But Where Do You Get Your Protein You Vegan!
So If You’re Vegan, Where Do You Get Your Protein?
One of the most common questions a vegan hears is, “But where do you get your protein?” While we are thankful for the endless humorous memes this provides us, it is probably one of the most frustrating questions we hear. “Where do you get your protein” absolutely implies that animal sources are the only place you can get it. While comical, it is puzzling that our omnivore counterparts don’t understand that protein is in almost all of the foods we eat. In fact, there is so much protein available that people often get much more than they actually need. The nutritional industry continuously presses this need for protein in high amounts. They say it will make you leaner, promote muscle mass and aid with weight loss. Who doesn’t want all of those things? The truth is, this insistence by the food and dietary industry that we need protein in very high levels is amazingly and spectacularly incorrect.
How Much Protein Do You Actually Need
What is more concerning than omnivores even asking this question, is that so many people have no idea how to get the nutrients they need. Omnivores are quick to share just how ridiculous, uninformed and dangerous being vegan is. People will often site protein malnourishment as their number one argument against this ‘extreme way of life’. Yet, even with the consumption of animal protein, our society is perpetually riddled with unhealthy lifestyles and the diseases they cause. When proposed with a plant-based lifestyle change, people will immediately say, ‘well I can’t give up chicken because I need protein. I can’t give up eggs because I need protein. Blah Blah Blah protein protein protein’. A 1970 study showed that the average adult requires only about 40-60 grams of protein per day. This amount is still the current recommended daily allowance. Yet, the nutritional industry still regularly pushes protein as something we simply cannot live without. People are often told by medical caregivers that they require upwards of 70-80 grams of protein per day. Athletes are often led to believe that they require extremely high amounts in order to support their muscles. Because of this, people quite regularly self-diagnose themselves with low protein and protein deficiency without ever consulting a medical doctor for testing.
Studies have shown however, that people who consume 47+ grams of protein per day showed an increase in calcium homeostasis problems leading to bone disorders, kidney stones and renal dysfunction, liver function disorders, the progression of coronary artery disease as well as several different types of cancer. And yet, while each of these conditions were shown to improve when adjusting to a lower protein consumption, people are still consuming increasing amounts each day. The promotion of such a high protein need has made a tremendous amount of people believe that not only will they be massively deficient without it, but that it will also promote lean muscle mass, even without exercise. We humans simply cannot get to the store fast enough so that we may gobble up the next ‘healthy’ high protein product on the market. PROTEIN? Where? I need more, I need more!
What Is Protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which we are able to synthesize on our own. However, out of the 22 amino acids that our body requires, 9 of them we are unable to make on our own. These 9 amino acids are called essential amino acids and must be consumed through our food intake. A good portion of people, medical caregivers included, believe and promote the idea that the only way you can do this is through animal product consumption. Something believed so strongly that instead of a parent’s neglect, a vegan diet is almost always blamed in a case of malnourishment of a child. From a very young age, we are led to believe that protein is so amazingly important that we often outright ignore and disregard the proven side affects of protein overconsumption. This fact is not restricted to omnivores. In fact, a study by the National Institute of Health showed that omnivores and herbivores generally consume the same amount of protein, which is, on average, upwards of 70 grams per day. Why then, are omnivores so concerned with vegans not getting enough?
Animal Protein Contains All Essential Amino Acids… But, Are They The Only Ones?
This belief of being unable to obtain enough protein without eating animals is a frustrating one for sure. Nutritionists and physicians across the world will tell you that animal protein is the only way to get all of the essential amino acids. This thought process stems from the fact that most animal protein does contain all of the nine essential amino acids. Marketers have used this knowledge as a platform for the notion that humans are meant to eat animals – because their flesh contains all of the amino acids that we are unable to make, a one-stop shop so to speak. This aligns perfectly with our first world desire to have all of our needs met in the most simplistic and fastest ways. Often disregarded however, is the fact that we can (and are even allowed to!) consume multiple foods in order to acquire the amino acids we need, something that is done with almost every single other nutrient we require.
We Do Need Protein
Without a doubt, protein is needed by our body. Protein in all its forms is necessary for the building and maintaining of muscle mass and the promotion of a healthy brain and central nervous system function. Amino acids from protein promote the creation and movement of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain that promote feelings of well-being, cognitive function and overall hormone balances. Protein consumption promotes better bone health via calcium uptake and homeostasis through glutathione synthesis. Protein helps to promote the feeling of fullness and prevention of overeating, has minimal effects on blood glucose levels and slows the absorption of sugar during meals, preventing blood sugar spikes and insulin overproduction. It is safe to say that yes, we definitely need to consume protein on an absolute daily basis. However, the notion that A) we need exorbitant amounts of protein in order to thrive and B) that vegans are unable to consume the required amounts is simply and patently false.
So What Protein Do Vegans Eat?
