Friday, May 20, 2011

The truth about protein.

This post is for our vegans, vegetarians, or those curious about how we don't wither away and die.  This is also to get you thinking about the food you consume and how meat is not the end all-be all to protein consumption.  I'm not saying you have to give up your meat, meat-eaters, I'm just saying let's love our veggies & beans a little more!
                                                                                   photo credit happykanppy

American's have become extremely protein focused & obsessed while meat has intrusively made it's way onto the center of our plates.  Most American meals revolve around a piece of meat while other "less important" items are pushed to the side, donning the name "sides" or "side dishes". It was actually thought by many, at one point in our history, that vegetarians would quite literally die of protein deficiency.  Surprise! We don't.  So, let's get the truth about protein, what we need, how we can get it, and why these "sides" can give us the same benefits that meat can (and offer more in nutrients!)

Well, first, what is protein? Protein (other than the standard scientific definition) helps build muscle, hair, nails, & connective tissue in the human body.  Many of the body's chemicals are also made up of protein (enzymes, neurotransmitters, hormones, DNA), so it seems obvious that it would be a crucial part of our diet.  But how much do you actually need?

Your recommended protein consumption will vary based on your age, weight, & how active of a lifestyle you live.  This typically seems to be the calculation used by many: weight (in pounds) x .37= daily protein minimum in grams.  Are you 126 pounds? You should be consuming at least 46 grams of protein a day (up to about 58g).  There are more complicated methods out there, but this is the standard used by most nutritionists.

Now, how easy is it to reach this minimum on a meat-free diet? Actually, let me make this more strict.  Meat free AND dairy free.  Here's an example menu for one day.  You will see the food and then the grams of protein within that specific food:

Look at that! With this menu, you've actually exceeded the daily recommended MINIMUM, sans meat & dairy.  This is just one example.

In America, the average weight of each person has skyrocketed from 50 years ago.  In 1960, the average woman weighed 140.2 pounds.  Today, the average woman's weight is 164.3, but the average protein consumption of each American is 91 grams.  But let's do the math.  164 x .37= 60.  The average person is consuming over 30 grams more in protein than necessary.  And let's keep in mind, most Americans are sedentary (desk jobs, watching TV, and getting little to no exercise) so there's especially no reason for the extra protein. So, while people are kicking and screaming about how vegetarians/vegans are not getting enough protein, this may be true for some, but in reality, most meat eaters are over consuming and many vegans are getting just the right amount.
"Remember, though, with protein, more is not necessarily better. There do not appear to be health advantages to consuming a high protein diet. Diets that are high in protein may even increase the risk of osteoporosis and kidney disease." -Protein in the Vegan Diet 
But be careful vegetarians.  I know some of you, and scarfing down microwave dinners and pasta every meal of the day is a very easy way to prove all of this wrong.  You're not fooling anyone by saying your eating habits are healthier simply because you don't eat meat. There's much more to it than that. The key is to eat a variety of foods that are fresh and nutritious.  Hot pockets and baked ziti won't cut it.

Here's a list of vegan friendly foods that you can add to your meals that have a decent amount of protein (thanks to The Vegetarian Resource Group).  Meat eaters- think about how these can become main dishes and not just a side next to your burger or steak.



  1. Lacey, so glad to discover your blog. Thanks for referencing this post on Diary of a Veggie Kid. As the mom of the veggie kid, it's nice to hear a little outside endorsement! Regarding protein, those interested might also appreciate reading The China Study (Campbell) and the Thrive nutrition guide for vegan athletes by Brenden Brazier.
    Well wishes,

  2. Amanda- I had the chance to check out Full DISHClosure & I am so excited to keep reading what you have to say. I've added you to our "Resources" page because I really think our readers could gain something really great from your posts! See you around!