Vegan raw foodists believe that cooking food above 115 F/46 C causes these plant-based foods to lose helpful living enzymes and thus their nutritional value. Therefore, this diet is more limited than a vegan diet, which will include cooked whole grains and soy products. It is logical to wonder, then, if those on a vegan raw food diet are able to get the required amount of protein.
Before diving into this particular diet, it is important to understand what protein is and how much protein our bodies really need.
What Is Protein?
Protein is a combination of amino acids, some of which need to be eaten in your food (essential amino acids) and some of which your body makes on its own (nonessential amino acids). The term complete protein refers to a protein that has all nine essential amino acids in good proportion to the body's needs.
Proteins from animals (like steak and chicken) are complete since the animal already combined the amino acids for its own body. Animal protein is also referred to as complex protein and has traditionally been thought to be superior to plant protein, which generally comes from combining various plants to accumulate all the essential amino acids in proper measure. The body then uses the amino acids to form complete proteins itself.
Proteins play a wide variety of roles in the body—too many to list—including becoming hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and muscles; even the lens of your eye is made of protein. Proteins transport oxygen and contract your muscles. But the most important task on this exhaustive list is the building, maintaining, and replacing of bodily tissue.
How Much Protein?
Additional research needs to be done, but with more studies published every year by the major medical research institutions in the United States, we are finding that our beliefs about protein may not be truly accurate. It is thought that the amount of protein that has been recommended in the past is higher, if not much higher than is actually necessary.
Since we now know that a variety of plants, including nuts, soy products, beans, and legumes have plenty of protein, we also know that vegetarians and vegans are reaching their daily requirements without too much effort. But what about vegan raw foodists since some of those foods need to be cooked?
There is more and more information being revealed that there is an adequate, if not an abundant supply of protein even in a diet devoid of animal proteins, and cooked whole grains and soy foods—that is, a diet very similar to a raw vegan diet. It is further suggested through this research that the body prefers that the protein actually comes in an incomplete form (as individual amino acids) so that it can do its job of combining them in the best possible way for its various purposes.
When the body receives complete or complex proteins, like in beef, it has to rip the amino acids apart and reassemble them accordingly. Amino acids from plant sources, however, allow the body to skip that process and go right to the end game, which means that the plant-based proteins consumed on a raw vegan diet should suffice, and, in fact, are possibly superior to animal proteins in certain ways.
But what about quantity? Regardless of the debate as to just how much protein we need, how can a raw vegan get enough?
Good Sources of Plant Proteins
It is impossible to know everything about nutrition and retaining the information is another challenge entirely. But some of the most basic facts are rather crucial to helping you make good nutrition choices on a daily basis. In the beginning of any major diet change, you'll need to be more observant and calculating than usual. Over time, the formula for healthy living becomes routine and you won't need to do so much math. As your tastes change and embrace your new lifestyle, it will be easier and more fulfilling to eat in a way that ultimately pleases your body and all its trillion cells.
Everything has protein in it, so the effect of eating a variety of foods is the key to getting all of the essential amino acids. Nuts and seeds have a lot of protein compared to fruits and vegetables but a lot of raw food diet advocates tout green leafy vegetables as a good source of protein. By using a variety of greens—in great abundance and as much as up to one pound per day—the body receives all the essential amino acids that it needs, while also getting many other minerals, plenty of chlorophyll, and lots of fiber.
Start your day with raw vegan oatmeal and top it off with hemp seeds, flax meal, or just a handful of nuts. If you have enough time to plan in advance, try a batch of homemade sunflower and flax bread, topped off with homemade nut butter. For busy days, make a green smoothie to enjoy on the go, packed with plenty of greens, some homemade nut milk, and even some raw vegan protein powder or hemp protein if you'd like.
Tuso PJ, Ismail MH, Ha BP, Bartolotto C. Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. Perm J. 2013;17(2):61-6. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085