Interestingly, protein is in almost all of the foods that we consume. From your potato to your beans to your nuts and seeds, protein is everywhere. Plant-based foods are actually some of the best sources for proteins as they don’t come with any of the risks and side effects that animal proteins bring. While tofu does become the main staple for many vegans, something that may initially scare omnivores away, it is hardly the sole source of plant protein that is available. In fact, sources of plant protein are in abundance. So rest assured young vegan, if you eat these foods on the regular, you are doing just fine. These sources include:
- Chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, teff and hemp seeds
- Beans in all shapes and colors
- Lentils and chickpeas
- Almonds, almond butter, peanuts and Brazil nuts
- Avocado, broccoli, spinach, green peas, kale, edamame, leafy greens, lettuce, acai and other various fruits
- Spirulina, chlorella, cacao, maca and protein powders
- Oats, rye, freekah, millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat
What Herbivores Eat to Get Those Amino Acids
Just to add some more information to the mix, the nine essential amino acids are actually quite easy to obtain. The nine essential amino acids are lysine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine and histidine. There are two superfoods that vegans regularly consume because they do have that one-stop shopping for all nine essential amino acids. Chia seeds and hemp seeds contain each of those amino acids. Thankfully, these seeds are delightfully delicious! However, there are numerous ways to consume each essential amino acid. Take note of the many overlaps with the knowledge that if you consume these foods, you are quite likely eating a very healthful diet.
Here they are in alphabetical order and not order of importance…they’re ALL important!
Histidine is so important for brain health because it helps transport the chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain. It also helps in the production of red and white blood cells and promotes muscle health. Get your plant-based sources of histidine by eating: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, beans, potatoes, rice, wheat, rye, buckwheat, cauliflower, corn, legumes, and cantaloupe.
Isoleucine helps our body produce energy and hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the molecule that carries oxygen inside our red blood cells. Additionally, isoleucine promotes the growth of nitrogen in muscle cells, an essential mechanism for growing children. Easy to get plant-based sources include: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, beans, oats, rye, lentils, apples, kiwis, cranberries, blueberries, brown rice, spinach, and cabbage.
Leucine is an important regulator of the sugar in your body. It controls insulin after exercise. It also acts on the neurons in the brain to prevent and treat depression. Plant based sources of leucine are: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, peas, whole grain rice, leafy greens, beans, figs, avocado, raisins, apples, dates, seaweed, olives and blueberries.
Lysine assists our body with absorbing calcium and producing collagen. It also promotes the production of carnitine. Calcium is needed for a lot of biochemical processes in the body, especially bone strength. Deficiency in calcium can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis, fatigue, depression, muscle loss and nausea. Carnitine works to convert fatty acids to fuel, which lowers bad cholesterol levels. Get your plant based sources here: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, beans, avocados, almonds, cashews, chickpeas, lentils, watercress, soy proteins, spiraling and parsley.
Methionine helps with muscle growth production and creatine formation. Did you know that sulfur is required in our body so they can we can form and support cartilage? Deficiency in sulfur leads to arthritis and tissue damage. Methionine is the only amino acid that contains sulfur! Get this magical amino acid through: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sun butter, beans, Brazil nuts, raisins, whole grain rice, oat, wheat, figs, onions, legumes, and cacao.
Phenylalanine (that’s super fun to say) turns into another amino acid called tyrosine once ingested into our body. Tyrosine is vital for protein development, thyroid hormones and brain chemical health. Deficiencies lead to memory issues, brain fog, lack of energy, lack of appetite and depression. Get this essential amino acid by eating: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, beans, almonds, peanuts, quinoa, rice, avocado, figs, raisins, leafy greens and most berries.
Threonine is able to produce two amino acids called glycine and serine. These amino acids are vital to healthy bones, skin, hair and nails. In addition to making those amino acids, threonine is supportive in a lot of biochemical processes that are needed for a healthy immune system, central nervous system, healthy heart and healthy liver promoting repairs, energy levels and new growth processes. The best sources of threonine are: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, watercress, spirulina, leafy greens, pumpkin, avocado, wheat, figs, raisins and almonds.
Tryptophan converts to serotonin in the brain, creating an overall sense of happiness, which helps to fight depression. It is also vital to brain health in other ways by supporting the nervous system. It helps with sleep, muscle growth and muscle repair. You can get this amazing essential amino acid by consuming: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, oats beans, avocado, leafy greens, lettuce, mushrooms, winter squash, celery, carrots, peppers, onions, chickpeas, figs, oranges, apples, bananas, lentils, peans and quinoa.
Valine is an essential amino acid that is vital to muscle health. It participates in muscle growth and muscle repair leading to endurance. Your sources of valine in plant based foods are: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, beans, apples, blueberries, cranberries, oranges, apricots, spinach, broccoli, whole grains, figs and peanuts.
How do you get your plant based protein? How do you politely tell your well-meaning friends and family that you consume enough?
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