But…. Where do vegans get their protein?

shutterstock_216834193

Last month, I went to the doctor for a checkup. Everything went great, and then the subject of diet came up. Hmmm… I don’t remember exactly how. I think it was in the initial questionnaire that I had to fill out before I went in, and she commented on it during the appointment. Actually, questioned and gave warnings is a better way to put it. She asked if I get enough protein, enough calcium, how I supplement, told me I should be counting nutrients, etc etc. Sound familiar?

For anyone who hasn’t yet heard the news, plants provide all the nutrients we need!

Have you ever heard the saying “When in doubt, go to the source?” The same principle applies here. Instead of eating a cow to get the nutrients they contain, eat what they eat ~ plants. Skip the bacon and eat what pigs eat ~ plants. Many of the largest, strongest animals on the planet eat plants, not other animals – gorillas, elephants, and moose all graze on plants.

But just knowing that sometimes isn’t enough ~ people usually want a few questions answered before they are willing to really believe it.

shutterstock_405532906

“Will I get enough protein?” Or “I work out a lot, I’m worried that I won’t get enough protein to sustain my workouts.”

 

Most people in the US get way too much protein as it is. The average American man eats 100 grams per day, and the average woman eats around 70 grams per day. Here is what the Centers for Disease Control recommends for various age groups:

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein
Grams of protein needed per day
Children ages 1 – 3 13
Children ages 4 – 8 19
Children ages 9 – 13 34
Girls ages 14 – 18 46
Boys ages 14 – 18 52
Women ages 19 – 70+ 46
Men ages 19 – 70+ 56

Most American adults get 50%-100% more protein than they need, and excess animal protein has been linked to many diseases, so more is not better when it comes to protein from animal products.

If you’re an athlete, it is still easy to get all of the nutrition you need on a plant-based diet. Check out Brendan Brazier, Rich Roll, Torre Washington and Scott Jurek for more information.

“I’ve switched to a vegan diet but I’m hungry all the time. Am I getting enough protein?”

 

This is one of the most common complaints when people first transition to a vegan diet and are still figuring out what is best for them to be eating.

Generally speaking, most people eat fairly heavy meals ~ a plate of food based around a piece of meat, with a few veggies as a side dish. Sometimes when people transition to a vegan diet, they also try to eat “healthier” – salads, smoothies, juices, and such. Changing from such heavy meals to much lighter ones leaves them feeling hungry all the time. It’s not that they aren’t getting enough protein for their body, it’s that they aren’t eating enough to feel full, particularly men. (Yes, it’s a stereotype, but I hear it all the time).

In order to feel full, add some denser foods to your daily menu – tofu, tempeh, whole grains, beans, nuts, avocado. The additional protein and fat in these foods will leave you feeling more full and satisfied. Or, if you still want to have something similar what you used to eat, using meat substitutes from Beyond Meat, Gardien, or Upton’s Naturals are a great way to transition away from animal products.

“Where do I get the protein that I need?”

 

Plants have lots of protein. Here are some common plant foods and the amounts of protein they provide:

Protein (g per 100 g)
Almonds 21
Baked Potatoes 2.5
Broccoli 2.8
Brown Rice 2.6
Buckwheat 13
Kale 4.3
Lentils 9
Oatmeal 2.4
Pumpkin Seeds 19
Quinoa 4
Seitan 75
Soy Milk 3.3
Soybeans, boiled 19
Spinach 2.9
Sweet Potatoes 1.6
Tahini 17
Tofu 8
Walnuts 15

Some of these amounts may not look like a lot, but they add up quickly. Consider this sample daily menu (and note that this only includes the basic foods, not additional ingredients such as condiments, toppings and dressings):

Breakfast:

  • 1 cup of cooked oatmeal – 6 g
  • 1 cup of soy milk – 8 g
  • 1.5 oz raisins – 1.3 g
  • 1 oz. pumpkin seeds – 5 g

Lunch:

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread – 7.2 g
  • 1 veggie burger – 11 g
  • 2 cups steamed kale – 6 g

Dinner:

  • 1 cup whole wheat pasta – 7 g
  • 1 cup tomato basil sauce – 4 g
  • 2 cups mixed green salad with ½ oz almonds – 16 g

TOTAL: 71.5 grams of protein (minimum)

You can see that the amount of protein that you eat easily adds up to what you need during the day, without even trying to eat foods that are specifically high in protein. And the health problems associated with too much animal protein have not been connected with any amounts of plant-based protein.

One last concern that people have is if they need to combine certain kinds of protein to give the body what it needs. No, we don’t.

This idea of needing to eat certain things to create “complete proteins” (protein that has all 9 essential amino acids) was put out in the 70s and has been debunked since then. Our bodies are very smart – as long as you are eating enough calories, and a variety of foods, your body will break it all down and get the nutrition that it needs.

