"But how do you get enough protein?" Answering the most common question vegans get asked
Okay...I know the eye roll is obnoxious, but it's hard not to make that face on the nine hundred and twelfth time I get asked about protein by my omnivorous friends. This week I delved into the topic to find out if I was getting enough protein in my new, plant-based life.
First things first, I needed to know how much protein I should be getting every day. If you're wondering the same thing for yourself--here's how to find out. The WHO (that’s the world health organization, not the legendary rock band) advises that most adults need 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
To convert from pounds to kilograms, I took my approximate weight in lbs and divided by 2.2 since theres about 2.2 lbs in 1 kg. Then I multiplied that number by 0.83 and I was left with my recommended protein requirement according to the WHO. At the end of the day, I needed about 44 grams of protein.
To find out if I was getting my 44, I needed to count my protein intake. Here’s where I hit my a snag. I can’t use a fitness app/calorie counter to measure protein because with my eating disorder history, they are insanely triggering. I couldn’t even consider it. Weighing, measuring, and overly obsessing over food labels can also be triggering for me, so before I started my experiment, I talked it over with Mags to make sure someone who knows me well could keep an eye on me and step in if I started showing and signs of distress. She offered to be my backup if this got too hairy and count her own protein intake. I didn’t end up needing her but am so grateful to have her in my corner.
So instead of using an app I went old school. I checked the protein content in what I was eating and wrote it down. Just protein. I did this for five days. My plan was to go a week, but it was super annoying and after five days of counting my results were pretty consistent.
Now I should mention that I did my best not to change my eating behaviors during these days. I used recipes I had already planned for the week, ate leftovers and what I had lying around. I did not do any protein supplementation with powders or shakes either. All 5 days my protein intake was in the 50s, usually ranging between 55-60. I was pretty shocked by the consistency. There was even one day I was certain I would be below 44—I had a vegan eggplant parm for dinner with pasta. I was thinking, no beans, no tofu, no vegan protein source-eesh! But even on that day I came in at 53 grams. Without. Even. Trying.
Where was I getting the protein, you ask? Let me answer with this adorable infographic!
So why is everyone so worried about protein all the time?
I wish I could answer this, but it honestly has me stumped. I’ve been a nurse for eight years and I’ve never seen a patient with protein deficiency. But the average American only eats 10-15 grams of fiber per day, far below the recommended 25-38 grams (according to USDA). So why doesn’t anyone ever ask, “Where are you getting your fiber?”
In fact, according to the Harvard Health Blog, getting enough fiber has been shown in large scale studies to reduce the likelihood of dying from heart disease or cancer. The great news is that a vegan or plant-based diet is naturally high in fiber from all those delicious fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
But even if you’re not ready to go fully plant-based or vegan, you can improve your health just by increasing the fiber in your diet. It could be as simple as adding a fruit every day with breakfast and/or a small salad most nights with your dinner.
What I learned this week was that I don’t really need to worry about my protein. In fact, I don’t really think most people need to either. Next time a well-intentioned meat-eater expresses concern about your protein, ask them where they are getting their fiber!