If You're Vegan, How Do You Get Enough Protein?

I recently read a great quote: “People suddenly become nutritionists when they hear I’m a vegetarian.”

Everyone wants to know how I get enough protein. 

My favorite answer is one I learned back in high school, when I was trying to figure out how to get all my nutrients: Even strawberries have protein! Only 1g per serving.  

But this goes to show every plant food has some protein.
 
Ask any vegan or vegetarian how they feel about getting asked about protein, their answer is most likely the same as mine.  I like teaching people, but the question can get old. 

Depending on my mood, I sometimes think, Here we go again.... 

We’ve been so indoctrinated to think meat = protein, just like milk = calcium, that most people just don’t know.

Part of my job and also my passion is to share the truth about nutrition. So I’m happy to answer, but it is frustrating that false information about protein is still so widespread.

Let's review the facts about vegetarians and protein: 

Only 10% of our diet needs to be protein. 

NIH says that an average person requires about 50 to 65 grams of protein in their diet each day. Vegan athletes like Rich Roll only eat about 80g per day

To figure out what you need: The recommended amount of protein is based on body weight. 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Hint: divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to come up with weight in kilograms. 

170 pound person = 77.27 kg x 0.8 = 61.82 grams of protein needed per day.

There are no known cases of protein deficiency in the U.S. unless the person is malnourished overall. 

Even then it’s rare. So few, in fact, that I couldn’t find any hard data on this.

If you know someone who is pale or always low energy, it’s most likely an iron deficiency. Even those who eat beef daily are known to be anemic/iron deficient. This can be from malabsorption, which anyone with a history of digestive issues probably experiences. 

Also, meat is pretty difficult to digest. All of my female patients are at least slightly anemic during their cycle.

Americans are eating too much protein.

According a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Standard American Diet (SAD) diet provides about 102 grams to males and 70 grams to females of protein a day. The results- high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, increased risk of osteoporosis, weakened kidneys and gout.

Myth: It can’t be a complete protein, if it comes from plants. 

Wrong! The concept of a complete protein is pretty outdated.  If you eat a balanced, well-varied, whole foods diet, you’re going to get everything you need.

If you’re at all concerned about getting enough, then try protein powders like Vega. Other great sources include: 
  • Hemp seeds
  • Split peas
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Kale
  • Walnuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Cauliflower
  • Quinoa
  • Almonds
  • Brown rice
See? It can be easy. So the next time someone asks you “Where do you get your protein?” You can answer, “In the strawberries I had in my morning smoothie.”


Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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To learn more about plant-based nutrition, check out our video course The Ultimate Guide To Plant-Based Nutrition.
About the Author
Heather Lounsbury is an acupuncturist and nutritionist based in Los Angeles.  Her commitment to health started in high school and shows in her work today. Connect with Heather on Facebook and on Twitter @DocHeather
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