Jul 19, 2022
Animal vs plant protein

By Sarina Farb

One of the most common things I hear from people when they first learn I'm vegan is "but what about protein??"

For my fellow vegans out there I'm sure many of you have heard this comment as well! Maybe you even get irritated by it because it gets brought up soooo frequently and because you know the truth: getting protein from plants is not hard!

Unfortunately this idea that we need to eat meat to get enough protein is a common myth perpetuated by mainstream media, bloggers and online content creators, and even uninformed health care practitioners.

These sources will all have you believe that plant protein is somehow inferior to animal protein or that you simply can't get enough protein as a vegan without supplementing.

Now, a lot of times when people say "but what about protein" they are simply bringing this up as deflection from taking personal responsibility or seriously considering the morality of eating animals.

But for those of who are honestly really interested in veganism and legitimately concerned about getting enough protein, here's the basics you need to know:

1. "Protein" is code for the twenty-two amino acids (the building blocks of complex proteins) found in both plants and animals. Nine of those amino acids are considered "essential" and we must consume them in our food, while the others are considered non-essential and can be made by our body. All nine of the essential amino acids are found in a wide variety of plants!

2. The main difference between plant and animal based proteins are the amounts of the various amino acids found in foods. On average, the amino acids Leucine and Lysine are found in much higher concentrations in animal flesh and secretions (eggs, milk) and in lower quantities in many plants, particularly grains. But that's actually good news! Studies have shown that consuming complex animal proteins (particularly casein and whey) and higher levels of leucine in general, are correlated with an increased risk of cancer, while complex plant proteins are not.

3. Another big difference is that most animal foods and some plant foods (soy, quinoa, hemp seeds etc.) are also considered "complete proteins" because they contain all nine essential amino acids. However eating "complete" proteins is NOT necessary (another myth)! As long as you eat a variety of plants you will get all nine of the essential amino acids in adequate quantities.

4. It's incredibly hard to become protein deficient eating a wide variety of plant foods if you are eating an ADEQUATE NUMBER OF CALORIES! Numerous studies have found that actual protein deficiency is almost entirely related to caloric deficiency and that unless you are consuming too few calories or an extremely unvaried diet (think, a diet of Oreo's and potato chips) it is almost impossible to become protein deficient.

5. If you are still concerned about protein on a plant-based diet or just really want to increase your protein intake for something like weight lifting or other athletic goals, vegan organic all-natural protein powders exist! So instead of using something like whey protein, just swap it out for a plant-based protein powder.

6. For a personal anecdote: while training for a half marathon last year I used the Cronometer app to regularly track my macros and protein consumption (you can see screenshots by checking my featured stories on Instagram). Without using protein powders or even trying to eat protein heavy meals, I regularly exceeded my recommended daily protein intake (80+ grams of protein) just by eating my normal diet of a variety of whole plant based foods.

Now, for those people out there who have no real interest in going vegan and who's first words are “but what about protein” when talking to a vegan - I would invite them to question where they got that message from and why they are suddenly so concerned with protein when faced with someone making vegan choices.

The protein myth has been deeply conditioned into us by propaganda from the meat and dairy industry and it is not a benign myth. It is actually killing people, animals, and the planet, and it's time to put this nonsense to rest. 









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