by Jacqueline Kravette
The word “veganism” arouses a range of reactions. Personally, I’ve been a vegan of all varieties; I’ve been a holier than thou, arrogant, ostracizing and self-righteous vegan, getting un-friended or blocked on Facebook by friends and family for my opinions. I have also attempted the ” live and let live” pacifist method by biting my tongue, shrugging and having no opinion on anyone’s food choices. There is one common theme that comes up with every single person who has seemingly thought that my choice of veganism was some sort of judgment or statement about his or her diet.
Suddenly, and more often than not, I am met by the “concerned nutritionist.” This person could be my friend, a pharmaceutical rep, or my investment banker’s cousin, but indisputably, they all become very astute and empathetic food experts when they ask, “But where do you get your protein?” After the 137th person asked me that, I decided that clearly this topic required an actual answer and not simply an eye roll or a shoulder shrug.
It’s extremely rare to have individuals question what is spoon-fed to them such as the USDA food pyramid or the omnipresent multi-billion dollar dieting industry which attempts to convince us that high animal protein and low carbs (aka Atkins and Paleo) will instantaneously imbue you with Giselle’s physique. We have been misinformed. In fact, this push is not only making us heavier, as we are the most obese nation in the world, it is making us sicker.
Don’t get me wrong, we NEED protein. Protein is essential to a host of bodily functions and other than water; protein is the most abundant substance in our body. It is responsible for vital functions such as the repair and maintenance of body tissue, our energy, creation of various hormones, formation of enzymes that power many chemical reactions, the transport and storage of certain molecules like hemoglobin, and it helps produce antibodies to disease. Clearly, it has enormously crucial functions and one would want the most effective protein possible.
Knowing that protein is not only necessary but vital for our lives, there are certain things to consider when determining what that protein source actually should look like. The nine essential amino acids, the ones our bodies do not independently produce, are required and come from ALL protein sources. The body then breaks down these sources, in animal or plant-based foods, to form a complete protein.
But how much protein is actually necessary to maintain a human’s best functioning and moreover, which one is better for you in whole?
Interestingly, these two questions should be addressed simultaneously. America is obsessed with protein. Nutritionists and trainers often suggest way over 100 grams of protein daily. However, according to a joint panel of the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations University, this is not needed or preferable. They found that both men and women should consume less than 9% of his or her calories from protein. For example, that is only 48 grams for a 132 lb. woman or 56 grams for a 154 lb. man – DAILY! Animal protein contains a much higher percentage of its calories coming strictly from protein, whereas plant based proteins innately have 8-10 % of its calories coming from protein; it’s the perfect ratio. On top of all this, Americans eat 70% more protein than we actually need, which has a negative affect on our organs.
Perhaps the answer then is simply eating smaller quantities of steak and chicken, right? Perhaps this would slightly address the concern that animal protein innately has considerably more protein than we need, but it does not consider the health consequences associated with eating animal protein, moreover excess animal protein.
As found by T. Colin Campbell’s “The China Study,” the largest epidemiological study to date on human nutrition, animal protein is linked to cancer and a whole host of other diseases including America’s number one killer, heart disease. According to this 40 year-long international study, when animal protein goes from 10-20% of calories a day, heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney stones, and cancer become much more prevalent. Additionally, there’s an 80-90% correlation between animal protein and breast, prostate, colon, ovarian, and kidney cancers.
Knowing that we really don’t need anywhere near the amount of protein people ingest in this country and the list of health issues associated with eating animal protein, why do so many become irate, defensive or irritated when I turn down the perfectly barbecued burger on July 4th? Why does my diet always become a heated conversation? I realized a long time ago that when people so fervently question my choices it’s usually either because there is a part of them that feels they are doing something they shouldn’t or they just don’t know how to do it differently.
I am here to say it’s not hard at all. Whether you want to call it a fad or the trend of the millennials, eating tons of vegetables and substituting that chicken for some tofu, whole grains and avocado has become not only acceptable but omnipresent, especially in Los Angeles, my city.
At the end of the day, nobody wants to eat something that doesn’t taste great. These healthier plant protein options: tofu, soy, tempeh, quinoa and beans are delicious AND have the perfect calorie to protein ratio. I have never felt deprived and every recipe can be substituted with a vegan option. It is worth delving into as the health consequences of animal protein are not worth it. Rethinking the amount and source of our protein can truly change our health and state of wellness!
Personally, when I switched from animal protein to plant protein I gained a lot of energy and was able to exercise much more efficiently; I have never been in better shape! Let us not live like we are told to by big industry. Instead, let us live happy and healthy!
For more information on eating a wholesome plant-based diet see this post.
Where do you get your protein?