Plant Proteins: Assessing Their Nutritional Quality and Effects on Health and Physical Function

Nutrients. 2020 Nov 30;12(12):3704. doi: 10.3390/nu12123704.


Consumer demand for plant protein-based products is high and expected to grow considerably in the next decade. Factors contributing to the rise in popularity of plant proteins include: (1) potential health benefits associated with increased intake of plant-based diets; (2) consumer concerns regarding adverse health effects of consuming diets high in animal protein (e.g., increased saturated fat); (3) increased consumer recognition of the need to improve the environmental sustainability of food production; (4) ethical issues regarding the treatment of animals; and (5) general consumer view of protein as a "positive" nutrient (more is better). While there are health and physical function benefits of diets higher in plant-based protein, the nutritional quality of plant proteins may be inferior in some respects relative to animal proteins. This review highlights the nutritional quality of plant proteins and strategies for wisely using them to meet amino acid requirements. In addition, a summary of studies evaluating the potential benefits of plant proteins for both health and physical function is provided. Finally, potential safety issues associated with increased intake of plant proteins are addressed.

Keywords: DIAAS; PDCAAS; amino acids; plant protein; protein quality; protein requirements; vegetable protein.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Essential / analysis
  • Animal Proteins, Dietary
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus / prevention & control
  • Diet, Vegetarian
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Functional Food
  • Glutamine / analysis
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Plant Proteins*
  • Risk Factors
  • Whey Proteins / analysis


  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Animal Proteins, Dietary
  • Fatty Acids
  • Plant Proteins
  • Whey Proteins
  • Glutamine