For years, dieticians, medical professionals, and the health conscious have insinuated that vegetarian and vegan diets are deficient in some way, mainly when it comes to protein intake. However, most of the hype surrounding vegetarianism and protein deficiencies can be attributed to our culture and not to any real medical research. You see, before the turn of the 20th century, most people did not eat a lot of meat and dairy products; they just couldn’t afford it and food was scarce. In the early and mid 1900s, though, nutrition experts started telling people that they needed well over 100 grams of protein a day for optimal health. The idea stuck, resulting in a population that eats too much protein.
Protein: How Our Body Uses It
There’s no doubt about it, protein plays a huge role in our metabolic processes. Your body uses the protein you consume to make specialized molecules – the building blocks of your body. Your body requires protein to make blood, build muscle, make new cells, and to maintain bones and organs.
When you consume protein, your digestive juices break it down into amino acids. There are approximately 22 amino acids that your body requires for optimal health. Your body can create around 13 of the required amino acids; you must consume the rest.
Your Body’s Protein Requirements
It’s estimated that the average American consumes twice the amount of protein that their body requires. According to the World Health Organization, protein requirements for individuals fall between 5- to 11-percent, depending on various factors (for example weight lifters and athletes may need more for their activities). If you eat too much protein, you can face serious health risks including kidney disease and kidney stones, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Can You Get Enough Protein from Vegetables?
Fruits, grains, and vegetables contain all the protein your body needs in order to function properly. Vegetables contain around 22-percent protein, whereas beans contain a whopping 28-percent. Even grains contain 13-percent protein. As you can see, most foods contain more protein than your body requires. In fact, every single plant food found on this planet contains more than 2.5-percent protein. So, no matter what you eat, you will consume enough protein.
In addition to the myth of protein deficiency among vegetarians and vegans, it has been said that those who do not eat meat must eat a wide variety of foods in order to consume the right types of proteins as plant proteins were thought to be less complete than meat proteins. To the contrary, research shows that vegetable proteins are complete proteins. There is no need to pick and choose certain vegetables in order to meet all your protein requirements.
The myths surrounding vegetarianism and veganism are entrenched in our social consciousness due to the fact that they have been passed from person to person for decades. If you take the time to do some research, though, you will see that most of plant foods you already eat contain more than enough protein to meet your body’s needs.