Protein Paranoia!


If you’ve been vegan for more than ten minutes, then no doubt you’ve been asked, “Where do you get your protein?”

Once you learn some basic facts, this question seems silly.

Facts About Protein

  • We don’t need a lot of it. Only one in 10 calories we take in needs to come from protein.
  • Most foods, including fruits and veggies, contain protein in varying degrees.
  • Vegans average 10-12 percent of calories from protein, an ideal amount.
  • Most Americans get way too much protein!
  • Too much protein is not good for you. Your liver and kidneys may become overburdened and you will start leaching calcium from your bones to get rid of the excess.
  • Plant proteins are as complete as they can be. It is a myth that plant proteins are inferior and that vegans need to be careful about combining foods to get complete protein. For more info, click here.
  • Many animals, including large animals like elephants and hippos, live strictly on plants. No one ever questions them about where they get their protein.

If these are the facts, then how come people are so concerned about protein?

I don’t know all the factors, but I do know that meat and dairy companies have a lot to do with it. They spend billions of dollars to make us believe that animal protein is necessary and superior to plant protein.

And these companies are skilled at brainwashing. They’ve bombarded us with their message from the time we were young by providing US schools with colorful nutrition charts that emphasized meat, dairy products and eggs.

I still remember the catchy phrase, four, four, three, two – the magic clue, I learned in grammar school. It was used to educate me that a “healthful diet” consisted of four breads and cereals, four of fruits and veggies, three dairy and two meat servings each day.

Most of us buy into meat mythology by the time we’re adults, and then the message continues to be reinforced by successful ad campaigns like “Milk does a body good” and “Beef – it’s what’s for dinner.”

I’m looking forward to reading Meatonomics when it comes out in September, because I want to learn more about how the meat and dairy industries have deceived us and what I can do to stop them.

I’m sure that other factors contribute protein paranoia. If you know of any – I’d love to hear them.

Comic courtesy of Vegan Mamas.

About celestedimilla

Hey there. I’m Celeste, California girl, writer, psychotherapist and burgeoning plant-based foodie.
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36 Responses to Protein Paranoia!

  1. Maryanne says:

    AMEN to this! I’m so sick of the protein question I’m gonna scream!!! Will you scream with me, Celeste? 🙂

  2. Great Post. I was making shakes in the morning with about 30-40 grams of protein in them just to make sure I was getting more protein than carbs. Well the last 3 months I have been kind of lazy and not making the shakes. So I have been only getting protein from faux meats, fruits and veggies and no cheese since I went Vegan in January. I actually started losing some weight. I am beginning to think that maybe I had been consuming too much protein. I will definitely check out the link you posted as well.


  3. What a great post! I’m vegan-curious and I hear people asking the “protein” question all the time. Love that comic, by the way!!

    • Hey Anetta! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the protein question – it just makes my head spin. Anyway, thanks so much for your thoughts! Celeste 🙂

  4. Poppy says:

    Great info Celeste, I didn’t know just one in 10 calories needs to come from protein. The protein comment is pretty frustrating but the one that gets me the most annoyed and fed up is that every time I am unwell, I get told at least once that it must be because I don’t eat meat and I need a ‘good ol’ bloody steak’.

    I mean, do people not realise how ridiculous they sound? So if I’ve got the flu because I’m vege, then why do they get the flu? Haha, it’s so sad that I have to laugh. The saddest truth is that after 16 years, I am no less bothered by these comments, they still twist my stomach and set off my adrenaline every time! Especially the people who deliberately say the same thing every time they see you, just to state their meaty dominance. No, *****, I do not eat my pet chickens’ eggs!

    Sorry, you always give me a forum to have a good release!! Poppy 🙂

    • I hear you Poppy! The last time I went to the dentist I had two cavities, and my dad said, “I don’t remember you ever getting cavities before – it must be your vegan diet.” What?! First of all, I did get cavities before going vegan, it’s just not something that I normally share with my parents (they just happened to be visiting the last time I went to the dentist). Secondly, like you say, how can people blame our diet for illnesses and physical problems that happen to meat-eaters all the time. Ugh! People can really be insensitive, especially to people who do or see things differently than they do.

      I have to believe that generally people just don’t realize how rude they’re being with the things they say. I think vegans are unusual, and most people don’t understand us and thus a lot of the comments come from ignorance. I’m sure this is not always the case, but believing this helps me to handle the comments better. Still, like you, it gets to me at times.

      And I always love hearing from you Poppy!

      Celeste 🙂

      • Poppy says:

        Thank you Celeste.

        I agree about ignorance and unintentional rudeness which I feel is the case most of the time. I have one nemesis who makes my life hell whenever I see him and sadly it’s my father in law to be who just cannot accept it, despite the fact I never ever preach or mention his choices and his are the mean ones! Argh!

