How Do Vegans Get Their Protein and How Much Protein Do You Need? Here’s the 411 + Protein Packed Plant Based Meatballs
By Molly Patrick
Nov 18, 2014,
One of the most common questions we get asked is; How do vegans get their protein and how much protein do you need?
Well, bring momma an apple because you’re about to be schooled.
Protein is a macronutrient, along with fat and carbohydrates. It was discovered in 1839.
Protein is made up of 20 different amino acids, the building blocks of every structure and function in the human body. Pretty important stuff, indeed.
There are 8 or 9 amino acids that our body doesn’t make on its own. These are called essential amino acids and we must get them elsewhere since the bod isn’t dishing them out.
Each protein has a different arrangement of amino acids. When we eat on protein, our body breaks it down and puts the amino acids back together to form whatever proteins we need.
Think of protein as the alphabet. The alphabet is made up of letters (amino acids) and those letters can be rearranged to form new words, just like amino acids can be rearranged to form new proteins.
Are you with me so far or do I need to take a break and insert some toilet humor?
Okay, click here and then come back to me.
Let’s continue and find out why animal protein has always been sensationalized.
When we consume proteins that have a similar amino acid arrangement to those in our body, we synthesize that protein effectively.
Not surprisingly, the amino acid arrangement in animals is most similar to ours.
Cha-ching: this is what led to the thinking that animal protein is the most superior, “high quality” protein on the block.
But hold the phone…
Just because animal protein’s amino acid structure is similar to ours, doesn’t make it any more high quality than protein found in plants. I’ll explain, but first…
Tell me you didn’t need that!
There have been huge epidemiological studies and loads of clinical studies that have been done on the link between animal protein and degenerative disease. The results are rather shocking. What’s more shocking is that most people know nothing about it.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell is a scientist who has been studying nutrition and protein since the 70’s. He was one of the scientists who helped conduct the biggest epidemiological study to date on humans and diet.
This study was called The China Project which he later wrote a book about called The China Study.
Here’s a recap of some of what he and his colleagues observed over the course of the study.
1. Eating animal protein leads to elevated blood cholesterol levels.
Even more so than from saturated fat. High cholesterol is one of the precursors to heart disease.
2. Eating animal protein enhances the likelihood of osteoporosis.
But wait, doesn’t milk build strong bones? Actually, it’s the opposite. Animal protein creates an acid-like environment in our tissues. The body cannot tolerate too much of this acid-like environment so is always trying to neutralize it. To neutralize this effect, the body draws from the most alkaline substance it can find which happens to be the calcium in bones. This weakens bones and potentially leads to osteoporosis.
3. Eating animal protein helps initiate type 1 diabetes.
Especially when casein, the protein in dairy, is consumed.
4. Eating animal protein increases the production of growth hormones.
Growth hormones have been shown to elevate cancer growth.
5. Animal protein increases the rate at which cells divide and is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, kidney stones and many other degenerative diseases.
During the study, the source of animal protein didn’t matter. Animal protein is animal protein, whether it’s in the form of chicken breast, ground turkey, roast pork or a tall glass of milk. They found that dropping the animal protein and swapping it out with whole plant foods showed to have the exact opposite effect on every point mentioned above.
Not only did way more whole plant foods and way less animal foods protect against degenerative disease, it also reversed disease in many cases, even when there was a genetic predisposition factor involved.
AND even though the people who ate a diet of whole plant foods consumed more calories per day than the people who got their protein from animals, the first group were considerably leaner and had less body fat than the people getting their protein from animals.
It’s all about the quality of the calories, not the quantity.
Now that we know animal protein isn’t so quality after all, it’s time to take a look at the alternative. And that alternative is plants.
Did you know that every single plant has protein and unless you’re starving yourself, it’s virtually impossible not to get enough? If you eat a wide variety of plant foods, your body will get all the protein it needs, and then some.
How much is enough?
We need about 8% – 10% of our calories to come from protein each day. Put in another way, we need around 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram, or 0.36 grams for every pound we weigh each day.
People who follow a whole food plant based diet generally get 8%-10% of their calories from protein. Perfection!
I’ll take myself as an example and break this down.
I weigh 135 pounds, so I would take 135 x 0.36 to get 48.6.
This means I need around 48.6 grams of protein each day.
48.6 x 4 (because there are 4 calories in 1 gram of protein) = 194.4 calories from protein.
194.4 divided by 2,000 (my average daily calorie intake) = .0972.
So there it is. I need almost 10% of my daily calories to come from protein, or 48.6 grams per day. This falls right in the 8-10% range.
To get 48.6 grams I would need to eat:
1 cup of garbanzo beans (39g)
1/2 cup of quinoa (4g)
5 oz. of tofu (12g)
Or I could eat:
1 cup of collard greens (4 grams)
2 pieces of sprouted grain bread (14g)
1 cup of mushrooms (5g)
1/4 cup of raw almonds (7.6 grams)
1 cup of cooked lentils (18g)
The possibilities are endless and there is absolutely no shortage of protein when eating a plant based diet.
Here’s another thing to consider. Unlike a massage, more protein is not better.
On average, Americans are getting 18-20% of their calories from protein and this is a conservative figure.
Too much protein taxes our liver and can lead to gout, along with certain types of cancers and a slew of other health issues.
I can tell you from personal experience there is physically no need for animal protein in the diet. I’ve never eaten meat in my life and I’ve been vegan since 2008. I’m doing just fine. Getting protein from plants is not only possible, it’s also damn tasty.
Join Plant Fueled Life and we’ll show you how. You’ll have the option of viewing nutrition information so you can track your protein if you want!
- 1 cup dry lentils 180g
- 1/2 cup dry millet 95g
- 1 cup yellow onion 130g
- 1 cup walnuts 90g
- 1/4 cup tomato paste 60g
- 1 cup fresh parsley 20g
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 teaspoons salt 12g
- 1/2 cup water 120ml
- 1/4 cup rice flour 40g
- Cook lentils by bringing 4 cups of water (945ml) to a boil.
- Add 1 cup of lentils, turn heat to low and simmer for 50 minutes until lentils are cooked, stirring occasionally.
- Place cooked lentils in a large mixing bowl.
- Cook millet by placing 1 cup of water (250ml) and 1/2 cup of millet in a pot.
- Bring to a simmer, turn to low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Place cooked millet in the mixing bowl with the lentils.
- Add the remaining ingredients, except for the rice flour to the mixing bowl (onion, walnuts, tomato paste, parsley,garlic, oregano, basil, salt and water).
- Stir mixture so that all of the ingredients are combined.
- Place the mixture in a food processor and process until smooth (you may have to do this in two batches depending on the size of your food processor).
- Once all of the meatball mixture has been processed, place it back in the large bowl and sprinkle in the rice flour.
- Stir until the rice flour is mixed in.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Take the mixture and roll into whatever size meatballs you like. (if you make them about the size in the picture, you will get around 25 meatballs)
- Place them on a very lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes.
Have a beautiful week and remember, what you truly desire, desires you just as much.
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