Without fail, whenever I tell someone that I’m eating a plant-based diet, the first question or comment is something about protein. You have to eat meat to get enough protein right? This macronutrient has somehow claimed King of the lands when it comes to nutrition. Unfortunately, protein doesn’t really deserve this recognition above so many other nutrients.
Protein is just ONE of the 3 macronutrients – Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. Actually water is a macronutrient as well. Macronutrient just means we need more of it. All of our food is made up of these 3 macronutrients in different ratios. Carbohydrates are actually the preferred fuel for our brains.
How much protein do we actually need?
According to the World Health Organization and our own United States Recommended Daily Allowances, we need 10% protein from calories. Ten percent. Wow. And actually most people only need about 6-8% (some estimates as low as 4%), but the agencies round it up to make sure to cover 98% of the population just to be safe. So even that 10% may be on the high side for some. 10% is NOT the minimum.
So let’s do some math and talk in terms of grams, because that’s how most people discuss protein.
On a 2,000 calorie diet, 10% protein would be only 200 calories. Since there are 4 calories per gram of protein, that means someone eating a 2,000 calorie diet would need 50 grams of protein.
If you are eating a 1,500 calories diet, 10% protein would be 150 calories and that equals to about 38 grams of protein.
That’s NOT a lot. And that is the recommendations from our own RDA’s and the WHO. Hmmmm….
Most people consuming animal products are getting MUCH higher protein than this as well as other unfortunate things that come along with those meat products like high fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
Did you know that plants have protein?
Did you know that plants have protein?
Where do you think the rhinos and gorillas and horses and other animals get their protein from and get so big? By eating plants. And actually green vegetables have a very high protein ratio.
The cleanest protein comes from plants
Vegetable protein is the CLEANEST protein as you can get. Even chicken and eggs are not “clean”. They come with other things you don’t want and can’t be separated from it – cholesterol, saturated fat, and high sodium. Chickens are pumped full of sodium (even the organic ones) and eggs are little cholesterol bombs. It always blows my mind when someone says they are eating “clean” but are eating chicken & eggs. Not clean….
So let’s look at some plant-based foods to see how many grams of protein they have per serving and what percentage of their calories are made up of protein.
Ordered by percentage of plant protein per calories:
- 1/2 cup tofu – 10 grams (41%)
- 1 cup edamame – 17 grams (31%)
- 1 cup spinach – 7 grams (30%)
- 1 medium zucchini – 2 grams (25%)
- 1 cup green peas – 9 grams (23%)
- 1 cup lentils – 18 grams (20-29%)
- 2 slices of whole grain or sprouted bread – 8 grams (20%)
- 1 cup beans – 15 grams (23%)
- 1 cup broccoli – 5 grams (20%)
- 1 cup soy milk – 7 grams (19%)
- 1 cup whole wheat pasta – 8 grams (16%)
- 1 cup kale – 2.9 grams (16%)
- 1 cup quinoa – 9 grams (15%)
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter – 8 grams (15%)
- 1 cup wild rice – 7 grams (14%)
- 1 ounce of almonds, cashews, walnuts, or sunflower seeds – 5-6 grams (13%)
- 1/2 cup oats – 6 grams (12%)
- 1 cup onions – 1.8 grams (8%)
- 1 cup cantaloupe – 1.3 grams (8%)
- 1 cup corn – 4.2 grams (8%)
- 1 cup brown rice – 5 grams (8%)
- 1 cup strawberries – 1 gram (7%)
- 1 medium sweet potato – 2.3 grams (6%)
- 1 avocado – 4 grams (4%)
- 1 banana – 1.2 grams (4%)
- 1 cup pineapple – 1 gram (4%)
As you can see there is protein in ALL plants. Maybe some of these surprised you! The winner of protein clearly goes to tofu, beans, greens & lentils. So when eating a big green salad with beans you could have well over 20 grams of protein, not even counting all the additional vegetables. Even FRUIT has protein. By eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetable, beans, nuts/seeds you are going to get more than enough protein without eating meat.
Related Reading – 5 Tips to Start Eating Whole Food Plant Based
Plant Based Protein Deficiencies are RARE
Have you ever heard of someone being protein deficient? I haven’t. If you have, they probably had an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, are taking chemotherapy, or have an underlying disease. Eating a well rounded vegan or plant-based diet is not going to cause you to be protein deficient – as long as you eat enough calories. You don’t need meat or dairy for adequate protein.
In the 70’s there was thought to be a “protein gap” in the developing world. It was later discovered that there was no such thing, yet the public had already been convinced of proteins high status and fear of not getting enough.
Do we need to combine proteins?
No, you don’t need to combine proteins. This has been long refuted and by eating a variety of plant-foods you get all the essential amino acids your body needs. Our body recycles amino acids and is pretty smart about mixing and matching based on what we need.
