How Do Vegans Get Protein?

joel

When considering going vegan, my husband’s biggest fear (surprise, surprise) was, “How will I get enough protein?” I haven’t written a lot about protein and veganism, but it’s an important issue that came to my mind today when Uncle Guacamole, a new vegan, asked me this question:

Passover is coming up in about a month, a time when we traditionally eat a lot of meat and eggs, largely because all legumes, including soy, are prohibited for eight days. Can you recommend any plant-based sources of protein other than beans and peanuts, both of which are prohibited?

I’m posting my answer to him because it addresses the basic questions about protein that many people have when considering veganism.

Protein in a Nutshell

Even if you just ate fruits and veggies for the 8 days of Passover, you would likely get all the protein you need. Many people don’t realize that fruits and veggies have protein, but they do! Here are some examples:

Protein in veggies

• Spinach – 51 percent protein
• Mushrooms – 35 percent protein
• Corn – 12 percent protein
• Potatoes – 11 percent protein

Most people think they have to eat “protein rich” foods to get enough protein, but this is a fallacy. It’s one that most of us believe, however; due to the billions of dollars meat and dairy companies spend to make us believe that we need a lot of protein and that it should come mostly from animals. Balderdash! Check out the book, Meatonomics, to see exactly how the meat and dairy industries dupe us.

In reality, our bodies don’t require a lot of protein. Only 10% of our calories need to come from protein (and even this is likely more than we require). As you can see, just eating veggies would provide you with more than adequate protein.

If you’re consuming enough calories, then you’re getting enough protein. As Rip Esselstyn says, “look around you and tell me the last time you saw someone who was hospitalized for a protein deficiency.”

It’s actually more likely for people in modern society to become ill from eating too much protein. Consuming excessive 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. This leads to health concerns. Most omnivores take in at least 20 percent protein, which is dangerously high.

Although most vegans consume many high protein foods like legumes, nuts and seeds, even without these protein powerhouses, a vegan diet provides adequate protein. At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend abstaining from legumes for a long period of time because they provide fiber, lots of nutrients and are filling and delicious.

Disclaimer: I should note that I’m NOT a nutritionist. I’m only sharing info I’ve learned from personal research I’ve done.

For more info on protein, check out Can I get enough protein eating a plant-based diet?

Photo Credit

The photo is of vegan bodybuilder, Joel Kirkilis, and is courtesy of Melbourne Vegan Strength.

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About celestedimilla

Hey there. I’m Celeste, California girl, writer, psychotherapist and burgeoning plant-based foodie.
Aside | This entry was posted in Daily Life, Health, Plant-Based Diet and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to How Do Vegans Get Protein?

  1. divamover says:

    The actress Mayim Bialik is vegan, and has posted some wonderful recipes for kosher vegans, including Passover recipes. Here is one recent link: http://www.kveller.com/mayim-bialik/vegan-kosher-for-passover-recipes/
    Enjoy!

  2. April @ Simplify Your Health says:

    I’m studying again at the moment, Plant Based Nutrition Cert with Cornell Uni, and I have a Nutrition Dip already. You summed things up well & in a way most people can understand. You are quite right, our bodies only need 8% protein intake a day- RDA. So a plant based diet provides that well & you are right in saying we don’t need to put so much emphasis on it. We don’t eat nutrients in isolation, so we get protein in lots of plant foods! Nice post 🙂

    • That’s wonderful that you’re taking the Plant Based Nutrition training with Cornell. My plant-based nutritionist friend, Katherine Nilbrink, is a professor for the course. I plan to take it one of these days too.

      I’m so glad to see that someone with nutrition training agrees with what I’ve discovered – thanks for the verification!! And thank you for sharing that the RDA determined that we only need 8% protein intake a day (I’m gonna add that to my post!).

      Thanks so much for reading and for your support – I appreciate it!! Celeste 🙂

      • April @ Simplify Your Health says:

        You’re welcome. I do find a lot of the nutrition science can be confusing and put people off so your post is great at making it easy to understand. Yes, I learnt a lot about just how much protein we need and how the RDA is worked out- effectively protein excreted. We don’t store it so the average loss is 0.5-0.6g/ per kg of body weight, and they use 2 standard deviations to work out a percentage that will work for something like 95% of the population. I had a discussion with a physiologist friend today who is also an elite marathoner. He was trying to say athletes need more because they break down muscle and need more to repair. Well, they need more calories overall and therefore get more grams of protein, it’s not proven that they need a higher percentage of any particular macronutrient. My point, taking the long winded route! Is that that recommendation holds true for almost everyone. Certain diseases rise along with increases in protein above 10% of overall diet. I think you’d really enjoy the course too 🙂 I’ve been having internet faults this week so haven’t been blogging 😦 had to use my phone which makes it too difficult to write a whole post! I have a new recipe up this weekend- a vegan spicy chorizo! Such a fun recipe.

