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  1. Fussell, Maya MS, RDN
  2. Contillo, Allison BS, RDN
  3. Druehl, Heidi MS
  4. Rodriguez, Nancy R. PhD, RDN


The essential amino acid (EAA) content of animal-based proteins contributes to their superior quality compared with plant-based proteins. Recently, there has been a growing trend toward plant-based meal patterns. However, the impact of adapting a primarily plant-based meal pattern in the context of US Department of Agriculture' Healthy Eating Patterns based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and healthy aging is not known. The EAA content, adequacy, and density (the amount of EAA relative to total calories or total protein) of animal- and plant-based protein equivalents in the context of 4 healthy eating patterns, omnivore, vegetarian, vegan energy matched, and vegan protein matched, were determined. The EAA content of all 4 meal patterns met established EAA Recommended Dietary Allowances. However, matching total protein to accommodate recommended protein intakes for healthy aging resulted in an additional 300 calories for the vegan protein matched eating pattern. The implications for this work for healthy aging with specific regard for protein adequacy, energy balance, EAA density, current dietary recommendations, and professional practice are considered. The surplus calories that accompany higher-protein, EAA adequate plant-based meal patterns require further consideration in the context of healthy aging. Essential amino acid density is a novel approach with potential for effective integration of protein quality and protein quantity in configuring healthy eating patterns for optimal health across the lifespan.