“All plant proteins have all of the essential amino acids. The only truly “incomplete” protein in the food supply is gelatin, which is missing the amino acid tryptophan, so the only protein source you couldn’t live on is Jell-O.” – https://nutritionfacts.org/2018/12/20/do-you-have-to-combine-plant-proteins-at-a-meal/
High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Tofu Scramble Breakfast Burritos
- Bean Soups like this Taco Bean Soup or 3 Bean Chili
- Large salad with lots of veggies, beans, nuts/seed
- Superfood Black Bean Burgers
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchilada Bake
- Hummus (made from garbanzo beans) and veggies
- Chickpea Salad Sandwich
- Red Lentil Soup and Brown Basmati Rice
- Italian Cashew Creamed Kale
- Peanut Butter Cookies made from LENTILS!
- Spaghetti Marinara w/whole wheat pasta (or bean pasta for even higher protein)
- Homestyle Tofu Sloppy Joes
- Tofu Marinara Fingers (our weekly family favorite!!!)
- Fudgy Black Bean Brownies
- No-Bake Orange Coconut Balls
Is too much animal protein a bad thing?
So isn’t more better?? It seems like every where we turn we are told to eat more and more and more protein. Well, when it comes to protein the public has been marketed a lot of non-truths as fact. More protein won’t make you stronger and is not better for your health. In fact, excess protein is actually converted to fat on your body.
Excess animal protein is also hard on your kidneys. In fact, you may have kidney disease and not even know it – as many as 1 in 8 people have kidney disease. Yet, plant protein does not stress the kidneys or affect renal function. The animal protein seems to cause an inflammatory like response in the kidneys while plant protein does not.
Can athletes get enough protein without eating meat?
Athletes don’t necessarily need more protein, they need more of everything because they are burning more calories. By consuming more calories to fuel their workouts, they are also getting more protein to build more muscle. The 10% RDA is all athletes need to protect and build their muscle mass as long as they are consuming enough calories to fuel their workouts & recovery. They can get plenty of protein by eating green vegetables, beans, nuts/seeds, and whole grains. They can focus on eating the higher percentage protein vegetables to help fuel their workouts.
In fact, there are more and more professional and olympic athletes that are going plant-based to improve their performance. They get plenty of protein, but they also get so many other nutrients without all the junk like cholesterol and saturated fat that comes with animal products. Many athletes say they have much more endurance and faster recoveries by eating plant-based.
Wonder why Tom Brady seems invincible at over 40 years old and still going strong in the NFL? Plant based diet. He even has his own vegan meal delivery program for athletes called TB12 with Purple Carrot. There are so many other stars that are seeing the benefits of a vegan diet like David Carter, Venus Williams, Hannah Teter, Damian Lilard, and Derrick Morgan. You can read more about their transition and improved performance here.
Related Reading – Top 6 Reasons You Should Become a Nutritarian
Animal Protein linked to Cancer Promotion
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In the landmark book, The China Study, Dr. Colin T Campbell discovered a link between increased animal food intake and increased cancer risk. Through studying what the rural Chinese ate and what diseases they had he found significant differences in cancer, diabetes, and heart disease rates. Also through laboratory tests on rats, he was able to duplicate a study showing that he could turn cancer on and off. Feeding rats 20% animal protein diets (casein from cow’s milk) caused cancer cells to grow. Yet animals who were fed 10% animal protein diets cancer did NOT grow.
Strikingly, when the same rats were fed vegetable protein diets, cancer did NOT grow at any level, even the 20% level.
He concluded that animal protein was responsible for making cancer grow in the presence of a carcinogen. Without animal protein, cancer did not grow and actually regressed when the diet was changed. He was literally turning cancer on and off.
Now think about these high protein Keto diets that are focused on eating as much animal protein as possible. What is the long-term impact and could this be why cancer rates continue to rise? If you have any family history of cancer, then you should seriously consider eating a plant-based diet to protect yourself.
Processed Meats are classified as Group 1 Carcinogens
Did you know this??? When I first read that red meat and processed meats were classified as Group 1 Carcinogen right next to cigarettes & asbestos I was appalled! Why hadn’t I heard this? How come it’s not on the evening news every where? No one seems to know this and we continue to unabashedly feed our children hotdogs, beef jerky, bacon, and deli meats thinking we aren’t doing them any harm. Group 1 means there is sufficient evidence that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans.
Red meat is actually classified as Group 2A, which means it is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
There are statistics like for every serving of processed meat someone eats each day their risk of colon cancer goes up 18%. Some people eat processed meats and red meat every single day and multiple times a day.
