The nutritional value of plant-based diets in relation to human amino acid and protein requirements

Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 May;58(2):249-60. doi: 10.1017/s0029665199000348.


The adequacy of plant-based diets in developed and developing countries as sources of protein and amino acids for human subjects of all ages is examined. Protein quantity is shown not to be an issue. Digestibility is identified as a problem for some cereals (millet (Panicum miliaceum) and sorghum (Sorghum sp.)) and generally is poorly understood. Direct measurements of biological value in children are reviewed and scoring is considered. Various existing requirement values for amino acids and especially lysine are reviewed, and it is concluded that stable-isotope studies do not yet provide adequate alternative values of N balance data, which for lysine are robust after recalculation and adjustment. A new maintenance requirement pattern is developed, with higher values than those of Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization/United Nations University (1985) but lower values than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology pattern (Young et al. 1989). Calculations of age-related amino acid requirements are based on most recent estimates of human growth and maintenance protein requirements, a tissue amino acid pattern and the new maintenance amino acid pattern. These values appear valid when used to score plant proteins, since they indicate values similar to or less than the biological value measured directly in young children. When used to score plant-based diets in India, no marked deficiencies are identified. All regions score > 1 for adults, whilst for children scores range from > 1, (Tamil Nadhu) from 6 months of age to 0.78 (West Bengal), rising to 0.9 in the 2-5 year old, consistent with reports that high-lysine maize supports similar weight and height growth to that of casein. Inadequate amino acid supply is not an issue with most cereal-based diets.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Digestion
  • Humans
  • Lysine / administration & dosage
  • Nutritional Requirements*
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Plant Proteins
  • Plants, Edible*


  • Amino Acids
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Lysine