When people find out that I am a vegetarian, the most usual question is — One of the things I am most often asked is, “How do you get enough protein??” I have been answering this question for over 40 years. My basic answer hasn’t changed a lot, but my thought process and information base has.
When I was in my 20, 30s and 40s I would tell people it was easy, but that the “tricky” part was making sure you got complete protein. The way to do that was to combine grains and nuts with legumes. I would assure them that if you just paid attention, you would be “fine”. That you don’t really need that much protein anyway.
In my 50s I would tell people that you didn’t need to worry about combining, plants have plenty of protein and if you eat eggs and dairy products it was “no problem”. By then I had a formula — 20% of your diet should be protein, 20% fat and the rest carbs. And point out the most Americans were actually eating too much: 30-40% of their nutrition from protein.
Over the last 10 years I have really refined my thinking and my answer. It is a little long and involved, but here it is in four parts.
- Starting in the 1940’s scientist have said over and over again that the human body need between 40 and 60 grams per day. This works out to approximately 5-6% of an average person’s daily calorie intake. In fact the government sponsored RDA puts the percentage needed at a generous 8%.
- In real world terms this means that a 150 pound person eating 2,000 calories a day only needs 22.5 grams of protein
- Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often a lot of protein. It won’t take long to reach what you need. Think about this:
- A 1/2 cup of beans averages 6 grams of protein
- A slice of whole wheat bread average 5 grams
- An average serving of veggies or fruit has 3 (4 servings and you have it knocked)
- AND all nutrients work as a symphony – the sum is much greater than the whole. This is particularly true of protein.
- If you eat a well balanced whole food plant based diet the body will work with amino acids provided to provide all the balanced protein you will ever need!
- Studies show that over consumption of protein actually harms your body
- excess animal based protein is strongly linked to heart disease and cancer.
I am trying to figure an “elevator pitch” that covers the basic point: you don’t need that much protein and over consumption of protein actually harms your body. Studies show that excess animal based protein is strongly linked to heart disease and cancer. Just eat your veggies! You will live longer, stay healthier and have NO problem with eating enough protein!