It seems everyone is a resident expert when it comes the best sources for potassium (Everyone says bananas), calcium (everyone says cow’s milk) and protein (everyone says meat). Unfortunately, all of that “common knowledge” is false. I will address potassium and calcium in a different post. Today, let’s look at the facts about protein.
Fact 1: The human body cannot store protein. Fat (in the form of fat) and carbs (in the form of glycogen) can be stored for later use. But protein cannot. Excess protein is converted to fat for storage.
Fact 2: Plant proteins have been labeled “incomplete” because their amino acid profile does not match that of human flesh. If humans wanted to match their amino acid profile exactly they’d have to eat other humans (Ewww!). Plant proteins are not “incomplete” when it comes to fulfilling our dietary needs. Think of amino acids (protein) like a beaded necklace. Each color bead represents a different amino acid. The human body takes the necklace apart (regardless of the order of the beads) and puts it back together in the order it wants it.
Fact 3: The Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for protein is 4-5% of total calories. But since the government wants to make sure they cover everyone they provide the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) which is 8-10% of total calories (RDA = EAR + 2 standard deviations for the stats nerds out there). Eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) will give you 15-20% protein, mostly from animal products.
Fact 4: The human body can process animal protein more efficiently(more easily) than it can plant protein and in 1914 animal-based protein was given Class A status and plants, Class B. The higher biological value (ease of processing) came to mean “high-quality.”
BUT efficient protein utilization is not advantageous for humans because it promotes undesirable growth, including faster cancer growth rates due to higher levels of IGF1.
Fact 5: In 2009 the ADA (American Dietary Association) said, “Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of essential amino acidsif a variety of plant foods are consumed and energy needs are met.” In lay terms, don’t eat a single plant morning, noon and night and get enough calories to not waste away and you’ll be fine. Dr Esselstyn pointed out that if protein deficiency was a risk, hospitals would be full of vegans rather than obese people.
Fact 6: ALL plants have protein in them; some more than others. The top contenders: Lentils/beans/peas (did you know peas are 26% protein?), seeds (hemp/chia/flax), grains (quinoa/brown rice/oats), nuts (walnuts/almonds/cashews), spirulina (mix it in smoothies or oatmeal), and nutritional yeast (add it on anything you’d usually put cheese on). The last two were new to us when we transitioned towards the whole-food plant-based lifestyle but are now standard in our diet.
Bottom line: If you are getting enough calories from a variety of plants, you will get enough protein. The question you should be asking yourself if you’re not eating plants is, “Where are you getting your fiber?” We will cover that next week.
If you are ready to address how your food choices are negatively affecting your health, let’s set up a free get-to-know-you chat. Send me an email and let’s get you on track to taking control of your stress eating. Health@RnRJourney.com
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.