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

  • D. Joe Millward (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 February 2007

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 consid-ered. 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 to 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 Technol-ogy 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.

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*Corresponding author: Professor D. Joe Millward, fax +44 (0)1483 259297, email
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MF Fuller & PJ Garlick (1994) Human amino acid requirements: can the controversy be resolved? Annual Review of Nutrition 14, 217241.

MHN Golden (1997) Protein–energy interactions in the management of severe malnutrition. Clinical Nutrition 16, Suppl. 1, 1923.

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TS Meakins & AA Jackson (1996) Salvage of endogenous urea nitrogen enhances nitrogen balance in normal men consuming marginally inadequate protein diets. Clinical Science 90, 215225.

DJ Millward (1998 a) Quality and utilization of plant proteins in human nutrition. In Plant Proteins from European Crops: Food and Non-Food Applications, pp. 169176 [J Gueguen and Y Popineau , editors]. Berlin: Springer–Verlag.

PJ Pacy , GM Price , D Halliday , MR Quevedo & DJ Millward (1994) Nitrogen homeostasis in man: the diurnal responses of protein synthesis and degradation and amino acid oxidation to diets with increasing protein intakes. Clinical Science 86, 103116.

MR Quevedo , GM Price , D Halliday , PJ Pacy & DJ Millward (1994) Nitrogen homeostasis in man: 3. Diurnal changes in nitrogen excretion, leucine oxidation and whole body leucine kinetics during a reduction from a high to a moderate protein intake. Clinical Science 86, 185193.

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