The vegan diet eliminates all meat and animal products, including dairy and eggs. Since complete proteins, or proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids, come from animal sources, the vegan must combine foods in his diet with complementary amino acid profiles, ensuring adequate intake of all amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own.
Essential Amino Acids
Ten amino acids exist that cannot be made by your body, and therefore you must consume them in your diet. These amino acids are valine, leucine, isoleaucine, methionine, cysteine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, tryptophan, threonine and lysine. Limiting amino acids include methionine, cysteine, tryptophan and lysine. Limiting means that if your diet is low in one of these amino acids, then it will limit the usefulness of the other amino acids that you consume. Beans are low in methionine and cysteine, but high in lysine. Grains are low in lysine, but are low in methionine and cysteine. By including adequate amounts of beans and grains in your diet each day, you can be sure that you are getting enough of these limiting amino acids.
Variety is Key
The best way to ensure that you are consuming all of the vitamins and minerals that you need on a vegan diet, it is important to eat a variety of foods. Protein can be found in beans, nuts, nut butters, peas and soy products. By eating a variety of foods in each of these categories every day, you can be sure that you are consuming all of the amino acids that you need each day. Aside from all of the essential amino acids, people on a vegan diet also need adequate intake of iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B-12, which are found abundantly in animal foods. Leafy greens, dried fruits and fortified breakfast cereals will help you to add these important nutrients to the vegan diet.
Animal Protein Substitutes
If you follow a vegan diet, you may have a difficult time increasing your protein levels to adequate amounts. Soy-based products are a great way to add protein to your diet, and can offer you diverse amino acid intake. Breakfast foods such as soy-based sausage patties can be extremely tasty. Veggie burgers taste delicious and can be a great substitute for a hamburger. Experiment with meat substitutes to see which varieties that you like. These can be added to almost anything, including soups, sandwiches, wraps, pasta dishes and pizza.
The Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid
Following the Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid can ensure that you are receiving all of the essential amino acids that your body needs for health. The Pyramid recommends six servings of grains, five servings of legumes, nuts and other protein rich foods, four servings of vegetables, two servings of fruit and two servings of fats. Check the Nutritional Facts label for each food that you consume to see what a serving size entails.