Where Do You Get Your Protein?

“People eat meat and think they will become as strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.” -Pino Caruso

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As a rite of passage, every vegan will be asked how they supply their bodies with protein. I’ve handled the question with varying degrees of elegance.  10 years ago, I handled it defensively, “Protein is a really overstated nutrient”, I would say, “and most Americans get too much anyways.  Most Americans lack fiber in their diet, not protein.  Where do YOU get your fiber?!”

I actually enjoy this question now because I’ve done my homework and I realized it’s a very reasonable question.  I think a lot of us grew up in households where protein came from meat, and only meat.  I actually didn’t realize that plants have protein until I started researching. It’s not insane to wonder about how vegans find protein sources!

To the shock of my family and friends, I’m still alive, despite not getting any protein from animals sources. 

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Humans definitely need protein to maintain muscle mass and be healthy, and athletes certainly need more than sedentary people.  But I think that protein is wildly over-emphasized.  The average person in the U.S. eats far more than they need.

There’s evidence that humans have optimum health with a diet around 10-percent protein – that’s easily met by just eating greens like spinach.  So, it’s not like a typical American needs to be seeking out more protein.

Here are some surprisingly protein-rich vegan ingredients, all of which can be paired together effortlessly to create protein dense meals:

  • Quinoa, 1 cup, cooked: 8 grams
  • Buckwheat, 1 cup, cooked: 5 grams
  • Oat bran, 1 cup, cooked: 7 grams
  • Rolled oats, 1/2 cup, cooked or raw: 5 grams
  • Sprouted grain bread, 2 slices: 8 grams
  • Tempeh, 3 ounces: 17 grams
  • Tofu, 4 ounces: 12 grams
  • Edamame, 1/2 cup, shelled and steamed: 9 grams
  • Almonds, 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup), raw: 6 grams
  • Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons: 7 grams
  • Hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds), 3 tablespoons: 10 grams
  • Nutritional yeast, 2 tablespoons: 8 grams
  • Lentils, 1/2 cup, cooked: 9 grams
  • Chickpeas, 1/2 cup, cooked: 7 grams
  • Black beans, 1/2 cup, cooked: 8 grams
  • Seitan (wheat protein), 1/3 cup, cooked: 21 grams
  • Broccoli, 1 cup, steamed: 3 grams
  • Kale, 1 cup, steamed: 3 grams
  • Collard greens, 1 cup, steamed: 5 grams
  • Hummus, 1/4 cup: 5 grams

Current nutrition wisdom is that we don’t actually have to seek out complete proteins with every meal, because our bodies can assemble them efficiently when given an array of amino acids building blocks from a well-rounded diet.  Whoa, bodies are awesome!  Still, it doesn’t hurt to seek out some of the most well-known, plant-based complete proteins, including soy foods, quinoa, and the time-honored rice and beans combo.

There has never been a protein deficiency logged by doctors in the United States that did not stem from malnutrition.  All that to say, as long as vegans are eating enough calories from a variety of food, they exceed protein requirements.  Plant proteins have been shown to be better for humans, overall, anyways.

Excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers.  Despite some persistent confusion, it is clear that vegetarians and vegans tend to have more optimal protein consumption than omnivores.

A recent study from the University of Finland found that men whose primary sources of protein were animal-based had a 23% higher risk of death during the follow-up than men who had the most balanced ratio of animal and plant-based protein in their diet.  The men participating in the study mainly ate red meat.  Most nutrition recommendations nowadays limit the intake of red and processed meats.  In Finland, for example, the recommended maximum intake is 500 grams per week.

This makes sense:

Unlike plant protein, which comes packaged with fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, animal protein comes with exactly none of that.  To this point, meat, eggs, poultry, dairy, fish and other animal foods have absolutely no fiber whatsoever.

