This article was originally published on February 15, 2017.
Paleo Vegan Speculoos Butter (a yummy source of vegan protein!)
I never really thought that much about protein before I moved to the US. It’s never been a concern of mine, except for the rare moments when my biologist mom would tell me that “animal protein is of higher value than plant based protein” because it has a complete chain of amino acids. But really, I was never worried about getting enough of it.
Things changed a little after I moved to NYC–suddenly I found myself in a world concerned about protein. Protein shakes, protein bars, protein snacks, protein hand cremes–no, that last one isn’t actually true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone launched some high protein beauty products. The fact was that I felt bombarded by a constant stream of messages trying to tell Americans how to get “enough protein.” While people in Europe ask me how I find anything delicious to eat on a vegan diet, people in America ask me how I find anything high enough in protein on a vegan diet. The protein obsession in this country is, in reality, omnipresent–and it’s not really questioned by the mainstream media.
Don’t misunderstand me–I think it’s great when a society cares about their collective health, but I also think that the last thing Americans, or any Westerners for that matter, need more of is protein. Protein, one of the three macronutrients, is absolutely essential for health as it’s in charge of muscle building and preservation, it prevents fatigue, and it’s also essential for a healthy immune system. You should basically aim for 0.8 grams of protein per kg body weight. This is anywhere between 40 and 50 grams for women and 55 to 70 grams for men. Keep in mind that this recommendation is higher than what we actually need, but the USDA is erring on the side of caution, so that’s great but it also means that if you meet these recommendations, you’re already getting more than enough.
In addition, it’s a common misconception to think “the more protein, the better.” Nope, an excess of protein from animal sources is actually linked to an increased risk of cancer, and other chronic health diseases (China Study, T Colin Campbell). In addition, it’s commonly thought that because plant-based protein is not a complete protein, meaning it doesn’t have a complete chain of amino acids, it’s less good for you and won’t get absorbed by your body. That notion has long been debunked as science has proven that your body can get all essential amino acids from different plant-based protein sources and is smart enough to build them together in the right way.
So now that we have looked at some protein myths, let’s look a little bit more at some great, plant-based protein sources. It often comes as a surprise to people when I tell them that there is protein in broccoli. The truth is, there is protein in every whole plant-based food! Yes, that’s right, protein is one of the components, along with fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that make up the composition of every whole food. This means that you can eat tofu, as a great source of protein, but you can also eat rice, quinoa, seeds, and nuts. Protein is also found in peas, corn, kale, mushroom, artichokes, spinach, collard greens, and the list goes on. So it’s really just about eating a whole foods diet and including as many different types of beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and veggies as you can. For the average person, measuring and monitoring your protein intake is a waste of time if you follow that rule because you will get enough protein as long as you’re getting enough calories. In fact, 99% of vegetarians and vegans, according to regular studies, exceed the daily recommendations of protein!
For more information on plant-based protein, here’s a list of 10 excellent sources of vegan protein (including recipes!).
What are your favorite sources of vegan protein?
Also by Isabelle: Why Moving to the US Made Me Healthier (and Happier!)
Related: High Protein Tahini Date Shake
Get more like this–sign up for our newsletter for exclusive inspirational content!
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling