The Big, Infamous Question

“Where will I get my protein?” is one of, if not the most common question omnivores ask when discussing or considering a vegan diet. When asked this question I can’t help but wonder “do you even know how much you’re getting now? Do you even know anything about protein? Do you even know if there’s something more serious you should be concerned about being deficient in? Do you even know if you’re getting too much protein?”

At 44 years old, after being strictly vegan for 7 years, my total protein levels as of 2017 are perfect at 6.9 grams per decilitre. The reference range is 6 to 8.5. Clearly there’s no shortage of protein in my whole-food, plant based diet. More importantly, I don’t have to worry about any of the baggage that comes with the “package deal” of animal foods.

In short, it’s just better to get nutrients directly from the source rather than already processed by another animal. We all know processed foods are bad. Animals are a form of processed foods. We advocated whole-foods that are plant based because they are the only healthy and complete source of macronutrients and micronutrients.

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What is Protein?

Protein, fats, and carbohydrates are “macronutrients” (see also micronutrients). Water is also a macro nutrient, with of course zero calories.

Each cell in our body has tens of thousands of proteins. None of the over 20 thousand different kinds of proteins in our body comes from our diet. Your protein is synthesized using your DNA blueprints, from a pool of protein building blocks called amino acids.  Our body can produce all but 9 of the 22 amino acids.

The 9 we can’t produce are “essential” meaning we need to acquire them from our diet. The nine essential amino acids are: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. There are also semi-essential amino acids. It is easy to get all of these amino acids on a plant based diet.

All living organisms contain all 20 amino acids with varying amounts of amino acids. Plants get them from nitrogen in the soil. 

Plant protein actually is “complete” because it does offer all the essential amino acids. The difference between plant and animal protein is the proportion of amino acids between the two. Unlike plant protein, animal protein has a similar protein profile of amino acids to our own. This prompts certain organs in our to respond accordingly as if our body created this other animals’ particular profile of amino acids. For example, our liver then dumps out excess IGF-1 in response. (s) And this vilan has an accomplice, methionine in animal protein destroying the brain and colorectal cancer.

Where Does Protein Come From?

All living things contain all the amino acids that make up protein. All essential amino acids originate from plants and microbes. And all plant proteins have all essential amino acids. (s) Different protein sources have different quantities of specific amino acids. The balance of essential amino acids found in plant proteins are less like our own (the animal kingdom). Our body regulates and only uses what it needs.

“It turns out our body maintains pools of free amino acids that it can use to do all the complementing for us, not to mention the massive protein recycling program our body has. Some 90 grams of protein are dumped into the digestive tract every day from our own body to get broken back down and reassembled, and so our body can mix and match amino acids to whatever proportions we need, whatever we eat, making it practically impossible to even design a diet of whole plant foods that’s sufficient in calories, but deficient in protein. Thus, plant-based consumers do not need to be at all concerned about amino acid imbalances from the plant proteins that make up our usual diets.”(s)

How Much Protein Do Humans Need?

First it’s worth noting that “vegans on average have higher blood protein levels than omnivores.” And “those on plant based diets average about twice the average requirement for protein.” And whole, plant based foods provide not only more than enough protein, they supply the whole range of nutrients we need. (s)

Meat eaters actually “eat about 20% more protein a day”. However, despite this  vegans actually have “significantly higher plasma albumin, the predominant protein in the blood”. This is most likely due to the fact that “inflammation suppresses protein production in the liver, so this is more likely just an indicator of how much less inflammation there is in the bodies of those eating vegan.” (s)

Adults require no more than .8 to .9 grams of protein per healthy kilogram of body weight per day to satisfy their protein needs. That’s your ideal weight in pounds multiplied by four and then divided by ten. I personally need roughly 60 grams. But on average really I could get less and this would be totally fine. Check out the CRON-O-Meter to see how much you’re getting!

Some people say shoot for 8-10% protein of total calories while others say shoot for more. While 10% of total calories is well above the minimum recommended intake it’s not too high to be of any concern when from whole-food, plant based sources.

Kwashiorkor

There is “no real evidence” that Kwashiorkor (protein deficiency) even exists! A century ago protein requirements were over twice what they are today (children 1 year of age requirements went from 13.2% down to 5.4!). In fact, human breast milk has the lowest concentration of protein of all mammals, less than 1% by weight. This is obviously the natural ratio of protein humans need to grow our bodies and brains when they need to the most. Infants need more protein than adults.(s)

Most whole grains, vegetables, and even some fruits have a higher percentage of protein than human breast milk. Human breast milk also contains “high levels of unsaturated fats and carbohydrates which are needed for our survival and just goes to show where we should be putting our focus when we are eating.”(s)

Origin of the Myth

The concept that plant protein was inferior to animal protein rose from studies performed on rodents more than a century ago. This was a study on infant rats that found they don’t grow as well on plants. But they don’t grow as well on human breast milk either because rat milk has ten times the amount of protein as human milk because rats grow about ten times faster than humans.

Another theory of where our fascination with protein came from and the term Kwashiorkor dates back to about a century ago as well. The industrial revolution “popularized food processing for storage and transport purposes.” The processing removes the bran and germ layer so that grains could be stored for several decades instead of six months. This rendered the grains with a lot of gluten and empty calories. Populations that were dependent on processed grains for their staple food “began developing protein deficiency. Once their diet was supplemented with animal products they immediately healed and the World Health Organization took these findings very seriously declaring protein deficiency as a world crisis.” However, if these populations would have been eating whole-grains from their natural environment they would have prevented the difficiency without meat. (s)

Can We Get Too Much Protein?

Methionine vs Butyrate

Yes, we can get too much protein, when it’s animal protein. Unlike plant proteins, animal proteins have more sulfur-containing amino acids like methionine (concentrated in fish, chicken, and eggs). This metabolizes into ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in the colon, “the rotten egg gas”. (s) Furthermore, “it seems that the less methionine there is in body tissues the longer different animals seem to live. Methionine appearas to have a pro-oxidant effect.” (s)

Colon cancer is “a leading cancer killer”. Up to 12 grams of protein can escape digestion and reach the colon. In the course of a lifetime on a standard Westernized diet the amount of ammonia released by bacteria in our colon is equivalent to “a thousand gallons of Windex.” Day to day concentrations of ammonia “destroys cells, alters DNA synthesis, increases cellular proliferation, increases virus infection, and favor the growth of cancerous cells.” (s)

You may recall way up above that I said vegans average twice as much protein as omnivores. The issue isn’t necessarily how much protein, it’s the type of amino acids found in animal protein specifically. Too much of those animal protein sulfur containing amino acids are toxic to the body; e.g. significantly more methionine that metabolizes into ammonia.

And “it’s generally accepted that carbohydrate fermentation-the fiber and resistant starches that reach our colon-results in beneficial effects for the host because of the generation of short chain fatty acids like butyrate (what our good bacteria make from the fiber we eat), whereas protein fermentation is considered detrimental for us.” And “the more starch ending up in the stool, the less ammonia… So it’s like this constant battle in our colon between the bad metabolites of protein, hydrogen sulfide, and the good metabolites of carbohydrates, butyrate.”(s)

Methionine is also wreaks havoc in the brain when it biosynthesizes into homocysteine. Increased homocysteine levels have been shown to potentially increase cognitive decline that can result in Alzheimer’s, as well as risk for heart disease and stroke. Being on a plant based diet for one week can lower homocysteine levels by 20%! (s)

Leucine and mTOR

Less is more when it comes to protein, at least from animal sources. This is because animal sources are high in methionine and leucine.

mTOR or TOR is an enzyme called the “engine of growth” in childhood and the “engine aging” in adults.(s) mTOR stands for “Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin”. Rapamycin is an antibiotic that stands for Easter Island (Rapa Nui) where it was discovered there in the soil. Rapamycin inhibits the enzyme TOR which in turn slows aging and age related deterioration and diseases.

The best way to inhibit TOR is through restricting protein which may extend life. The branched chain amino acid leucine exerts the greatest effect on TOR. Leucine is predominantly found in eggs, dairy, and meat. TOR “functions as a master regulator of cellular growth and proliferation” and “upregulated in nearly 100% of human PCas (Prostate Cancer)”. (s), (s)

IGF-1

Because plants are a “package deal” the absorption of nutrients are gradual throughout the digestive system. Gradual acquisition of various amino acids enables our body to regulate and maintain the best balance of amino acids. So, while plant proteins may be erroneously called incomplete, they’re really completely all we need! Unless you’re like one in 40,000 with a carnitine deficiency because of a rare birth defect causing them to pee too much out. (s)

The rapid absorption of animal protein amino acids results in increased cancer promoting IGF-1. And this comes with all the other issues associated with eating meat, eggs, and dairy like oxidative and inflammatory TMAO, cancer promoting Dietary Phosphorus, pro-oxidative and artery hardening inflammatory Heme-Iron, colon cancer putrefying Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids (e.g. methionine) and “a lifespan state of unnoticed and growing metabolic acidosis,” Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol, to name a few…

Animal protein increases uric acid, ammonia, and inflammation putting a strain on our kidneys unlike plant protein. Furthermore, animal protein consumption specifically, unlike plant proteins, increases IGF-1 release by our liver, a cancer-promoting growth hormone released in excess when we eat animal protein. Switching people to a plant based diet can significantly lower IGF-1 levels suppressing and killing cancer growth. Most malignant tumors are covered in IGF-1 receptors so when there’s no IGF-1 around they may not be able to grow and spread. 6,000 men & women over age 50 from across the US were followed for 18 years and those under 65 with high protein intakes had a 75% increase in overall mortality and a 4 fold increase in the risk of dying from cancer. But not all proteins, these associations where either abolished or attenuated if the proteins where plant derived ¦ a mortality risk factor comparable to smoking cigarettes.

TMAO

Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is inflammatory, damaging to our vessels, and aids in plaque formation. “TMAO is created by complex interactions involving our gut flora and the nutrients in the food we eat. And when we eat animal foods, it alters our gut flora in such a way that facilitates the creation of TMAO.” In addition to TMAO causing damage to our vessels, the high levels of phosphorus in animal protein prompts our bodies to release a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23) which also is harmful to our blood vessels! FGF23 is “associated with heart attacks, sudden death, and heart failure.”

Dairy Protein

Cow milk protein is designed by nature to grow a 80 pound calf into a 600 pound cow in 6 months! This is just too much protein. We cannot and do not want to even try to grow at this rate. That excess protein causes a plethora of problems. The adverse effects associated with long-term high protein diets may include disorders of bone and calcium balance, disorders of kidney function, increased cancer risk, disorders of the liver, and worsening of coronary artery disease.(s)

Milk has the same risks associated with meat and eggs. Humans, like other mammals, lose our ability to digest lactose (sugar) found in milk after infancy. The process of making cheese loses a lot of lactose. But, the protein molecule found in milk from another mammal “is much larger than the whey protein found in human milk. This large molecule when it enters our digestive system causes disruption and may lead to interal wounding and even bleeding, anemia, and even cancer. (s)

If Protein Isn’t An Issue What Is?

No one in America is protein deficient. Just ask a doctor an they’ll tell you they’ve never seen a case where someone was protein deficient. 75 percent of what they do see is patients with health problems directly related to eating meat, eggs, and dairy.

So people are not protein deficient but they are deficient in other nutrients like fiber. There is no fiber in animal products. Fiber is very important for slowing digestion, feeding gut flora, making nutrients more bio-available,  Less than 3% of Americans get even the recommended minimum adequate intake of fiber and of those 3% zero are men increasing their risk factors for getting diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and various cancers, as well as risk factors for these conditions, including high cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose. The recommendation is about 31.5. Fiber is only found in plants.

Unlike meat, when acquiring protein from plants you also get fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants! NONE of this is in meat. All food is a “package deal.” So you do not want empty calories or toxic calories like in meat, dairy, eggs, and oils. You do want safe, nutrient dense calories which are only achievable from plant sources.

When we consume non-essential nutrients created by another animal our bodies do not handle this well.(s) Plant based proteins on the other hand enable our body to work it’s magic and acquire the precise amount of amino acids and micro nutrients we need from our diet. Our body responds more favorably to plant foods than it does animal foods.(s)

Want More?

The longest living populations (“Blue Zones” such as Okinawans and vegetarian Adventists in Loma Linda California) evidence clearly that the more whole-food, plant based the healthier.

Meat, eggs, and dairy, are significantly acidic with cheese and eggs having the most acid loads. Overtime this will most likely contribute to muscle loss. Plant based diets are predominantly alkaline. For proof, see how acidic or alkaline your urine is “Test Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage” Click Here

If the science isn’t enough proof look at the incredible anecdotal evidence! Just do a simple YouTube search for plant based/vegan body builders and it will blow your mind how many are out there (currently 83,800 results in that search alone).

In 2016 the ONLY male US weightlifter in the Olympics was vegan, Kendrick Farris. Also last year the strongest man in Germany who also held the world log lift record was vegan, Patrick Baboumian. Then there’s Dr. Nun Amen who won world record for Deadlift is vegan. And Barny du Plessis was Mr Universe and vegan, the list is endless really.

You can track the nutrient profile or your daily diet using something like the Super Tracker if you’re still concerned.

There are far more sources of protein from plant based sources. YumUniverse.com references about 100 plant protein chart. Protein Chart

Some sources vary when describing how much protein different plant sources have. But again, it’s really not something we need to worry about. Below is a small example of how much protein some plant sources have.

Plant Sources of Protein

  • Edamame (cooked soy beans) 18 g per cup (cooked)
  • Lentils 9 g per ½ cup
  • Black Beans 7.6 g ½ cup
  • Lima Beans 7.3 g ½ cup
  • Peanut Butter 7 g ¼ cup
  • Wild Rice 6.5 g 1 cup (cooked)
  • Chickpeas 6 g ½ cup
  • Almonds 6 g ¼ cup
  • Chia Seeds 6 g 2 Tbsp
  • Steel-Cut Oatmeal 5 g ¼ cup (dry)
  • Cashews, Brazil Nuts, Walnuts 5 g ¼ cup
  • Pumpkin seeds, Chia seeds, 5 g per ¼ cup
  • Potatoes 4 g in 1 medium white potato
  • Flax seed 4 g 2 Tbsp
  • Spinach 3 g ½ cup (cooked)
  • Organic corn 2.5 g per ½ cup
  • Avocado 2 g ½ avocado
  • Broccoli 2 g ½ cup (cooked)
  • Brussels Sprouts 2 g ½ cup

Pintos, Garbonzos, Peas, whole wheat, wheat flour, whole corn, oats, rice, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, peanut meal, etc

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