  3. i’m allergic to corn and i like to say everyday is passover, because corn is forbidden on passover, anything with corn starch or syrup, which seems like everything in the world

  4. That and B12 myth are something that we had to deal with from the very start upon going vegan. The notion in people that you are somehow not eating enough protein or B12 is so strong, that many are ready to go into such heated arguments with you. The thing is that we never did anything without properly researching it forehead. Not even once was that any issue. Vegan diet is more than enough of protein.

    • It’s hard when you know something to be true and society is ignorant about it. Common sense is not always common. Hmmm…I think someone famous said that but I don’t remember who. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts! Celeste 🙂

      • Poppy says:

        The worst part is that so many meat eaters actually have more deficiencies than vegans! Let alone all the other health impacts!

  5. Wow, what a hunk! Supportive, athletic AND one who actually takes your advice 🙂 there are so few of them left . . . blessings my friend,

  6. Poppy says:

    This is brilliant Celeste, I’ve never seen a post about protein in vegetables, it’s usually all about the beans and nuts but it is so true, even leafy greens are packed with it! Love that quote about protein deficiency too – I’ll remember that one next time I hear the dreaded protein question 😉

  7. Violet says:

    Thank you for writing such a well-researched and informative post, Celeste! Makes a lot of sense to me now. 🙂 I have a question regarding iron in food. How can vegans eat a well-balanced diet with both protein AND iron? The reason I’m asking is that I’m still learning and possibly heading towards vegan diet, but a few months ago was told by my doctor that I’m extremely low on iron and that was the time when I cut out meat from my diet; since then I’ve added a bit of lean meat (no beef) and eating more legumes to increase my iron, plus taking vegan iron capsules. If you can share your experience in how to add iron into your diet, it would be extremely helpful. Thanks so much in advance! 🙂

    • Poppy says:

      Hi Violet! There are lots of iron rich veggie foods. Some include spinach, kale, watercress, dried apricots, raisins, tofu, brown rice and other whole grains, beans and lentils and most breakfast cereals are fortified with iron too! Hope that helps! Poppy 🙂

    • Hi Violet! I’m sooooo excited that your possibly heading towards a vegan diet (can you see me doing my happy dance?). Anyway, what a great question! I had concerns about iron when I went vegan too. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

      First of all, according to the book “Keep it Simple, Keep it Whole”, most cases of iron-deficiency are not due to insufficient iron intake. Instead, they’re the result of blood loss from various reasons (e.g., ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.), use of certain medications and cancer among other things. This book also discusses how most people eating the typical American Diet actually have an iron surplus that is not healthful for the body and leads to a variety of health issues.

      Secondly, a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes will provide you with sufficient amounts of iron. Some especially great sources of vegan iron are whole grains, beans, tofu, and dark green leafy vegetables.

      One thing to be aware of is that plant-based iron is not as easily absorbed by the body as animal based iron. Vitamin C increases iron absorption, so it’s important to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C, like leafy greens, peppers, citrus fruits, potatoes, melons and tomatoes.

      When I first went vegan, I tried to be really careful about making sure that I ate vitamin C foods with high iron foods, but I don’t stress about it anymore. So many of the foods that I eat everyday on my plant-based diet are high in vitamin C that I’m confident I’m getting enough iron. I haven’t done a blood test in awhile to find out for sure (I would if I didn’t have a needle phobia!), but my husband gets a blood test every year. His levels of everything are perfect.

      One of the things that I’m sure helps us to keep our iron levels up is that we eat lots of dark leafy greens. I make a point to eat dark leafy greens for lunch and dinner almost every day. So for lunch we might have a green smoothie with spinach, a kale salad or a soup with some kind of green in it. And then for dinner I’ll usually make a steamed green like collard greens or Swiss chard to go with whatever else I’m serving. This took some getting used to, but it’s just the way we eat now and we love it!

