Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I have been a pescatarian for about 11 years. Basically, that means I'm a lacto-ovo vegetarian who also eats fish and seafood. Part of the reason I hadn't become a full vegetarian 12 years ago was because I love sushi. I was also planning a move to Florida and seafood was super fresh, cheap and delicious. I knew I would miss it too much. Over the years, I have had a bite here or there of meat, but the total would barely equal 8 ounces.

Recently, I've read several books discussing being vegan. I am considering going vegan at home. One of the first things people will say upon hearing this is, "what about protein?!" Somehow, most people think protein only comes from slabs of meat, or some variation of tofu. They also seem to think that the average person needs a huge amount of protein daily in order to avoid illness. I decided to look into the facts to see how much protein is actually needed.

The consensus says that 10-35% of your daily calories should come from protein. This comes from the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and the CDC. Using the 10-35% figure and a 2,000 calorie diet, that means 200-700 calories from protein or 50-175 grams of protein. Some others base it on grams of protein per pound of body weight and activity level. If I use the grams per weight, it works out to 52-79 grams of protein per day. The CDC has set a firm number for each group of people. That number is 46 grams for adult women and 56 for adult men. Dr. Andrew Weil sets the line at 10-20% of total calories or 50-100 grams.

I will use 70 grams here as being clearly in the range that everyone has set. If I were body-building, or just trying to increase my muscle mass, I may try to get closer to 100, but when I'm just maintaining my fitness, I'll stay on the lower end. Is 70 grams of protein difficult to get in a vegan diet without eating soy at every meal? Let's look at the protein contents of some foods not normally thought of as protein sources like beans, lentils, meat, eggs or soy.

100 grams of asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower or brussel sprouts each give you 3 grams of protein. 100 grams of oats is 17 grams of protein. Rye, wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, and barley each have about 14 grams of protein per 100 grams. That means if I have oatmeal for breakfast, veggies and quinoa for lunch, I would already be at 34 grams of protein on the day. If I add 2 tablespoons of peanut butter I would get another 8 grams, for a total of 42 grams on the day, and dinner hasn't even been touched. I've almost met the CDC's goal and still have an entire meal to eat a cup of cooked beans or lentils, which have 12 and 18 grams each. I could also make this simple by having 1 cup of Tempeh and getting 41 grams of protein right there and everything else would make 70 total grams a breeze.

I hope I have demonstrated that reaching 70 grams of protein in a day is not difficult on a vegan diet. I also hope I have shown that our dietary needs don't require large amounts of protein. There is also a health risk from eating too much protein. I will be careful to not abandon protein, but mainly because I know that along with fiber it helps to keep me feeling full on a smaller amount of food. 

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