Most vegans would probably agree, that one of the most common questions that they are routinely asked is: “Where do you get your protein from?”
The topic of protein consumption comes up in almost every conversation. It might come off a bit smug or disingenuous, but it’s actually a very valid question. Protein is an essential nutrient for the body that shouldn’t be overlooked. There is however, a great misconception in western culture about how much and where we get our daily protein from. Contrary to conventional wisdom, meats and dairy are not the only sources of protein available. In fact, you can find a wide variety of different proteins in most vegetables, grains, and legumes. Furthermore, the quantity of protein that is recommended for daily intake is fewer than most people are led to believe.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance recommends that we take in 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh (or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that we weigh). If we do a few calculations we see that the protein recommendation for vegans amounts to close to 10% of calories coming from protein. [For example, a vegan male weighing 174 pounds could have a calorie requirement of 2,600 calories. His protein needs are calculated as 174 pounds x 0.41 g/pound = 71 grams of protein. 71 grams of protein x 4 calories/gram of protein = 284 calories from protein. 284 divided by 2,600 calories = 10.9% of calories from protein.] If we look at what vegans are eating, we find that, typically, between 10-12% of calories come from protein. (http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php)
So, let’s take a look at how this translates to the actual food you’re eating:
1 cup – Avocados = ~3 grams of protein
1 cup – Broccoli (chopped) = ~ 2.6 grams of protein
1 cup – Carrots (chopped) = ~ 1.2 grams of protein
1 cup – Onions (cooked) = ~ 3 grams of protein
1 large baked Potato = ~ 7 grams of protein
1 cup – Quinoa (cooked) = ~ 8 grams of protein
2 Tbsp – Peanut Butter = ~ 9 grams of protein ( 62 grams if you can manage to eat an entire cup)
1 cup – Oatmeal = ~ 7 grams of protein
1 cup – Kale (chopped) = ~ 3 grams of protein
1 cup – Soy Milk = ~ 7 grams of protein
1 cup – Veggie Baked Beans = ~ 12 grams of protein
1 cup – Lentils (cooked) = ~ 18 grams of protein
If you noticed, there aren’t any fruits, sugar, fatty foods, or alcohol listed above. That’s because you won’t find much protein from some kinds of foods.
Each of the options (above) may not have a staggering amount of protein individually. But once you start combining these in your recipes, the numbers start adding up. Additionally, if you spread out your meals throughout the day and eat healthy snacks in between, you’ll reach your RDA with relative ease. For most vegan males, the average RDA rounds out at approximately 65 grams. For women, that total is closer to 55 grams per day.
Most importantly though is the concept of balance. A person cannot survive on a diet dominated by candy and starchy foods. The body requires a wide variety of nutrients and minerals, particularly when looking at all the different kinds of proteins we interact with. It can be useful to incorporate some supplements as well (i.e. B12 or iodine/sea vegetables). So, remember to diversify your meals and try keeping track of your protein intake. Before you know it, your friends will be dumbfounded by the wealth of knowledge that you drop on them when they ask you that question: “Where do you get your protein from?”