      A lot of books I’ve read helped me to feel more comfortable about meeting my nutritional needs through a vegan diet. Here are a few that were helpful to me:

      “Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole” by Alona Pulde and Matthew Lederman
      “My Beef With Meat” by Rip Esselstyn
      “The Engine 2 Diet” by Rip Esselstyn
      “Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrman

      Good luck with your research and I’m here if you’ve got more questions! Celeste 🙂

    • ahealthybean says:

      Hi Violet

      Another consideration (similar to what Celeste mentioned with the vit C increasing absorption) is making sure you’re not consuming foods or drinks that inhibit the uptake / absorption of iron at the same time as those lovely iron-rich plant foods. One key thing I try and remember is to avoid drinking tea (or coffee) at the same time / before or after having a meal. My mum is English so this was a struggle for me at first!

      I became vegetarian at 12, was vegan for a few years, and now am a pescatarian. My mum made me promise I’d get blood tests every 6-12 months (she was also worried about iron, etc.) and for the past 17 years I’ve kept that promise – and not once have I been anaemic, even in my teens when my diet was not ideal.

      Good luck on your journey, and thanks Celeste for a great post!

    • April @ Simplify Your Health says:

      These ladies have answered your question so well! When I did my nutrition diploma a few years back I did my dissertation on the vegetarian diet. I got a great book which analysed all major research into vege diets up to that point and there is no evidence iron deficiency occurs more in vegetarians. As Celeste pointed out, eating a nice variety of foods and inc things high in vitamin C helps absorption. Sometimes iron deficiency or inability to absorb things can be from issues with your stomach acids. I don’t know lots about that, but was reading about it in ‘ Green for life’ by Victoria Boutenko. All about green smoothies, which I recommend thoroughly! Will help with ph balance and increase your micronutrients. I know both Celeste and Poppy enjoy them too 🙂

      • Violet says:

        Wow, thanks for everyone’s help here in getting me started and heading towards the right direction!! All of you rock!!!! 🙂

  8. bikerchick57 says:

    Thanks Celeste, I learned something new today about Passover and diet. I use PlantFusion, a vegan protein powder, in my veggie and fruit smoothies due to my dairy sensitivity. Can Uncle Guac have Amaranth and Quinoa? Otherwise, main ingredients are pea and artichoke – no soy.

  9. Great info! The factual stat I love to leave folks with is “calorie for calorie, kale has more protein than beef”. That usually quiets them for a while at least…

  10. stacilys says:

    Great post Celeste. And very informative. I had no idea that spinach had so much protein.

  11. findingmyinnercourage says:

    Absolutely positively EXCELLENT Vegan Blog! I’m lovin it Celeste!

  12. Hi Celeste
    I can’t bear the protein question, it drives me up the wall. Only last year a neighbour was telling me about her high protein diet that she was on. I thought that was fashionable years ago. A fat university mate went on it, (successfully actually in terms of losing weight) but you would have thought nutritionists would have stopped peddling that particular line by now. It’s a bit like the paleo craze, which also drives me crazy.

    But protein is such an easy one. I think more important is the correct balance of vitamins and minerals and I’ve got a good book which lists which foods are high in each one. Dried fruit, apricots I think, are good, and parsley is rich in just about everything, so I tend to try and include some with most meals and specifically in the salad pots I make for Partner to take to work (other staples in the pot include artichokes, olives, toms, peppers, celery and whatever starch/carbs are left from the day before – if there are any left!)

    I don’t think I’ve ever aimed at a balanced diet per se, we always have a main meal of pots, rice or pasta and whatever veg-based dish I add to go with it. Plus he eats a cooked breakfast (pots, toms, mushies, veg burger) so that’s three varied plant-based meals a day, one of which is salad. I’m making our bread at the moment, so that’s another opportunity to add veg – onion, tomatoes, herbs, chillies, spinach, can all be added to vary a basic loaf.

    As for Uncle Guac, I assume soy-based products such as tofu and tempeh are off the list as well, but could he manage seitan, being wheat-based?

    • It sounds like you’re doing better than I am with healthy eating chica! That’s great!!! I’ve heard a lot about how nutrient-packed parsley is too, so I’ve started making green smoothies with it. I have a couple of plant-based nutrition books as well, and they really helped me out in the beginning.

