When you’re on a plant-based diet, you probably get sick of people asking you ‘so where do you get your protein?’ It seems like America’s food industry has gotten us brainwashed when it comes to this macronutrient, thinking we can only obtain it from meat and other animal products. Next time a conversation arises about protein on a plant-based diet, keep these five talking points in mind:
1. You Really Don’t Need That Much Protein
Diets like the Paleo diet and the Atkins diet have convinced many about how high levels of protein are essential. Whether it’s a low-fat or a low-carb diet, for some reason we’ve never questioned cutting protein. It’s not that you don’t need protein—just maybe not as much as you once thought. At most, protein should account for 10-35% of your diet. This is much less than the high-protein diets that have become popular. Sure, there are some exceptions. The Inuits of Alaska, for instance, live on a diet that is predominantly animal protein and fat. But it’s not like they can hit up the local Whole Foods when they’re out of sweet potato hummus. These people are literally living off of the land and really don’t have a choice. Most developed populations, on the other hand, do have a choice about their dietary protein intake.
2. It All Comes Down to Amino Acids
Just why is protein so important exactly? It all comes down to these tiny little things called amino acids. Amino acids are responsible for a whole bunch of processes in your body ranging from heart health to kidney health to hormone secretions and more. When you consume protein, your body breaks the protein down into amino acids, then takes those amino acids and uses them for various functions.
Certain amino acids are non-essential, meaning our bodies have the ability to produce them independently. However, essential amino acids must be obtained via diet. Most people jump on the meat bandwagon when it comes to the essential amino acids. But they forget that various legumes, whole grains, and leafy greens also have amino acids. Even fruits and veggies contain amino acids.
3. Plant Proteins Taste Great
Don’t think you’re indebted to a life of tofu and tempeh on a plant-based diet. Plant proteins like beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and other fruits and veggies can be made in almost a million different ways. You can easily go from Asian to Indian to Latin cuisine all with a handful of spices and herbs. Some of your meat-eating friends might find a plant-based diet bland, but if you ask me (or any plant-based foodie these days) plant-based diets lend much more creativity, innovation, and taste.
4. Animal Protein is High in Saturated Fat
Another reason to forget the high animal protein craze and opt for plant proteins is saturated fat levels. Saturated fat has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and a variety of other health problems. Plant-based proteins like beans and legumes, however, are loaded with fiber which can improve digestive health and reduce your risk of coronary artery disease.
5. Plant-Based Protein is Better for the Environment
In a nutshell, animal proteins drain our environment of natural resources. Besides using more land to cultivate less food compared to grains, animal proteins require more feed, more water, and more fossil fuel use than plants. Let’s not forget about those methane emissions from cows and other livestock that are listed as one of the top contributors of greenhouse gasses.
No plant-based eater should feel like they’re constantly on the defense about their dietary choices or eating habits. At the same time you wouldn’t want your hamburger-loving friends to shove meat down your throat, so don’t force your attitudes about meat consumption on them either. Instead, explain your beliefs kindly and if all else fails, amicably agree to disagree.
Image source: A Dozen Protein Packed Vegan Meals