Many people, in their effort to “get enough” protein, tend to eat large amounts of animal foods, which displaces plant foods that have these important nutrients.  As I mentioned,  fiber deficiencies, in particular, are far more common than not.

Also, if you have any sort of inflammatory disease – IBS, Crohn’s, asthma, acneceliac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and even atherosclerosis of heart arteries – meat and dairy consumption will only make it worse!  Your body has an inflammatory response to protein derived from animal sources – exacerbating any underlying issues you may have.  

Vegan Inspo Time!

Now here’s a list of elite vegan athletes.  Some of the strongest, fastest, best athletes in the world only get protein from plant sources, and they swear it helps their performance:

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Alex Morgan – US Women’s Soccer Team.  In a recent interview with Time, Morgan revealed that switching to a vegan diet has been key to her success on the field.  She first adopted a vegan diet, “because it didn’t feel fair to have a dog I adore, and yet eat meat all the time,” she told Reuters. She soon discovered that eating a plant-based diet improved her energy during practice and games.
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Alex Honnold of “Free Solo” fame gets an honorable mention. While he does eat eggs on occasion, he follows a vegan diet, mainly.  He told Bon Appetit: “I make a fair amount of my food choices for environmental-type reasons than nutrition or taste.  I’m trying to minimize impact, which is something most people don’t necessarily think about when they’re shopping.”  He also just partnered with sports nutrition company Momentous to launch a line of vegan protein powder.  AbsoluteZero Plant is made from a combination of pea protein isolate.
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Colin Kaepernick hasn’t spoken about being vegan much but posted a gym selfie picture and captioned it “Not bad for a vegan”.
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Kendrick Farris – Olympic Weightlifter
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Barry DuPlessis – Mr. Universe 2014 and professional body builder.  He has been vegan since 2005 and credits this lifestyle with his decreased inflammation and faster recovery time.
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Venus Williams – The tennis star adopted a raw vegan diet after she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011 and doctors advised it would relieve some of her symptoms such as extreme fatigue and joint pain.

 

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Scott Jurek is an American ultramarathon runner, winner of 16 prestigious ultramarathon titles, and holds a personal record of running 165.7 miles over a 24 hour period — averaging 8:42 per mile. That’s insane!  I don’t even run that fast for one mile! 
He started his transition to a fully vegan diet during college, spurred on by the health defects and illnesses he saw at physical therapy school.  The ultrarunner saw veganism as a long-term solution to avoiding his family’s history of chronic disease, according to GQ.
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One of the most famous NFL vegan players ever is Tony Gonzalez.  He is American football tight end and actor, who played 17 seasons in the National Football League and current analyst on Fox NFL’s pregame show.  After an unplanned meeting with David Pulaski on a flight once, Gonzalez noticed the difference between their plates and when he enquired why this was he soon ditched the meat and diary for an all out vegan feast.

I would love to know what you’ve found on nutrition and protein sources!  As I mentioned, I’m not an expert, but I’ve spent 10 years thinking about this and trying to do right by my body (I say this as I’m on my second cup of coffee with no breakfast).

Drop a comment or a question! I love feedback 🙂

Peace,

Shannon

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3 comments

  1. Well done cousin. I feel as though you have many strong valid points. As a fitness and health professional I agree the American diet is too high in protein. Many of my clients who are looking to lose weight immediately asked me what protein supplement I recommend. And I tell them I don’t recommend any supplements. You should never supplement a diet unless you were deficient and as you well pointed out to you as a diet is not deficient in protein. My motto for life is to eat fresh foods full of fiber first. When you eat crap you feel like crap. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to reading more from the gentle lentil 🙌🏻😘

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!!! You are an expert so I appreciate the validation. You are always posting great recipes- would it be okay if I shared some plant-based recipes on the blog for folks? I’ll credit you, of course! I ate instant oatmeal from a mug this morning at 11am, and last night I had hummus and crackers for dinner… so I’m probably not the best person to talk about personal nutrition haha.

      Like

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