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I’m on a vegan diet. Do I need to use protein powder?

The question: I've switched to a vegan diet. Should I use a protein powder?

The answer: Many people wonder if a vegan diet – one that doesn't include any animal foods – can provide enough protein. If your diet is properly planned, it certainly can meet your daily protein requirements. That's not to say, however, that a vegan protein powder can't be a part of your diet. But depending on what you're eating, you may already be getting the protein you need.

Studies conducted on vegetarian populations have shown that protein intakes are right on target. In fact, the typical protein intakes of vegetarians and vegans meet – or exceed – daily requirements.

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Nearly all plant foods – grains, vegetables, beans, lentils, nut and seeds – contain protein. The best sources, though, are beans, lentils, soybeans, soy foods, nuts and nut butters. And, of course, vegan protein powders – made from brown rice protein or a combination of rice, pea and hemp protein – are also high in protein. So are many vegan energy bars.

Vegans need a little more protein than meat eaters to account for the different amino acid mixes in plant foods and because some plant proteins are digested less efficiently than animal proteins. Even so, it's not as much as you may think.

If you aren't physically active, you need about 0.9 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh. If you exercise regularly, you need between 1.3 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (If you do heavy strength training opt for the upper end of the protein range.)

Let's say you weigh 68 kilograms (150 pounds) and you're active. That means your diet should provide somewhere between 88 to 122 grams of protein. That's doable if you include legumes or soy at lunch and dinner, eat whole grains at every meal, use a higher protein plant beverage such as soy, and choose protein rich snacks such as nuts and seeds, nut butter and crackers, or a soy smoothie.

If you prefer almond or rice milk in smoothies and shakes, keep in mind it's much lower in protein than soy milk. I typically advise my clients to add half a scoop of vegan protein powder.

It's also important to meet your daily calorie requirements. If your calorie intake is too low, some of the protein in your diet will be used for energy purposes rather than to make important proteins in your body. If you are dieting to lose weight or your calorie intake is low for another reason, add a few extra protein-rich foods to your diet each day. Or add a scoop of vegan protein powder to a smoothie.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct ( www.lesliebeck.com ).

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