Friday, 6 June 2014

Mythbusting: Vegans & Vegetarians Don't Get Enough Protein

Little old me, flexing some veggie muscle
Everybody knows  that if you don't eat meat or fish then there is no possible way that you could get enough protein in your daily intake of food. Right? You will wither away, your grandmother should be worried and you won't possibly be able to function in life because protein is, of course, the most important part of any meal.

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about how I get my protein, I might be able to afford that Vitamix Blender I've been lusting after all these years!  But is it all old wives tales?  Is there any factual basis for this?

Protein is important for cell development and maintenance of vital bodily functions like enzyme creation and fueling neurotransmitters. In a single day the average adult human female needs about 46g of protein per day, the males require about 56g. Meat is a really easy source of protein but it's certainly not the only one. Bodybuilders are protein obsessed and two of the most popular protein supplements are whey (a vegetarian cheese derivative) and hemp (which is vegan cuz it's from from seeds).  Gram for gram there are plenty of plant based sources of protein - nuts, seeds, beans and even oats - that deliver the goods in a real and tangible way.

And while we're talking about it, there is some protein in most foods. So in practice, here's how you might get more than enough protein in an average plant based day of eating:

2 slices of wheat toast = 7g
2 tbsp peanut butter = 8g
1 glass of OJ = 1.7g

1 banana = 1.5g

Lil pot of hummus 1/2 cup = 10g
10 tortilla chips = 1.4g
100g spinach = 2.9g
1 avocado = 4g

20 almonds = 4g

1 cup white mushrooms = 2.2g
1/2 an onion = 0.6g
2 cloves garlic = 0.4g
1cup brown rice = 4.5g
1 green pepper = 1g
1 tomato =  0.8g
2 wheat tortillas = 10g


How easy was that? Meat eating folks need not worry that I will waste away or that a diet like this is bad for my health. The reality is totally to the contrary and we haven't even gotten into useful things like meat substitutes, nutritional yeast or juicing! Furthermore, vegetable sources of protein so completely out perform fleshly counterparts on overall nutrition it's almost laughable. So 100g of peanuts contains not only 26g of protein but 4 x the potassium, 5 x the iron, 9 x the calcium, and 8 x the magnesium of a 100g piece of chicken. That's right: peanuts!

Studies show that getting protein isn't an issue for vegetarians in the west, while scholars are currently debating whether a diet which is high in meat proteins might be as 'bad for you as smoking'. So really people, us veggie folks are doing fine.


  1. Awesome! I've heard this so many times. Thanks so much for this post. Just a quick question: how do you get your Vitamin D? I want to stop eating fish but I don't want to be Vitamin D deficient or take another supplement.

    1. Thanks Tiffany :) Getting enough vitamin D seems to be a challenge for most western humans - omnivores and herbivores alike. General health studies in the US and UK show neither population is getting enough of this vitamin these days - possibly as a result of our shift to more indoor professions and leisure activities.

      Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, but in the some places, this can be hard to come by. Vegans can get vitamin D from mushrooms, fortified tofu and soy milk, and there are seaweeds that claim to be very high in Vitamin D (though conclusive research is still pending). Lacto-ovo vegetarians can get Vit D from eggs and also from dairy products. So there are options. And as discussed, plant sources of these vitamins tend to be richer sources of nutrients overall so it's worth looking into - plus mushrooms are brilliant!