This article was originally posted on August 5, 2011
When I transitioned to a plant based diet three years ago, I worried about my protein. It took me two years to release the notion that meat had some intrinsic nutrient or special protein. I thought its’ absence in my diet would leave me with some unspecified incurable deficiency syndrome. I thought I would end up anemic and weak in the long run. Instead I lost a little weight, have higher levels of energy, require less sleep, and enjoy a more intense intimate life. What gives?
The truth is, vegetables are high in protein. The meat and dairy industry fools us by comparing an equal serving size. They compare one cup of spinach to one cup of red meat, and the spinach looks lackluster indeed. When you compare veggies to meat and dairy calorie for calorie, the protein contents are the same. Even the dreaded white potato looks pretty spiffy by this method of comparison. And remember that eating that potato is not the same as eating a snickers bar; the fiber in the skin and flesh of the potato hold the carbs in your gut for a nice slow release over the course of digestion, giving your brain and muscles lasting energy long after you’ve eaten. I’ve attached my favorite slide from the lecture I give the Michigan State University medical students on macronutrients that illustrates this point wonderfully. When you do a side by side comparison of equal calories combined vegetables and animal products, the vegetables look brilliant. Veggies are high in vitamins and fiber, rich in calcium, and loaded with healthy protein.
|Nutrients||Plant-based foods||Animal-based foods|
|Vitamin C (mg)||293||4|
|Vitamin E (mcg)||11||0.5|
So quit worrying about getting quality protein. Fruits and vegetables, and especially whole grains and beans, are loaded with protein. Humans have been storing components of proteins for later use, when all the required components are available, for thousands of years; the ingestion of a complete animal protein is just not necessary at all. If you start to freak out about protein and drive toward McDonald’s, stop instead at your local co-op for a cup of bean soup. You have a day’s supply of protein in one tasty cup of soup made from legumes. Or stop at Burger King and grab a veggie burger, which has the same amount of protein as a hamburger. Even if they are not the menu board, those crazy kids at Burger King have them in the back, you just have to ask.