Two things are true about protein:
- We need it.
- It’s NOT as big a deal as a lot of people seem to think it is.
It is amazing that with all the vitamins and minerals our body needs, protein is often seen as the be all and end all of nutrition. Yet, it is almost impossible to be protein deficient without being calorie deficient. Have you ever met someone who was protein deficient? Perhaps if you live somewhere with serious mal- or under-nutrition; otherwise, it’s doubtful.
The average person needs about 40 grams of protein a day and the average vegetarian or vegan gets 70% more protein every day, while omnivores get even more.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains: It is very easy to have a well-balanced diet with vegetarian foods, since these foods provide plenty of protein. Careful combining of foods is not necessary. Any normal variety of plant foods provides more than enough protein for the body’s needs. Although there is somewhat less protein in a vegetarian diet than a meat-eater’s diet, this is actually an advantage.’ Too much protein is linked to kidney stones, osteoporosis and possibly heart disease and some cancers. A diet mainly made of beans, whole grains and vegetables has sufficient protein without the ‘overdose’ that most meat-eaters get.
On average, vegetables are 22% protein and legumes a whopping 28% (spinach is 50% protein!) Even grains are 13%. That’s plenty of protein, even for athletes, with little evidence that a high protein diet is necessary.
While 97% of Americans do, in fact, get enough protein, the same number of Americans are deficient in something else: fibre. And, where is fibre? Not in meat, dairy or eggs, but in plants: beans, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
So, while you might be worrying about protein, consider this:
Fibre is one of the USDA’s four ‘nutrients of public health concern’ (along with calcium, in spite of the seemingly endless supply of milk people seem to drink — shedding light on another dietary misconception). Protein is not.