Where do you get your protein?
Without a doubt, that is the most frequent question I get from people about my transitioning to a plant-based diet.
At first I felt defensive about the question but probably more irritated than anything. I’ve eaten the Standard American Diet (SAD) for years. I’ve shoved down hundreds of hamburgers, pizza, steaks, chicken, pies, cakes, etc., and never once has anyone ever questioned me about my diet at all. (OK, my Mom told me I was getting fat, but I won’t count that one.) But once I switched over to fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes (and the occasional black bean burger), suddenly everyone is concerned about my diet and health!
And honestly, most people who know me have actually freaked out a bit that I’m no longer eating meat. I’m almost looked at with shock, if not pity. What a weirdo I must be! (Ok, I admit it: I used to think vegetarians were tree-hugging hippies.) Apparently I will not only be less healthy if I forego meat, I will also need to surrender my American citizenship!
All I know is, when I eat the SAD diet, my knees hurt, my joints ache (because meat, among other things, causes inflammation in the joints), I’m lethargic…oh, and my pants get too tight. When I am consistently eating plant-based food, I have virtually no pain, I have lots of energy, and my clothes begin to fit better.
I’ve recently been reading a book entitled “Proteinaholic” by the well-known and respected Director of Bariatrics at a hospital in Houston, Texas, Dr. Garth Davis. Dr. Davis counsels obese patients about reversing their weight and health issues by going plant-based. For those who ignore his advice, he performs various weight reduction surgeries like gastric bypass and lap band surgeries. This quote from Dr. Davis really impacted me: “Some people think the plant-based, whole foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.” The side-effects of consuming protein from animals include obesity, heart disease, hypertension and strokes. Eating plant-based food causes none of these health issues.
Also, in the book he asks the question, “What about my vegetarian patients? The simple answer is “I really can’t answer that, because I don’t have any.”
So, before I attempt to answer the simple question I’ve been asked, I need to state a few facts. According the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the average man needs to consume 56 grams of protein a day, and the average woman requires 46 grams. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports that the average man in the U.S. actually eats a whopping 102 grams, and the average woman eats 70 grams. The media and marketing campaigns trying to convince us we need more protein is certainly working!
I’m not going get into the science of protein requirements and bodily function needs. All I know is I’ve done enough research to know that if I eat as much plant-based food as I want, and I mean AS MUCH as I can possibly hold in my stomach, I am going to get enough protein from those foods to sustain me as a middle-aged man in my 50’s. And not only that, there are plenty of examples you can find online of plant-based athletes, who are clearly getting enough protein. Just check out the website Great Vegan Athletes. These people are definitely NOT protein deficient, so I’m certain I’m not!
So, what DO I eat to get my protein? All the fresh veggies and fruit I can possibly consume. A lot of people don’t know that there’s protein in plants. I’m certainly not wasting away, and I’m not losing muscle mass. What I do know is that my cholesterol and weight are coming down. I also recently had a cardiac CT scan to measure the amount of plaque in the arteries of my heart. Thankfully, for my age group, I’m in the 45th percentile and I’m at a relatively low risk for a heart attack. My hope and intention is to actually reverse the heart disease I do have so I can enjoy my later years without fear or concern of advanced heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, or being susceptible to having a stroke. And based on the research I’ve read, reversal is not a pipe dream. See the documentary, “Forks Over Knives” for some stunning information on the reversal of heart disease for those on a plant-based diet. Check it out on Netflix.
Maybe the better question we should be asking is what do we need to eat to prevent all of the aforementioned woes of eating the SAD diet. I’ve made my decision.
What’s on YOUR plate, and how is it improving your current health?