If this was a chemical or drug or toxic bacteria, we would all know about it and be lining up to sue someone. But because it is animal products which we have all been indoctrinated to believe is required by our diet (its not) and good for us, it doesn’t get talked about. Plus, there are now gag laws that prevent anyone from speaking negatively about the beef industry because it would impact their profits. Yes, these are real laws and got passed in Congress after the defamation lawsuit against Oprah (which she won). So now the truth is hidden because we wouldn’t want to defame the beef industry. Follow the money…
Animal Protein & IGF-1
Excess animal protein, increases the hormone IGF-1. IGF-1 is the growth hormone that’s important when we are young and growing, but excessive amounts of IGF-1 can increase ALL growth – including tumors. The studies show that only animal protein increases IGF-1 production and that plant protein actually decreases IGF-1.
IGF-1 is a major factor associated with an increase in breast cancer.
What about fish?
Isn’t fish supposed to be heart healthy? Well, turns out the study about the Okinawan people was misinterpreted. Their diet was only about 1% in calories from fish – the majority of their diet was plant based and came from sweet potatoes (69%)! So yes the Okinawans were very heart healthy, but they were NOT consuming a lot of fish like is suggested in popular media.
Why? Because people like to cherry-pick data to support a specific agenda. (and make money…)
Plus, fish is so polluted with mercury and dioxins that it’s recommended not to eat it more than twice a week. Even wild caught fish is polluted and now microplastics are found in fish fillets thanks to the pollution of our waters.
There’s not much profit in promoting a plant-based world
There are not a lot of profit to be made from promoting a plant-based diet. There IS a lot of profit in animal products & processed foods and this drives the misinformation and interpretation of research data. The general public doesn’t study the data and they get most of their information from media, commercials, and social media. It’s very easy to keep them in the dark about the truth with slick marketing.
Plus, if more and more people weren’t sick and overweight, then there would be less prescription drugs and procedures to sell. It’s a sick cycle of promoting unhealthy diets and then pills and procedures to try to undo what you’ve done to your body all the while never changing the cause (diet) and never actually getting better.
Plants have protein, but also fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients
One of the most important nutrients that MOST Americans are missing out on is fiber. Fiber is so important and helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It is also important in preventing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Yet the only place to get fiber is….plants. Animal products have ZERO fiber.
Getting enough fiber is also a widely known factor in preventing colorectal cancers. And taking fiber supplements does NOT have the same effect. The fiber has to come from whole, unprocessed plant foods.
Plants also contain all the vitamins, minerals, and tens of thousands of phytochemicals and most of which are still undiscovered. There is no way taking a multi-vitamin can cover all the nutrients found in plants. Scientists haven’t even scratched the surface of all the phytochemicals that are contained in plants and what they do in our bodies.
The ONLY nutrient not found in plants that is found is some animal products is Vitamin B12. That’s because it actually comes from bacteria, but we wash our food so thoroughly these days that we don’t get enough of it. Animals get Vitamin B12 by eating dirt and it collects in their tissues. It is very simple to take a daily Vitamin B12 supplement to make sure you aren’t deficient and is considered very safe even at higher doses. Not getting enough Vitamin B12 isn’t just for the vegans – even many omnivores and especially the elderly don’t absorb enough Vitamin B12 from animal foods so they may require a supplement as well.
Related Reading – Top 7 Super Foods for Super Immunity
Keto diets are all the craze right now and no wonder. Everyone gets to load up on their favorite animal flesh and lose weight. And some do lose weight…temporarily. Until they go back to eating however they were before and gain it all back and then some. It’s unsustainable.
And are these high protein diets actually HEALTHY though? I mean, I can lose a lot of weight by doing crack or chemotherapy, but we can all agree that’s not a wise choice. What are these high protein diets doing to our insides and what will the long term affects be? Dr. Atkins who so famously promoted his Atkins diet high in animal protein also had heart disease….
Animal protein is associated with heart disease
Studies have shown time and again, that as animal protein intake rises so does heart disease risk. Is it the animal protein itself or the cholesterol or the saturated fat or something else? It may not be clear exactly what part of animal products is the root cause or if it is a combination, but you can’t separate out the individual parts from the whole.
If you have heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure you can even prevent or reverse your disease through a plant-based diet. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish both have shown that a plant-based diet can reverse heart disease without drugs or surgery.
Plants are a clean protein source and SO MUCH MORE
In conclusion, not only do plants have plenty of protein, it is also the cleanest and safest protein you can consume. We have to look at food as a whole and not only their individual parts. Animal products may contain protein and have some vitamins, but they come with so many additional problems and junk that can’t be separated from it. The animal protein itself is problematic, but it is also high in cholesterol and saturated fats and even pollutants.
