The Great Debate
Whether considering a total transition to a plant-based diet or just a reduction of animal products in favor of more fruits, veggies, and heart-healthy grains, one will notice a significant debate surrounding the topic of protein. How much do we need? Can we get enough without meat? What is a complete protein? So many great questions accompany this lifestyle change and are worth researching. We’ve broken down the most common of them.
Protein: Quality Over Quantity
Sifting through the overwhelming amount of information regarding our protein intake needs, we will try to highlight the consistently agreed upon recommendations and findings.
While the jury is still out on exactly how much protein individuals need, the recommended range tends to be consistent and, thankfully, can always be adjusted based on weight, energy and activity level. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) — commonly known to be the minimum needed (although proven to be at the top end of the true range) — is about .36 grams per pound of body weight. This means a 150-pound woman who doesn’t exercise needs about 54g of protein daily.
Experts seem to agree on one thing: the amount of protein is far less significant than the “protein package”. This means that it’s important to consider calories, fat, cholesterol and fiber levels that accompany it.
The Harvard Medical Journal stresses this, stating, “aim for protein sources low in saturated fats and processed carbohydrates, and rich in many nutrients.”
Across the board, we find that the type of protein we eat is far more important than the amount.
What is a complete protein?
A complete protein refers to one that contains all 9 essential amino acids, considered as such because our bodies cannot produce them so we need to get them from our diet.
Read on to learn where the confusion began.
Falsehoods printed as far back as the 1950s started a myth that still seems to be alive and well today: that it is difficult to get sufficient or “complete” protein on a plant-based diet. This misinformation was debunked long ago, but convenience seems to have favored fact as retractions went unprinted.
“Today, if you calculate the amount of each essential amino acid provided by unprocessed plant foods and compare these values with those determined by [William] Rose (biochemist and nutritionist), you will find that any single whole natural plant food, or any combination of them, if eaten as one’s sole source of calories for a day, would provide all of the essential amino acids and not just the minimum requirements but far more than the recommended requirements.” — Jeff Novick, MS, RD The Myth of Complementary Protein
So, if we study this out comprehensively, we learn that not only is it more than possible to get enough protein on a plant-based diet, but that plant protein is far superior to that of animal products. Why? Because animal-based proteins are accompanied by saturated fat, cholesterol, and substantially more calories than that of plants, all contributing factors to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and a plethora of other health concerns.
When we take the leap of faith and trust that the earth naturally produces all the amino acids our bodies need to be healthy and thriving, we see results that far exceed expectations. Reports of medication reduction and even elimination, clearer skin, allergy relief, reversal of diabetes, higher energy levels, more efficient muscle recovery are just a few.
Stay tuned as we will cover more about protein intake in future articles.
Eat your veggies and be well!