        Many non vegans are very willing to accept and understand even if they don’t want to change themselves, but there are some people that just cannot and will not accept anything other than ‘ordinary’.

        I’m glad I have my blogger friends like you who all understand each other though!

        Poppy 🙂

    • I can’t imagine someone in my family having the attitude your father-in-law to be has. That must be hard! And it sounds like he’s in your face about it too. That’s a toughie Poppy – I feel for you girl. Celeste 🙂

      • Poppy says:

        Thanks Celeste! It’s never nice to be disrespected but I don’t see him all that often so it’s not so bad! I’ll make sure he loves the vegan food at my wedding haha! 😀

  5. Being raised as vegetarian and an Indian origin, it was vey common question asked when I moved here to the states. My answer was: we incorporate more than 15 types of legumes and pulses in our diet Which are good protein and full of fiber :)… I still stick with that..;).
    You are right Celeste that too much protein can get heavy on liver and kidney and cause stone formation…
    I am not vegan but a vegetarian :).

    • It sounds like you’ve come up with a good, simple answer that nips it in the bud! I need to come up with an answer like that. I fumble around with my words whenever anyone asks me about protein not knowing what to say. And I didn’t know that vegetarians also got asked this question. I guess people in the US have it in their mind that you have to have meat to get your protein. Thanks for the lovely comment! Celeste 🙂

    • Yea, I suppose you’re right – most people lump us all together. I also know that a lot of people become vegetarian and then later become vegan. Thus, they know how people react to vegetarians and vegans (which, like you say is the same). Since my husband and I went directly from a typical American diet to veganism, we didn’t get to experience how people react to vegetarianism. Love your input here! Celeste 🙂

  6. You’ve articulated this so well. I need to memorize the key points because this topic drives me absolutely bonker! And you are correct – the protein myth was created and has been promoted relentlessly by the meat and dairy industries. A couple of nights ago at dinner w/ mom and dad and two of their friends – a dinner at which conversation was 90% about my “diet” – dad says (in his Serious Voice): Annie needs animal protein. I protest, of course, and he pronounces in Very Serious Voice: No, no, I think she really needs animal protein.


    • Thanks for the lovely comment Annie! But trust me, I don’t articulate myself well in person. Whenever I get asked this question I stumble over my words not knowing what to say. I think part of the reason for this is that I know people are basically brainwashed about meat and protein and that whatever I say probably won’t matter much. And in social situations, I don’t think anyone really wants to hear a fully fleshed out answer anyway. I know that if I go on for more than a sentence people will get bored.

      Anyway, I find it sad when people in our immediate families are not sensitive to our lifestyle. Your father’s attitude must be hard on you in so many ways. I feel for you girl! Celeste 🙂

  7. Shannon says:

    You KNOW I like this! Even wrote a post about it on my vegan blog. I used to hate the question, but now I welcome it. With a smile!

    When hit with that question, I like to respond with another question. “Where do all the other adult mammal herbivores get their protein?” I get a deer-in-the-headlights stare for a minute, a good pause, then say something like, “Milk? Guess again. Oh, and not from another mammal’s milk either.” Another pause, then sarcastically, smiling, “Thank you, Dairy Council lobby.”

    I won’t preach to the choir here. Though I do miss the TASTE of flesh (I was trained to it for more than 40 years), that taste alone is not a good enough reason to continue consuming it, given the healthier, varied, ethical, and, yes, DELICIOUS options out there. It’s a freakin’ no-brainer, if you ask me.

    We don’t even THINK about “getting adequate protein,” but yet we do, by the very nature of our our plant-based diet. Protein is everywhere in nature. Always has been, always will be.

    • It sounds like you handle this question so much better than I do Shannon. I love how you answer with a question – I bet that really gets people thinking!

      And I know – it’s hard to transition to a diet so different from the one you were raised on. Like you, not only do I miss the taste of certain foods, but I also miss the memories associated with them. My mom used to make particular foods for various celebrations, and now I don’t eat almost any of those foods anymore. There’s a loss in this for me. Still, what I’ve gained for my health, animals and the planet more than makes up for what I’ve lost.

      And I so agree with you that it’s a freakin’ no-brainer to go vegan. But when it comes to meat, most of us don’t use our brains. We just do what we were taught to do without thinking. So sad!