Of course, these are general rules for the general population. Some people have special situations or health issues that require different ways of eating. If you fall into one of these categories, or think you might, please see a doctor to make sure you are eating right for your circumstances.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “But…. Where do vegans get their protein?

    • Thank you! And thanks for asking! It should be noted that this was the first time I’d seen this particular doctor in the practice.

      She was very concerned with numbers, particularly about calcium. I told her everything, that I eat well – lots of green leafies and veggies and nutrients from fortified non-dairy milks, etc. etc. – and she told me that we don’t get nearly as much as we think we do from those sources and that supplementation is a must. I told her that I’ve had blood work done and all is fine… I tried to educate as much as I could in the time that I had but I don’t know how much got through.

      • Well done – it’s great that you could prove you’re right because you’d had the tests done. It is frightening how dangerously misleading/misinformed doctors often are. My husband and I first became vegan after having our first child and the doctor pleaded with us not to make the baby vegan as “children need dairy for at least their first five years”! Being young and inexperienced, and scared of harming our baby, we took his advice and kept her on dairy. Years later we knew differently but we’d already exposed her to it. Another time, when my youngest child was about 12, we went to the doctor because she was having recurring headaches. We thought maybe it was migraines but as soon as the doctor heard that we were vegan she said, with confidence, “Ahh! Calcium deficiency!” I told her all the things you told yours and got the same kind of reply you got. Unfortunately we had no blood work to prove it wasn’t calcium deficiency and she didn’t order any. She just told my daughter to take supplements. Many months later we discovered (via better medical people) that she actually had a type of benign brain tumour which required surgery and radiotherapy. Doctors should at least do blood tests to verify their theories.

      • Wow ~ I’m sorry you’ve had such terrible experiences with it. It is shocking how little they are educated about it, but I guess it’s really not so surprising that they follow the status quo. It’s sad that it takes an extraordinary doctor to actually read the research and buck the system. I said what I had to say but I really don’t know how much got through. I think she felt that by telling me to take x amount of calcium supplements she was taking control of the situation, rather than having the desire to question if what she was saying was true. But so scary that your doctor heard “vegan” and decided calcium deficiency, neglecting to find a brain tumor. Although this, coming on the heels of the news this week that medical error is the third highest cause of death, makes me feel like avoiding mainstream doctors.

      • I’m right there with you. We do have huge gratitude for the doctors who did amazing work when the tumour was discovered, I’m not trying to disrespect all doctors, but everything we have discussed is true and there’s no getting away from that. Coincidently, I shared a video in yesterday’s post in which a doctor says in passing, “there is no such thing as a calcium deficient diet by the way”. 😀

  1. It is disturbing how little nutritional training doctors get in medical school. Kudos to you for educating your doctor! Like many others, I was raised believing that humans are calcium and protein deficient and must have meat and dairy to survive. Now I know differently. Thanks for the informative post.

    • Thanks for the kind words! I tried, but we’ll see if anything got through 🙂 I’ve also been looking into naturopaths for a consultation on some nagging little things, and that is the first thing I tell them – I am vegan, I will not budge on this, will you be comfortable with that? It’s definitely easier with them, as they are already outside of the mainstream…

  2. Dear Kelli,
    happy to touch with you via this great and very informative post! I’d like to express my gratitude for the information and sharing your experience. Our son is vegetarian, not vegan. And it was a hard battle to win. We live with meateaters and it took lots of my inner confidence and strength to protect ourselves from their attempts to ‘take care of our health’. He is healthy but slim like me. He’s 6,5 years young and weighs 20 kilos. ‘Oh, he lacks muscle mass, oh, he needs meat, oh, lacks protein and nutrients’. That’s what even our osteopath says. So hard to resist! I can imagine what we’d hear if he was vegan. But I still teach him love and compassion, he is a very wise boy and I do hope that one day he makes the right aware choice by himself and goes vegan.

    • Hi Julia,
      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It’s so disheartening that, when we try to take our health and wellness into our own hands, others think they have the right to tell us what to do. If he were sick and you wanted to take him to the doctor, I’m sure they would be all for it. Yet when you head out on a healthier path (whether that is why you are vegan or not), they try to sabotage it.

      And since people look at the norm that is typically (especially here in the US) overweight, they assume that those of a healthy weight are too thin. Yet we have so many examples of healthy, fit, even bulked out, vegan athletes who show that there is nothing unhealthy about it.

      I also hope he will make the choice to become vegan. I have a friend who was raised vegetarian, and her mother later went vegan, and she became vegan in her early 20s I think. I’ve actually wanted to do an interview with her for my site – maybe this is a good time to do that!

      • Thank you very much dear Kelli for your reply. Yes, I do share the same point of view. And I also think that health is a priority. The boy is thin, yes, but he is healthy!!! What else is needed?!

        And thank you for sharing information on no need of mixing different products to get the-so-called complete protein.

        Anticipating the promised interview!

        All the best to you, my dear! Jaya Guru Devi 💖

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s