One of the first questions any newly minted vegan or vegetarian gets from their friends, family, or even perfect strangers is, “Aren’t you worried about not getting enough protein?” It is nice that so many people are concerned for someone else’s health and well-being even if the concern and the question are both entirely misguided. It’s sweet, but at the same time shows a serious lack of understanding about food, where nutrients come from, and how biology works.
Protein is a big component of life, all life, not just the ones with muscles. From the tiniest bacteria to the largest mammal, we all rely heavily on protein to survive. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that every plant we eat contains protein, and yet people are constantly surprised. Plants, like other organisms, depend on protein to provide structure, build strength, fight off invaders, resist disease, absorb nutrients, aid metabolism, and translate the information stored in DNA into reality. Plants also use protein as part of the mechanism to capture and transform The solar energy into food energy. From the thinnest leaf to the hardiest nut, they all provide protein.
Now, to answer one of the biggest arguments against plant-based protein, yes, it is true that most plant foods are lacking in one or two essential amino acids, but that doesn’t really matter as much as we once thought. Protein may not be stored in the body for later use like some nutrients, but it still takes time to digest and it floats around our blood stream for several days before our body gets rid of it. This means as long as we eat a variety of plant foods, we will never have a problem. We don’t have to mix and match protein sources at every meal after all. You also get a variety of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber this way, things that are severely lacking in a modern diet full of processed foods and animal products.
We only need about 10 to 11% of our calorie intake to be protein. Plants easily supply this and a little extra. Fruits are a little low in protein, around 7%, but nuts, grains, and vegetables all provide between 11 and 22 percent on average. Many individual plant foods can supply more than 50% of their calories with protein.
Most people get much more protein than they need on a Standard American Diet, two to three times more. More of a good thing isn’t bad, right? Well…it depends. Too much protein, especially animal proteins, can contribute to gout, put strain on the kidneys, and increase the risks for many chronic illnesses. Meat and other animal products also come with cholesterol, high calories, carcinogens from cooking with high heat, and other problems. Luckily, plant-based proteins absorb slower with a mixture of carbohydrates and healthy fats so even too much protein from plant sources doesn’t seem to cause the same health risks.
Your protein requirements do go up with activity levels. Plant-based protein may be a good option for athletes, busy moms, kids involved in sports, business men and women who move, and weekend warriors. Nuts, seeds, grains, beans, legumes, lentils, avocados, and leafy greens all supply a good dose of protein. Even broccoli and spinach supply a decent amount. For vegans or vegetarians who are still worried about their protein intake, their lack of variety in the foods they eat, or how their activity levels demand more protein, there are vegan and vegetarian protein supplements available. Even for those who aren’t vegan or vegetarian, these protein powders can help them cut back on meat and still get the lean proteins they need.
Vegan and vegetarian protein powders come as complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids your body requires and craves. They are an easy addition to any diet, as an add-in to smoothies and other beverages. They can even be purchased in natural flavors that let you incorporate them into recipes like pancakes, soups, veggie patties, and much more. Sunwarrior offers two complete proteins, both raw and entirely plant-based. Each one supplies clean protein to help improve recovery after exercise, burn calories for weight loss, and build and tone lean muscle without any of the problems and risks of animal-based proteins.
Elephant photo by Andreas Krappweis