Everybody needs protein.. right? That’s all you hear health/fitness people talking about. They talk about how they need to eat these certain foods to get lots of protein. But where did this ‘need’ for protein come from? I mean, of course we need protein in our daily lives – just as we need every other vitamin. (does anyone even ask about vitamin B or D?) But humans don’t need protein nearly as much as everyone makes it out to be. I think that society often creates many ideologies and problems that we have in our world. We hear that we need eggs and meat to get protein – we tell other people that- and that message gets passed along. And we believe it because that’s just what we’re used to. But what if I told you that 1. we don’t need that much protein on a daily basis, and 2. that eggs and meat aren’t even the best sources of protein for us?
Being a vegetarian or vegan, the one question you get asked constantly is: “how do you get protein?” It’s like they think that the ONLY sources of protein in the world are from meat and eggs or something? Even vegetarians think that since they are not eating meat, that their ‘go-to’ for protein is eggs. What if I told you that you could get all of your daily protein intake from foods other than EGGS!?
I think everyone is so concerned about not getting enough protein because society and the media has made it such a big thing to ensure that you have! But think about it… have you ever really heard about someone being protein deficient? NO! Why? Because it doesn’t exist. We humans eat so many foods daily, and the majority of them contain protein. So even if you’re not an athlete, and you’re just eating regular everyday foods (like fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, nuts, lentils, etc) you are STILL GETTING PROTEIN! If anything, humans are getting TOO much protein.
And may I just add that the largest (and strongest) land animals to grace this earth have enormous strength and muscles, and they eat PLANTS! They don’t eat dead cows and chickens to get protein. They eat plants.. and bananas.
What is Protein?
Proteins are large molecules made up of chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids the body uses to make protein, and when you eat protein, your body breaks apart the aminos and sends them to whichever part of your body needs whichever type of amino.
Protein in general is an extremely important nutrient, and not just because you like big muscles. “In all cells of the body, proteins perform crucial functions and are present in numerous forms,” says Tabatha Elliott, PhD, who has studied protein extensively at the University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston). “Proteins form structural tissue [such as muscle fibers], blood plasma, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, hemoglobin, you name it.” Protein is also responsible for a host of other things, from making your muscles move to transporting other substances (such as vitamins and minerals) throughout your body. Without it, you would be practically unable to function. (http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/gain-mass/can-you-get-too-much-protein-part-i)
How Much Protein Do We Really Need?
The RDA recommends that we take in 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh (or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that we weigh). This recommendation includes a generous safety factor for most people. When we make a few adjustments to account for some plant proteins being digested somewhat differently from animal proteins and for the amino acid mix in some plant proteins, we arrive at a level of 0.9 gram of protein per kilogram body weight (0.41 grams per pound). If we do a few calculations we see that the protein recommendation for vegans amounts to close to 10% of calories coming from protein. [For example, a vegan male weighing 174 pounds could have a calorie requirement of 2,600 calories. His protein needs are calculated as 174 pounds x 0.41 g/pound = 71 grams of protein. 71 grams of protein x 4 calories/gram of protein = 284 calories from protein. 284 divided by 2,600 calories = 10.9% of calories from protein.] If we look at what vegans are eating, we find that, typically, between 10-12% of calories come from protein 3. This contrasts with the protein intake of non-vegetarians, which is close to 14-18% of calories.
So, in the United States it appears that vegan diets are commonly lower in protein than standard American diets. 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. (http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php)
Humans don’t even need that much protein. Everyone makes this nutrient out to be something that it’s not. We’re not going to die. We’re not going to lose all of our muscles. We’re not going to collapse at work from not getting enough protein. WE ARE COMPLETELY FINE! And even better? We can get all the protein we need from… *drum roll please* PLANTS.
Plant Based Sources of Protein:
- Tempeh – 41 g per cup
- Lentils – 18 g per cup
- Plain soymilk – 11 g per cup
- Edamame – 20 g per cup
- Seitan – 19 g per 3 ounces
- Tofu – 20 g per 1/2 cup
- Peas – 9 g per cup
- Brown rice – 5 g per cup
- White rice – 4 g per cup
- Cooked broccoli – 4 g per cup
- Sunflower seeds – 6 g per 1/4 cup
- Quinoa – 9 g per cup
- Cooked spinach – 5 g per cup
- Avocado – 4 g per cup
- Whole grain bread – 7 g in 2 slices
- Black beans – 15 g per cup
- Cashews – 5 g per 1/4 cup
- Cooked semolina pasta – 8 g per cup
- Chia seeds – 5 g per 2 tablespoons
- Flax seeds – 4 g per 2 tablespoons
- Bulgur – 5.5 g per cup
- Peanut butter – 8 g per 2 tablespoons
- Sunflower seed butter – 5.5 g per 2 tablespoons
- Baked red potato – 3 g per cup
- Barley – 3.5 g per cup
Have you ever really thought about what eggs are? Okay, I’ll break it down for you. Each month, a human women sheds an unfertilized egg. What is this called? Her period. The same thing happens to a female hen: she sheds an unfertilized egg. Although a hen’s ‘shedding’ happens way more frequently than a human, it’s still essentially the same thing. So yes people, you are currently eating hen period. Yum.
Besides the fact that eating a hen period is kind of disgusting, eggs are not the healthiest thing for you, especially if you’re looking to them for protein.
A large egg contains about 185 mg of cholesterol. And since the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a limit of 300 mg per day. Eat two eggs and you’ve exceeded that limit. (http://www.peta.org/features/eat-chickens-period/)
A Thing Called ‘Too Much Protein’
According to Dr. Ornish, “high-protein foods, particularly excessive animal protein, dramatically increase the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and many other illnesses. In the short run, they may also cause kidney problems, loss of calcium in the bones, and an unhealthy metabolic state called ketosis in many people.” – http://www.webmd.com/diet/ornish-diet-what-it-is
The cancer connection is spelled out at length in a fantastic book by Cornell scientist T. Colin Campbell, called The China Study. Basically, there is overwhelming scientific evidence to implicate that animal protein consumption causes cancer.
Olympian Carl Lewis has said that his best year of track competition was the first year that he ate a vegan diet (he is still a strong proponent of vegan diets for athletes).
Strength trainer Mike Mahler says, “Becoming a vegan had a profound effect on my training. … “My bench press excelled past 315 pounds, and I noticed that I recovered much faster. My body fat also went down, and I put on 10 pounds of lean muscle in a few months.”
Bodybuilder Robert Cheeke advises, “The basics for nutrition are consuming large amounts of fresh green vegetables and a variety of fruits, to load yourself up with vibrant vitamins and minerals.”
Read more about protein here: http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/the-dangers-of-our-protein-diet-obsession/
So basically, protein isn’t a worry. We all get it through plant foods, and we all get enough that we need. The real concern shouldn’t be not getting enough protein, but getting too much protein.