It is well established that vegetarians and vegans are often deficient in the amino acid lysine, which can lead to diminished health. Lysine typically comes from protein foods like meats (beef, pork, turkey, chicken, etc.), eggs, fish, and even dairy.
Making sure you have adequate protein intake is the key to getting enough lysine, but are nuts and legumes (including soybeans) enough to provide lysine to a vegan diet? What if you are allergic to nuts? What if legumes do not agree with your system? What other choices are there, and which sources of vegetables or fruits or other vegan foods are highest in lysine?
Vegan foods high in protein
According to a Vegan registered dietitian (RD) a man was thinking about eating eggs again to ensure he had enough protein (including lysine) and fat in his diet, and admitting that he may have been nutrient-deficient, it was suggested that he could get equivalent amounts of protein and fat from vegan sources. For instance, a large egg has about 5 g of fat and 6 g of protein, but so does eating a 1/2 C of beans (topped with 2 Tbsp avocado) OR 1 C quinoa (topped with 1 Tbsp chopped nuts), along with 1/4 C tempeh.
This same vegan RD suggest that vegans can get enough protein (and therefore lysine) by eating a minimum of 3 servings/day of legumes. Servings means 1/2 C of beans or soyfood, or 1 C soymilk; this amount is generous. There’s no need to be obsessive about lysine, as long as you get enough protein. Your daily regimen should include legumes and soyfoods to ensure your lysine intake.
Protein requirements for adequate lysine intake
Protein requirements and lysine requirements are figured differently. Use pounds when doing the calculations below.
Protein requirements: Multiply your (ideal) weight by 0.45
Lysine requirements: Multiply your (ideal) weight by 2.5
Lean body mass is what protein needs are based on, so using your ideal weight (rather than actual weight) help calculate the proper requirements. For example, a person who should weight about 140 lbs should need approximately 3010 mg of lysine and 63 g of protein.
1/2 C cooked legumes/beans = 485-625 mg lysine / 7-8 g protein
1/2 C soybeans = 575 mg lysine / 14 g protein 1/2 C firm
tofu = 582 mg lysine / 10-20 g protein
1 oz veggie meats = (varies) mg lysine / 6-18 g protein
1 C soymilk = 439 mg lysine / 5-10 g protein
1/4 C peanuts = 310 mg lysine / 8 g protein
1/4 C other nuts* = 80-280 mg lysine / 2-6 g protein
1/2 C grains** = 55-85 mg lysine / 2-3 g protein
1/2 vegetables = 60-165 mg lysine / 0.5-2.5 g protein
* Note that 1/4 C pistachios have 365 mg lysine and 6.5 g protein
** Note that quinoa is higher compared to other grains, with 220 mg lysine and 4 g protein
As you can see, it is not all that hard to find lysine in protein foods as long as you maintain an adequate amount of servings and protein grams each day.