Protein Is Not A Unicorn: Why You Should Never Worry About Eating Enough Protein.
Hands down - without question - the #1 thing people ask me about a plant-based (vegan) diet is…..
“But where do you get your protein??”
It’s as if protein is an elusive unicorn that’s really difficult to find. How do we plant-based eaters survive? Surely we must struggle every day to find adequate sustenance!
Please rest assured that we’re all fine - and you can be, too.
Today I want to bust open the ‘protein myth’ - and show you how insanely easy it is to make sure you’re eating enough of this important macronutrient.
Old Myths Die Hard.
It’s so deeply ingrained in us that PROTEIN is the be all and end all of our diets. And we’ve been led to believe that the only way (and the best way) to get enough protein is to eat animals.
In fact, I will go so far as to declare this: Super-False!
Don’t get me wrong - protein matters. We DO need it and we’re SUPPOSED to eat it. It plays a vital role in so many processes in our bodies (stamina, tissue repair, muscle function, hormone and enzyme production, etc).
But it does NOT need to come from animals. At all.
We also need significantly less protein than what most of us currently eat - and it’s really easy to find. Protein Is Not A Unicorn. Here’s the deal: There is a completely false, made-up ‘protein crisis’ in this country. It’s ridiculous.
When was the last time you heard of anyone - anyone! - being diagnosed with an actual protein deficiency in America?? It doesn’t happen. When people are malnourished it’s usually because they are not getting enough CALORIES, not protein. And, as a country, we are obese and under-nourished because we are generally not eating enough whole foods and PLANTS. Our lack of protein is 100% NOT the problem.
The average person needs approximately 40-60 grams of protein a day (depending on your weight and activity level). Pregnant women, athletes and bodybuilders do need more.
That said, protein is not difficult to find. Protein is not a unicorn.
You would actually have to work really, really, really hard NOT to eat enough protein. You’d have to starve.
The Fact That No One Ever Wants To Believe.
Fact: All food contains protein, except fruit and oil.
No one ever wants to believe this.
You can look it up.
Broccoli has protein. Brown rice has protein. Avocados have protein. Your oatmeal has protein. If you are eating food, you are eating protein all day long.
In truth, as long as you eat enough calories over the course of a day to support your weight and activity level you will, by default, eat enough protein for your body.
No one ever wants to believe this, either, but it’s true.
If you need 1600 calories a day, and you ate 1600 calories of nothing but oats (which I do not advise!), you would still meet your minimum daily protein requirement.
Why is this true? Because, as I said before, you only need about 40-60 grams of protein per day, and all food (except fruit and oil) contains protein. Eat enough calories, and you will eat enough protein.
The idea that you need to work hard at it, or supplement, or eat animals is an unnecessary response to a false emergency.
But isn’t animal protein different or better than plant-based protein?
Different? Yes. Better? No.
Protein is protein, except……
Animal protein comes with some proven links to heart disease, obesity, stroke, and certain cancers. It also comes with a lot of calories and saturated fat (booooo).
Plant-based protein comes with beneficial fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients (all shown to be protective against heart disease, stroke, and cancer) - and it’s low in calories and does not contain saturated fat (yaaaaaay).
Other than those significant differences in how the protein behaves inside your body……it’s the same.
But isn’t animal protein more ‘complete’ than plant-based protein?
Years ago there was a myth floating about that animal protein was superior to plant-based protein because it was ‘complete’. You see, animal protein contains all 9 essential amino acids that the body requires - earning it the label ‘complete’. There was some nonsense about how vegetarians had to take great care to combine their food in specific ways at each meal to ensure that they were eating all 9 essential amino acids at the same sitting.
This myth that you have to eat all the amino acids at once has been roundly debunked by science - yet it persists in some meat-loving circles. The fact is, as long as you eat a variety of plant-based foods over the course of a day, you cannot help but consume all 9 essential amino acids. And by ‘a variety’, I mean you have to eat more than one food in a day. So….don’t have a day where you eat nothing at all except broccoli.
If you eat a peanutbutter sandwich, you will obtain all 9 amino acids. If you have rice and beans, you will obtain all 9 amino acids. See how easy it is?
You really don’t need to work at this. I have been following a plant-based diet for about 15 years now - and I can honestly say that I have NEVER thought about my amino acids.
But What Are The BEST Sources Of Plant-Based Protein?
Just as some animals contain more protein than others, the same is true for plants. Here are some of the plant-based protein super-stars:
Soy (tempeh, edamame, tofu)
So, what do you think? Will you stop searching for unicorns?