“Vegans: where do you get your protein?”
This must be the single most common question people ask vegans about their diet. Vegans are regularly warned by well-meaning folks of medical maladies, including protein deficiency, muscle loss, general ill health — even death. People typically believe that protein is found only in meat and dairy products, and therefore vegans are needlessly putting their health at risk.
This protein myth has become the widely accepted view for society at large. But is this story true? What's the truth regarding the amount of protein consumption needed in our diet?
First, the concept that dietary protein is gained only from eating animal products is a very straightforward myth to debunk. Protein is found in ALL plant foods! This may come as a shock to many people, but it’s a scientific fact. Twenty to 40% of the calories in beans, broccoli, and spinach come from protein, rivaling the percentages of calories from protein in most types of meat. Even fruits like peaches and avocados derive approximately 7% of their calories from protein, while strawberries and oranges provide 8% to 9% protein content.
Skeptics may concede that protein is found in plants, but doubt that it could be found in a high enough quantity to maintain proper nutrition without the aid of animal-based products. To assuage these fears, let’s examine the amount of protein needed for optimal health. The World Health Organization recommends that we get 5% of our calories from protein, with pregnant women needing slightly more at 6%.
Considering that raw fruits and vegetables average between 5% and 15% protein content, and cooked beans and legumes boast 18% to 30% protein content, even the strictest vegans will easily consume ample protein when eating enough food to meet their daily caloric needs.
The average American gets about 16% of his calories from protein, more than three times the amount recommended by the World Health Organization. Sadly, though, you can have “too much of a good thing” when it comes to protein. Excess protein consumption leads to a number of health problems, some of them very serious in nature.
Excess protein creates an acidifying effect on the bloodstream, which then causes the kidneys to pull alkalizing minerals — such as calcium — from the body, in turn causing bones to weaken. We’ve all heard the classic marketing slogan, “Milk: It does a body good,” but actually milk consumption goes hand-in-hand with causing, rather than preventing, osteoporosis. It’s no coincidence that the nations which consume the most milk are also the nations with the highest rates of hip fractures.
Let me be very clear. I'm not advocating the elimination of protein from one’s diet; protein is crucial to the function and maintenance of the body. Instead, my point is that it’s surprisingly easy to get the proper amount of protein from a plant-based diet. Furthermore, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by consuming an abundance of animal protein.
On a final note, have you ever heard the medical term for protein deficiency? Well, there isn’t one, which should tell you something: as a vegan, you don’t have to worry about where you’ll get your protein.