Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Ask the Pros Q&A

Q: Where Do You Get Your Protein?

A: Without a doubt, this is one of the most common (and frustrating) questions those on a plant-based diet often get. The average requirement for people is 42 grams of protein a day. Non-vegetarians get way more than they need, and so does everyone else. Thanks to a large study that compared the nutrient profiles of around 30,000 non-vegetarians to 20,000 vegetarians and around 5,000 vegans we now know that vegetarians and vegans get 70% more protein than they need every day (Greger, 2014; Rizzo et al., 2013).

The truth is, 97% of Americans get enough protein. It’s surprising that there’s so much fuss about protein in this country when less than 3% of adults don’t make the cut-and likely these are people on extreme calorie-restricted diets who just aren’t eating enough food. It is very easy for people on a strict whole food plant-based diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein. Athletes such as bodybuilders of course have a greater daily requirement for protein, but many vegan athletes build huge amounts of strength and muscle without any issues. If you haven’t yet seen the documentary Gamechangers-it is available on Netflix and features some of the strongest athletes on the planet thriving on a whole food plant-based diet (Cameron et al., 2019).  What makes the protein inquiry all the more surprising is that all protein originates from plants, which also contain all nine essential amino acids we have to get from food. If this wasn’t the case, how would the largest and strongest animals on the planet, including elephants, rhinos, horses, and gorillas—all of which are herbivores—build and maintain such huge amounts of muscle?

There is a nutrient, though, for which 97% of Americans are deficient-fiber! Less than 3% of Americans get even the recommended minimum adequate intake of fiber. So, the relevant question isn’t “Where do you get your protein?” but “Where do you get your fiber?” Fiber is found exclusively in plant foods so consuming a whole food plant-based diet will help you meet this requirement as well!

References:

Cameron, J., et al., (2019). Game Changers Film, LLC. Retrieved from: https://gamechangersmovie.com/

Greger, M. (2014). Do vegetarians get enough protein? Retrieved from: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/do-vegetarians-get-enough-protein/

Rizzo NS, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Sabate J, Fraser GE. Nutrient profiles of vegetarian and nonvegetarian dietary patterns. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Dec;113(12):1610-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.06.349. Epub 2013 Aug 27. PMID: 23988511; PMCID: PMC4081456.


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