Hot Topic Alert! What about Protein?
After giving 3 workshops this week on plant-based nutrition, I got the same question over and over: “But what about protein??”
One woman in particular was feeling really frustrated, and understandably so, when on one hand her personal trainer was basically telling her she needed to carry around a chicken breast in her pocket to chomp on every two hours if she wants to build muscle, and here I was, telling her to limit animal products to 10% or less. She was confused and aggravated, and is probably still questioning the information I was providing.
But here’s the deal: If you spend half as much time worrying about consuming a variety of nutrients from plant foods as you do animal protein you will be 100X better off. This unnecessary focus on protein is messing with your health. The name of the game is nutrients, NOT protein.
I’m going to take a page from the West vs. East comparison for a moment. I lived in China for 6 years, and for the first time realized that the majority of the country’s massive population actually lived in the countryside, not big cities. They have been eating the same PLANT-BASED diet for thousands of years, and they are HEALTHY. Rice, tofu, beans, fermented foods, and a ton of veggies and fruit made up their diet. Eating meat and dairy – is not part of their regular routine. Dairy is just not present in their cuisine, and meat made only occasional appearances because it was too costly for the majority of the population. When I first landed in Beijing circa 2002, cheese was practically non-existent and milk had only just arrived on the shelves. This being my pre-vegan days, I actually had my mom mail me a giant block of cheddar . . . WTF! It’s when the influence of the West moved in, with their protein obsessions and fast food loving ways, that Chinese people (who could afford it) started eating more meat and dairy . . . started believing that eating protein = health. Segway to – you guessed it! More people became overweight, unhealthy, and faced with same life threatening, debilitating diseases of the West – diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more. (If you have not watched the life-changing documentary “Forks over Knives” now is the time. It was this very film that empowered me to make huge life changes, including studying with Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Campbell is the author of The China Study and one of the doctors featured in this film).
I speak with many people who are “seeking out protein” – adding high amounts of un-healthy, un-organic animal products to their diets, and large amounts of highly processed foods like protein bars and whey protein shakes (Have you checked out the lengthy ingredient lists in that chemically laden crap?)
Here’s the deal. You do NOT need to eat animal protein to build muscle tone. You can be a body builder, Olympic athlete, marathon runner or just a super-strong dude/dudette by eating ONLY plants.
You do NOT need to worry about getting enough protein on a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet with a sufficient variety of foods will naturally contain all the protein you need. The name of the game is nutrients, NOT protein. Your health will improve immensely by focusing on obtaining a variety of phytonutrients into the body over focusing solely on protein. Protein is found in all intact whole plant foods. But more importantly, when you are choosing what to eat – think more about a variety of color, think more about how to get a variety of vitamins, nutrients and mineral from grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, veggies and fruits and STOP THE PROTEIN OBSESSION!