200 calories or less–then 4 servings of these foods may be enough for you.


  1. Victoria January 2, 2016 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    What are the sizes of your servings listed above? Like how much of each do you consider a serving?

    • ReddGirl August 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      I’m new and have the same question!

  2. Angela January 3, 2016 at 11:47 am - Reply

    So glad you’re back to blogging, Ginny! Your past several posts are awesome!

    Some practical questions re: this post:

    1. If I understand your Plant Plate and recommendations here correctly, someone could have a nutritionally adequate diet with 1-2 servings of nuts/oils/fats. If you consume these servings with one or two meals, or as between-meals snacks, will it compromise your absorption of fat-soluble vitamins at other meals? In other words, do you have to consume higher-fat content foods with every meal to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, or is the overall fat content of your diet or small amounts of fat in other foods enough to allow you to optimally absorb these vitamins?

    2. Do you have any suggestions for getting enough protein if you’re vegan and following a low-FODMAP diet, which discourages beans, to manage IBS symptoms? Are there certain ways to process/prepare beans to make them easier to digest?

    Thank you!

    • Sherry January 5, 2016 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      I would also appreciate any suggestions on combining a vegan diet w/low FODMAP.

      • T. January 11, 2016 at 9:24 am - Reply

        I’m also having the same trouble. Even trying to reincorporate them back, even with beano. It’s still not happening very well.

  3. Jo January 3, 2016 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this! I think it’s really important, especially at this time of year.

    Do you have a response for the inevitable high carb low fat / 80 10 10 retort?

  4. jo January 4, 2016 at 7:19 am - Reply

    I bet this post is useful for many people! My own challenge is that I have a hard time to gain and maintain weight as a vegan, not lose weight. I hope to see a post that focuses on that challenge, since that is not so commonly adressed I think.

  5. Sophia January 25, 2016 at 3:19 am - Reply

    Hello! I find your blog very useful when it comes to integrating healthier habits to my vegan lifestyle. One question that I have not seen covered on your blog and that I have a hard time getting good information on is probiotics. Are they essential for health? Is it something vegans need to worry about? What are some plant sources of it?

  6. Andrew May 8, 2016 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    I would love it if you would walk us through the scientific difference between Colin Campbell’s view that it’s almost impossible to eat too little protein, and your view which says that we need effort to achieve our protein needs on a vegan diet.

    You’ve done a find job laying out your reasoning in your blog posts. Perhaps you might touch on why the science Campbell draws on doesn’t convince you?

    • Ginny Messina May 10, 2016 at 7:17 am - Reply

      I would need to know what Dr. Campbell bases his view on in order to do that. If there’s an article or post you can send me, I’m happy to look at it. I do know that the claims I’ve seen about how it’s impossible to eat too little protein always ignore two fundamental issues that are central to vegan protein nutrition. One is that vegans have higher protein needs, especially if they are eating a whole foods diet since the protein in these foods has somewhat lower digestibility. These needs are only slightly higher, though, so it’s not a huge issue. The other more important issue is that it is possible to meet protein needs but still fall short of meeting needs for the essential amino acid lysine. So, while it may be technically true that it’s difficult to eat too little protein, it’s not a useful way to talk about protein nutrition for vegans.

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