Getting Past the 'Protein Myth' That Keeps People
from Quitting Meat and Dairy
By Kathy Freston, Huffington Post
Posted on June 3, 2008, Printed on December 30, 2008
When I tell people that I'm a vegan, the most popular question, by far,
inevitably follows: "But, how do you get enough protein?"
There it is again, I think, the meat industry's most potent weapon
against vegetarianism -- the protein myth. And it is just that -- a
In fact, humans need only 10 percent of the calories we consume to be
from protein. Athletes and pregnant women need a little more, but if
you're eating enough calories from a varied plant based diet, it's close
to impossible to not to get enough.
The way Americans obsess about protein, you'd think protein deficiency
was the number one health problem in America. Of course it's not -- it's
not even on the list of the ailments that doctors are worried about in
America or any other countries where basic caloric needs are being met.
What is on the list? Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity --
diseases of affluence. Diseases linked to eating animal products.
According to the American Dietetic Association, which looked at all of
the science on vegetarian diets and found not just that they're healthy,
but that they "provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment
of certain diseases."
They continue: "Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets
are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during
pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence ... Vegetarians
have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians,
as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians
also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and
lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon
Dr. Dean Ornish writes of his Eat More, Weigh Less vegetarian diet --
the one diet that has passed peer-review for taking weight off and
keeping it off for more than 5 years -- that in addition to being the
one scientifically proven weight loss plan that works long-term, it "may
help to prevent a wide variety of other illnesses including breast
cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, colon cancer, lung cancer,
lymphoma, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, and so on ...."
So when people ask me about protein, I explain that protein is not a
problem on a vegan diet, that the real problems that are plaguing us in
the West can be addressed in part with a vegetarian diet, and that I get
my protein the same way everyone else does -- I eat!
Beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, and whole grains are packed with protein.
So are all vegetables as a caloric percentage, though they don't have
enough calories to sustain most people as a principal source of
sustenance. And these protein sources have some excellent benefits that
animal protein does not -- they contain plenty of fiber and complex
carbohydrates, where meat has none. That's right: Meat has no complex
carbs at all, and no fiber. Plant proteins are packed with these
Plus, since plant-based protein sources don't contain cholesterol or
high amounts of saturated fat, they are much better for you than meat,
eggs, and dairy products.
It is also worth noting the very strong link between animal protein and
a few key diseases, including cancer and osteoporosis.
According to Dr. Ornish (this may be the most interesting link in this
article, by the way -- it's worth reading the entire entry),
"high-protein foods, particularly excessive animal protein, dramatically
increase the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and
many other illnesses. In the short run, they may also cause kidney
problems, loss of calcium in the bones, and an unhealthy metabolic state
called ketosis in many people."
The cancer connection is spelled out at length in a fantastic book by
Cornell scientist T. Colin Campbell, called The China Study. Basically,
there is overwhelming scientific evidence to implicate that animal
protein consumption causes cancer.
And just a few quick anecdotal points:
Olympian Carl Lewis has said that his best year of track competition was
the first year that he ate a vegan diet (he is still a strong proponent
of vegan diets for athletes).
Strength trainer Mike Mahler says, "Becoming a vegan had a profound
effect on my training. ... [M]y bench press excelled past 315 pounds,
and I noticed that I recovered much faster. My body fat also went down,
and I put on 10 pounds of lean muscle in a few months."
Bodybuilder Robert Cheeke advises, "The basics for nutrition are
consuming large amounts of fresh green vegetables and a variety of
fruits, to load yourself up with vibrant vitamins and minerals."
A few other vegans, all of whom sing the praises of the diet for their
athletic performance: Ultimate fighter Mac Danzig, ultramarathoner Scott
Jurek, Minnesota Twins pitcher Pat Neshek, Atlanta Hawks Guard Salim
Stoudamire, and Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez.
And let's not forget about tennis star Martina Navratilova, six-time
Ironman winner Dave Scott, four-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, or Stan
Price, the world-record holder in bench press. They are just a few of
the successful vegetarian athletes. Vegan Politicos? Tzipi Livni, prime
minister of Israel and Vegan writers? George Bernard Shaw who lived t
age 96. Actresses, too many to name. LIndsay Wagner, Chloris Leachman
who recently competition danced for weeks on end age 83. Alicia
Silverstone, also (seen below)
Basically, vegans and vegetarians needn't fret about protein, but many
Americans do need to worry about their weight, heart disease, cancer,
and other ailments -- many of which can be addressed by healthier
eating, including a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Vegetarians and vegans get all the nutrients our bodies need from
plants, and will thus, according to the science, be more likely to
maintain a healthy weight and stave off a variety of ailments, from
heart disease to cancer.
For answers to other popular questions about conscious eating, please
check out my previous post on the topic here.
HAPPY PROTEINS: Green salad, garbanzos, avocado, Sprouted
almonds. (Soak a few hrs, peel, (astringent,) mix of corn tortillas with
beans and garnished with cheese. Tofu, fried in butter, onion, garlic.
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