      Oh, and by the way, I love both of your blogs. Since people will be directed to your DirtNKids blog from here, I’m posting the link to your vegan blog: I’m sure that many of my readers will want to check it out! Celeste 🙂

      • Shannon says:

        Thanks, Celeste. That’s super of you to direct from here! DirtNKids is my main blog (it’s my life!) yes. I forget to link my Gravatar sometimes when commenting on vegan sites. I just figure they’ll find me one way or another. After all, there aren’t many of us green anoles dining on June beetles out there. Gotta keep our lot in check. 🙂

        Love what you do here. You’re seriously taking up my lack-of-vegan-blogging slack with your thoughtful posts. Guess it’s time to dust off the keyboard and get to cracking on the vegan versus hunter post that’s been slumbering in my draft folder for, um, months now. A kick in the pants is what I need.

        Oh, and what we could share by way of stories on my back porch. Cheers from here until then!

    • You really should be a writer Shannon! I smile every time I read something you write. You just have a charm with words girl, and it seems to come to you naturally. And I can’t imagine how anyone can possibly keep up with two blogs. I have trouble managing one. I suppose if I wanted to give up my life. Still, I love your writing so much that I hope you do post more on your vegan blog. I’d love to read it. Celeste 🙂

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  9. Love how you laid out the facts so concisely here, Celeste. Regarding other factors contribute protein paranoia, I’d say the fitness industry is a huge “protein pusher” if you will. Propagation of such myths is money in the bank as far as supplements, powders, shakes, etc. I also think that while some are coming around, many doctors also perpetuate the protein myth.

    On a related note, I get a chuckle when I read about vegans getting asked the protein question for the umpteenth time. Went I first went vegan, I had read and heard about that common thread everywhere. I did my research and felt that I would be comfortable answering the question and was revved to go…and no one asked…not…one…damn…person. I got the, “Really? Wow!” responses; the “I could never give up cheese/bacon” responses; the “I could never go that far” responses (from vegetarians), etc. But no one asked about protein. I was beginning to wonder if people cared about my health at all! 😉

    So when a vendor at a work party asked me how I got my protein, I literally almost squealed with delight. In a way, I finally felt like a “real” vegan in the community/I totally get where you’re coming from kind of way. 🙂 We ended up having a great (and long — this cat was interested!) conversation. I got the distinct feeling that he was sincere in saying he was going to look into some of the resources I mentioned. Even if he didn’t, he was very receptive and seeds were planted. So now I always try to tap into that enthusiasm and positive energy when answering questions about veganism. It makes for better conversation on both sides.

    • I didn’t even think about the fitness industry – what a good point. And I love the term, “protein pusher” – that’s great! Now that I think of it, I could even call my ex-husband’s mom is a “protein pusher”. She sells Shaklee nutritional products and was always trying to get people to buy protein shake powders and protein bars. And I’ve know lots of guys in my time who were into all kinds of protein powders and such.

      I find it hard to believe that no one asked you the million dollar “protein question” when you first went vegan. I got asked the first week of my transition. Of course, everyone’s experience is different. I think it’s great that you prepared for the question and ended up having a heartfelt discussion with the first person who asked you about protein. I totally stumbled over the question when I was first asked.

      I love your positive energy cowgirl – you always bring a lot to the conversations here!

  10. S.Bell says:

    This made me laugh! I don’t get asked this question much anymore, but in the beginning it was all the time. 🙂

    • I don’t get asked it much anymore either. I guess once everyone you know has asked you the question, then you’re mostly done with it. Thanks for popping by! Celeste 🙂

  11. Great post! I have a protein post in my head and I’ll write it when I’m not feeling so volatile 😛 I’m in the middle of taking the Plant-Based Nutrition certificate through eCornell, and I have learned all the things you listed. Thanks for sharing it so succinctly. It’s baffling how the protein questions is paramount. Try asking an omni where they get their fiber 😉

    • Hey Jean! I didn’t know you were going through the Plant-Based Nutrition certificate through eCornell. That’s great! I actually thought about doing that, but time and money have held me back. If you’re still up for getting together when I’m out in a couple of weeks, you can share some of your knowledge with me. I’ll contact you next week to set something up for us to meet. Thanks for commenting here – I always love hearing from you! Celeste 🙂

  12. Jeanne Allen says:

    Right now I am reading a book by the Engine 2 author Rip Essleton “My Beef With Meat” and outlines a good argument why you should not eat meat. In the first chapter was about protein and you need all that protein in meat and you can just right amount of protein in some green leafy vegetables plus other vegetables. The one good argument that you can use is that know one is ever in a hospital for a protein deficiency , but lot of people are in the hospital for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity issues. Personally I do not know anyone with a protein deficiency.

    • That’s awesome that you’re reading Rip’s new book. I really should read that too. Maybe I’ll get it and read it on our flight to Seattle in a couple of weeks. Let me know if you try any good recipes from the book. Celeste 🙂

  13. liveblissful says:

    I always get that question too. People also question my iron and calcium levels. I don’t question their bad diet of takeaway and 2 minute noodles lol

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