Plus, plants have all the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that your body requires. Most people in the US only get about 10% of their calories from vegetables and 90% from animal & processed foods. It’s no wonder we are so sick and dying from heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, dementia, and so many more diet related diseases. We need to flip the script and get at least 90% of calories from PLANTS. Imagine how healthy our world would be then. We wouldn’t have to worry about these chronic diseases ravaging our lives and we could live like the centurions in the Blue Zones who were eating just like that – 90% whole food plant based diets.
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OH MY! This is awesome! I grew up loving almost all fruits and veggies, of course fried meats too, being a country, southern girl. Later though, I got into fitness and just wanted to be really fit and toned…..somehow, the foods I ate when I was at home eating Mama’s homecooked meals didn’t make me overweight at all. However, later I chose to just lose the weight I’d gained through my pregnancies and then started lifted some weight to be toned. Last year I got colon cancer! One of my children especially was so down and shocked that his mom, who ate so healthy (grilled chicken breast, eggs, you get the pic) and exercised religiously, would be the one to end up with colon cancer. Well, I’m not saying I can’t get cancer by being vegan or vegetarian, but I am seeing that it is the better way to live, really live. I mean, it’s biblical too! I’d love to know more about you and if you do meal plans, what you’d suggest for someone desiring to be very fit and healthy. Please contact me if you offer further plans for certain weights, etc. Such great material you’ve provided! Thanks.
Hi Belinda! I’m so sorry to hear about your colon cancer diagnosis. I do offer whole food plant based meal plans and you can check them out here: https://simplyplantbasedkitchen.com/simply-plant-based-meal-planner
I wish you the best with your health!
Great information! I’m new to plant based eating. Thanks Kim
You’re welcome! Glad you are learning!
Is the Smoothie King plant based smoothie ok to drink
I very curious to know your thoughts on soy. My naturopathic doctor says they are not good for us, especially women.
Whole soy products like tofu, miso, soy milk, edamame are very healthy and associated with a DECREASE in breast cancer risk according to many studies. It is the PROCESSED soy products that are unhealthy and behave in the same way as animal protein in the body. Avoid isolated or concentrated soy proteins – fake meats, vegan protein shakes, etc.
When you say fake meats are you referring to the Gardesin meats at the health food store?
Thank you, your articles are helping me figure out how to change my lifestyle.
Fake meats are any of the isolated or concentrated soy (or pea) protein meat substitutes – Gardein, Boca, Morningstar, Beyond Burger, Impossible Meat, etc.
I have a question about tofu. I’ve heard some kinds are actually unhealthy and that too much soy can interfere with hormones. Is this true? What kind of tofu do you suggest?
Great question! Tofu can actually be helpful. That was based on old science before they understood what phytoestrogens actually do in the body. Soy products are associated with lower risk of breast cancer, increased bone density (very important for women), and even help some with hot flashes & menopausal symptoms. The only reason to avoid is if you’re on certain thyroid medications, or are allergic which only a small percentage of people are.
Thank you, thank you!!! I’m new to plant based eating – just 3 weeks, and I’m so glad I found you!!! Your emails are so informative and have help me so much in getting to understand and appreciate this life style. Although I have never eat a lot of meat, especially beef, I haven’t had chicken, turkey and fish this past weeks and as you indicated my palate must have changed, because I don’t miss or crave any of it at all!! My journey to a healthy self has just started, and with your help I see a lifetime full of energy and great health. God bless you and please continue educating us.
Awww thanks so much! I’m so glad to be of service.
Hi Kim, I’m slowly learning about Plant Based Diets. In June of 2020 I had an ER surgery due to a twisted colon. I had to have 2 1/2 feet of my small bowel removed because it was dead. My gut has never been working well since then. I did meet with a Registered Dietician over one year ago, and I tried the low FODMap diet. My GI has done complete scopes, and testing which ruled out C-diff, Gluten intolerance etc. Have also had some testing done with an Allergist, and common foods sensitivities such as nuts and everything is okay. So now after a long wait, I have another upcoming appointment with a different RD via Zoom. I have tried everything I know to do, and I am better, however not feeling well most days. Suffering from gas, bloating, fatigue etc. I was diagnosed with EPI and have been taking Creon digestive enzymes since December of last year. The variety of foods I can easily digest is very limited for now. I found it interesting about you presenting the order of foods we eat. Thank you for sharing valuable knowledge in regards to good nutrition. Dorothea
Thanks for sharing a little bit about yourself. I hope your health continues to improve!
Hi, I’m slowly but surely transitioning to WFPB. I’m learning a lot from all your wonderful resources. You earlier mentioned caution with soy and taking certain thyroid medications. I take a thyroid medication and wonder if I’m doing some harm if I increase my soy intake. Could you provide resources so I can get more information? I also see a Functional Medicine physician and will add this to my list of questions for her.
Hi Bridget, your best resource to answer this is your physician that prescribed the thyroid medication. Take care!