As I sat down to write this blog post, I do wonder how on earth it’s possible that I’ve not made a specific post on protein in the past. I think what it might be, is that the subject of protein deficiency on a vegan diet is such a non-issue, that I couldn’t quite bring myself to dignify it with a response.
For those of you who have been plant-based for a while, you’ll be wishing you had a banana for every time you’ve been asked the protein question. It usually comes in the form of ‘Where do you get your protein?’ I have pondered many times how best to begin answering, and have found that my responses vary depending on who the person is, and how open minded they are. Sometimes I feel like scrolling through my Strava for them, to demonstrate that my body is functioning fine, and in fact, significantly better than their chicken-eating one. Cycling around 5000km over the last 5 months is not mind-blowing, but it certainly shows that my repair and recovery functions are doing alright.
I will write this post making the assumption that you are genuinely open to the idea that the plant-based lifestyle is optimal for health, and you simply want to exterminate any niggles you have. Too many people ask the question because they are looking for reasons not to change their unhealthy behaviour.
I’m afraid you’ve been fooled.
Let’s start with the economy. Most western societies are built on economies that depend heavily on meat and dairy industries, and as such, cannot afford to let these industries suffer. Without getting too political or controversial, the government and big food corporations heavily overlap, meaning that any promotion of protein-rich foods cannot be taken at face value. There is a deep commercial reason for why many food products are seen as necessary for our ‘health’, ‘bones’ or ‘teeth’. Protein advertisements have become a plague in our society, to the point that I often wonder if this is done in a brazen ‘tell a big fat lie to hide the truth’ kind of way.
The truth is, in modern society most people are suffering from too much protein. The association of disease with meat and dairy products has been around for decades, and is only just starting to hit public awareness. ‘How much protein do you think you need?’ is often my response to the protein question. But rather than being able to put a figure on this, most people just cite the latest article they read in mainstream media, which, you guessed it, is part of the same body of people who need the meat and dairy industries to survive. Why did Atkins / Paleo do so well? Aside from telling people good things about their bad habits, their protocol fits neatly in line with the desires of those who run the economy – support the meat industry, and eat a high-protein diet. Watch ‘What The Health’ for more information.
How much protein do you actually need?
The time at which our body needs the highest percentage of calories from protein is when we are doubling in size every few months – when we are breastfeeding as a baby. Mother’s milk has around 5% protein, which is sufficient for a baby to grow into a healthy young person. Whole, plant based foods, without placing any emphasis on protein-rich ‘superfoods’, provides 5-10% of calories from protein, which is more than sufficient for adults to do all their daily growth, repair and muscle recovery activities. Provided you are eating enough calories from whole, plant-based sources, you will be eating enough protein.
Stop and think about your personal situation, and decide for yourself whether you feel your protein intake is sufficient. Are you a fully-grown adult, and don’t wish to keep growing (sideways)? Perhaps it’s time to accept that your protein intake can be safely reduced. The PCRM, Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine believe we generally consume too much (around double) the protein we really need. Since dairy has been heavily linked with cancer, and red / processed meats are in the same carcinogenic category as cigarettes (according to the World Health Organisation) they suggest that we review the real problems we have in our society, and reduce our protein intake.