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.
“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.
“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)|
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):
- 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
- 2 slices whole wheat bread – 7.2 g
- 1 veggie burger – 11 g
- 2 cups steamed kale – 6 g
- 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.