      Anywho, I’m not sure if Uncle Guac can have wheat, but I’ll pass the info along to him. Thanks so much for your comment and have a fab weekend! Celeste 🙂

  13. Sarah says:

    I like to remind people that elephants are vegan and they don’t seem to have a problem building up muscles. I know it’s not really a good comparison but it has sufficient impact to make people stop and think for a bit. 🙂

    • I think that’s great!! Anything to make people think a little more deeply and step outside of their deeply held beliefs. Thanks for reading Sarah – I appreciate it! Celeste 🙂

      • Sarah says:

        No problem, it was a nice, well-written article. I gave the link to someone else as well. I hope they check it out.

  14. maureen says:

    I reply along the same lines as Sarah. I simply say i get my protein from the same place all the other non-meateating animals get theirs; plants

  15. Very informative Celeste :).

  16. janecleanfourteen says:

    yes! i’m always astonished by how much protein i’m actually getting from plants, nuts, seeds… but also by how much healthier it is to NOT eat so much protein! balance.

  17. Great post, Celeste! There’s so much wonderful nutrition to be found in so many places, it just requires a bit of research sometimes. I choose quinoa instead of rice or pasta as it has a higher protein content as well as adding nuts and seeds and tahini to most of my meals xx

  18. This is great, Celeste – and so true! People always ask me about where I get my protein. (I have the added “issue” of being petite, to which people assume is because I don’t eat meat. In fact, I didn’t lose any weight when I went vegan). I usually just say “I eat a lot of beans and nuts” but like the idea of telling the whole truth – that there’s protein in everything! There’s a report out of the CDC that I saw as well and it was something like Americans eat twice as much protein as needed each day (or something like that). It’s crazy!

    • I’ve read that Americans eat twice as much protein as they need too. And yet people are still concerned about getting enough protein. It doesn’t make sense. I hope this changes in the near future!!! Celeste 🙂

  19. Lauren says:

    Great post as usual, Celeste. A lot of people in the yoga studio where I practice are all on the paleo craze. Ugh. They say that you can’t build muscle without meat. I will direct them to your site. I follow one vegan blog and the guy posted a photo of a gorilla with the caption, “Ask me how I get my protein.” I thought that was funny.

    • Thanks for your comment Lauren! The paleo craze worries me – I just don’t think it’s a healthful diet. In “My Beef With Meat” by Rip Esselstyn, there’s a chapter called “The Problem With Paleo”. He says that up to 80 percent of our ancestors diet was actually plants. He also claims that “it was these plants and the ability to cook starches and root vegetables that caused the great explosion in human growth and brain size”. He also says that people in the Paleolithic Era ate more than 75 grams of fiber a day, which is double that of the average plant-based eater today. Anyway, just saying. 🙂 Oh, and thanks for telling your buddies about my blog – I hope some of them check it out. Celeste 🙂

  20. Very timely – – just reading about a new study linking animal protein and disease. Here’s hoping that the message is starting to get through.

    • I hope the world gets it one day (the realization that lots of animal protein isn’t good for then, not disease). There’s so much research out there that shows it, but people just keep doing what they’re doing. Hopefully our blogs are making a difference. Celeste 🙂

  21. People ask me that too and it drives me crazy! Now I tell them to look on the Internet and find out for themselves.

  22. Great article Celeste! It really is the great Vegan myth isn’t it?! It’s disturbing how much power the meat and dairy industry have had over ‘Dietary Reccommendations’, and how most people are still unware of this 😦

  23. Oh this is so great Celeste thank you!

  24. diahannreyes says:

    Super helpful, Celeste! I’ve been asking this question a lot. Thank you.

  25. reocochran says:

    I needed this post, Celeste! I have a friend who has been worrying about my youngest daughter and her protein intake. I took a few notes from this using the library’s little torn up copy paper and their little whittled down pencils and will ‘pass her a note’ on Friday, when I see her! (Reminds me of high school…) Smiles, Robin

    • Oh great! We’ve really been taught faulty things about protein. It’s like the world has a shared delusion about the stuff. I’m so glad that my post helped you out chica!!! Celeste 🙂

  26. LFFL says:

    Very informative. I never realized some of these veggies were good sources of protein.

  27. cinnabar50 says:

    Thank you for this very interesting and informative post.I never really give the matter any consideration and as long as it is vegan I simply eat what I enjoy, but it is good to have the information when the subject of protein and veganism is mentioned as it often is by non vegans.

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