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  • Writer's pictureSarah Fraser

Where do you get your protein?

This is the first question people ask when they find out you’re on a plant-based diet. My question is, why is everyone so concerned about protein? It's not like we're walking through life with protein-deficient people all around us. Do you even know anyone who's been diagnosed with protein deficiency? No, because it's extremely rare! Dr. Neil Barnard of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine refers to this cultural protein obsession as "protein anxiety". Granted, protein is an important macronutrient but I feel it's taken centre stage. I know the reason lies in our culture and the everyday mass marketing that bombards us. Go to the grocery store and you see protein shakes, protein juices, protein bars and endless products boasting how much protein they have. Where does this obsession come from? After all, some of the biggest, strongest species in the animal kingdom eat only plants. Think of the hippo and gorilla. I'm pretty sure they aren't worried about where they get their protein.

Ok but we're not a hippo or gorilla you're going to argue. Still, how much protein does a human actually need? Let’s pull the curtain on this protein thing.

According to PCRM, the average woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day and the average man needs 56 grams which equates to about .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. In today’s society, if you’re consuming a typical standard western diet, you may be doubling that amount. Getting too much protein isn't necessarily a good thing. In fact, the opposite is true when it comes to animal protein. Studies have shown that replacing animal protein with plant protein is associated with a lower risk for all-cause mortality.

It’s actually really easy to meet your daily protein guidelines in the form of plant protein. In fact, all plants have some form of protein. For example, you could have a veggie tofu scramble for breakfast, a bean veggie patty for lunch and quinoa and broccoli for dinner. Here’s a chart showing the many plant foods that contain protein.

The truth is when you’re consuming a diet heavy in animal protein, you’re impairing your blood viscosity or its ability to flow through arteries and vessels which is essential to our system and organ maintenance. If you eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, all of that saturated fat and cholesterol slows the blood down. My husband saw actual video footage of this at TrueNorth Health Centre in California. It takes hours for your blood flow to return to normal. Just in time for you to eat that turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch where the whole process starts over. And then you do it to yourself again for dinner. It’s not until you’re asleep many hours later that your blood is flowing normally and then you wake up and start the day the same way. It’s no wonder these inflammatory foods we eat constantly are causing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, fatty liver and even brain diseases like alzheimer's. In the words of Dr. Klapper, “it’s in the food people!” Our bodies can process and digest plant-based proteins much more easily because they are alkaline and full of water and fibre.

I admit that when we first transitioned to a plant-based diet, I was concerned about protein. I was adding vegetable protein powder to my smoothies. Now, I don’t even think about it. Any combination of plant foods will meet my protein needs so I trust that my varied diet is taking care of itself. Doctors will say that in our affluent societies where food is readily available to us, they don’t treat cases of protein deficiency. Those cases are seen in malnourished patients with calorie deficiency. In other words, we don’t need to worry about it. If you’re getting enough calories (and you are) eating a healthy diet full of a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and grains, you’re doing just fine. The next time someone asks you what you do for protein, say “hmmm, I don’t know. Where does the gorilla get his protein?”.

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