Where Do You Get Your Protein?

(and other comments & questions Vegans hear)

I have followed a low to no oil whole-food plant-based diet for nearly 4 years. For the first time in my life, I am able to control my weight, kept the weight off, continue to lose weight, am the healthiest I have been since my early 30’s and enjoy more types of foods than ever, all as I am about to turn 60 in December. Finally after many years of yo-yo dieting and trying more diets than I can remember,  I have the best relationship with food in my life and truly understand nutrition and what I need to maintain my health and limit the chances that I will suffer from a chronic illness in my life. There are no guarantees, but I liken my current lifestyle to putting on a seatbelt when I drive. I still may get in an accident, but my chances of serious injury dramatically decrease. 

Here’s the “but”. At no time in my life have I received more questions, concerns, anger, confusion, and frustration from other people about what I eat than after declaring myself a vegan. Students frequently share with me how others chastise, debate, or downright become hostile as they share their new lifestyle with friends and loved ones. I have begun telling students to accept the fact that the vast majority of people will not understand their diet, in fact, only about 3 percent of people in the US are vegan. Those people who are whole-food, plant-based are much less. 

Here are some tips on managing questions, comments, concerns or reactions from others:

  • Where do you get your protein? – Ask them where does a cow, chicken, pig, fish, sheep, or gorillas get their protein? And what about an elephant? All of these animals get their protein from plants! 
  • A vegan diet is hard to follow. You know what is really hard?…getting cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other cardiovascular maladies.
  • I can never give up meat or cheeseI  encourage them to watch movies like “The Game Changers” “Forks Over Knives” or “What the Health” all are available on their favorite streaming platform. In the end, it is a personal decision, but I sat in too many doctor offices with 6 loved ones towards the end of their lives and I am going to try to prevent chronic illnesses in me. I don’t want to live forever, but I want to stay as healthy as I can until the end. 
  • What do you eat? Beans, Grains, Vegetables, and Fruits. There are so many free recipes available, go to www.pcrm.org/recipes or www.nutritionstudies.org/recipes and you’ll find nearly 900 recipes there. My guess is that is more that you’ll use in several years of cooking.

In the end, this is a personal decision. I don’t preach but live by example, eat before I go to a party, or bring my own food. Every day I love what this diet has done for me. Stay fast, surround yourself with other vegans, keep learning about this diet/lifestyle via sites like pbnm.org, and many of the events we offer at https://pbnm.org/online-events/.  You’ll also find excellent resources at pcrm.org or nutritionstudies.org.  Find groups on your favorite social media platform that support your lifestyle, but in the end, do it for yourself and be very clear on your personal motivation. 

Next article, “The Visible and Invisible Influences on our Food Choices” – it’s more than you think! Watch for it!

Contributing Writer: Mark Cerkvenik

Mark worked in leadership roles at Loyola University Health System and Northwestern Medicine training and coaching clinical leaders whose departments saw thousands of patients dealing with chronic illnesses. As a long-time Vegetarian, it was not until he adopted a whole food plant-based diet did he see tremendous improvement in his health and a path to maintain a healthy weight.

In addition to being licensed by PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) as a Food For Life Instructor, Mark provides coaching for individuals and couples on transitioning to a sustainable plant-based diet as well as workshops and workplace seminars on a variety of health-related topics. Check out his full story at letseatgreat.com or vegan trips at vegjauntsandjourneys.com.

Mark sees his role at PBNM as another opportunity to educate the community on the evidence-based benefits of whole-food plant-based eating and assist people with improving the quality of their lives while avoiding a lifetime of prescription medicine and endless doctor visits.