“Where do you get your protein?” This is the first question I get when people find out that I live on a plant-based diet. And I get it A LOT.
I always respond by saying, “We don’t really need a lot of protein. It’s called The Protein Myth. But, beans, legumes, nuts, and all vegetables contain protein.”
There’s an “Elephant in the Room!”
(What I really would like to say is, “I have a question for you – are you, by chance, constipated?” It’s a bit of a personal question so, of course, I refrain.)
The truth is, fiber deficiency, which leads to constipation, is a much bigger issue for almost everyone than protein deficiency, which really doesn’t even exist! High-fiber foods are lacking in most people’s diets, and if we’re eating a lot of animal protein, we’re getting ZERO fiber and a lot of fat. This leads to high cholesterol, weight gain, and an increased risk of many diseases.
In the words of the renowned Dr. Michael Greger (author of How Not to Die), “Turns out there’s no real evidence of dietary protein deficiency.”
He elaborates, “Unlike plant protein, which comes packaged with fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, animal protein comes with exactly none of the foregoing. To this point, meat, eggs, poultry, dairy, fish and other animal foods have absolutely no fiber whatsoever. It’s the fruits and vegetables and whole grains that ‘do the job’ for you!”
(In other words, plant foods help you feel relieved, go #2, help you catch up on your reading – get the picture?)
Ask yourself, have you ever met anyone who was protein deficient? I’m pretty sure the answer is “no” or “I don’t think so?” Most people have no idea how much protein they need. They think that they are eating a “healthy” diet by eating protein at every meal. But, they are far from it!
The only real way to be deficient in protein is to be deficient in food. People who don’t eat enough calories (which leads to malnutrition!) are the only ones at risk for any kind of protein problems.
Protein Deficiency Doesn’t Exist
You might be amazed to discover that all plants contain protein.
In fact, at least 14% of the total calories of every plant are protein. Broccoli has more protein per calorie than steak! Yes, really!
Proteins are made up of twenty amino acids. All of them (including the ten essential ones, which have to come from food) are found in plants. And they don’t need to be combined in any particular way—that’s just another myth.
Just think about the animals that become meat. Where does a cow, pig, or chicken get their protein? PLANTS. They’re fed nothing but soy, corn, and other plant-based foods to fatten them up for human consumption.
Protein = Fat
When you’re eating animal protein, you’re eating fat (specifically, saturated fat and cholesterol).
Fat and animal protein go together like peanut butter and jelly. And despite a lot of misinformation that’s been broadcast via the media over the years, too much fat is bad news for your body.
Even for those of us who are plant-based — too many nuts, avocado, tofu and other plant-based sources of fat are deleterious to our health.
Science has shown that a high-fat diet is a key ingredient in the development of chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and a whole host of symptoms from obesity to acne to chronic fatigue and more.
Just ONE high-fat meal leads to changes in your red blood cells, insulin resistance, the release of bacterial toxins, blood clots, artery damage, an increased risk of heart attacks, and reduced testosterone (although many people believe the opposite to be true!).
When we have a lot of animal protein in our diets, we’re almost certainly getting way too much protein overall. And, too much protein—well, you get the idea. One study found that people eating large amounts of animal protein have twenty-three times the risk of death from diabetes and five times the risk of death from cancer!
So How Much Protein Do You Need?
If you’re still worried about your protein intake or wondering how much you should actually eat, let’s talk about some facts.
Many notable plant-based doctors, such as Dr. John McDougall and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, believe (with the support of research) that as little as 5% of your daily caloric intake needs to come from protein.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (or RDA) suggests that adults only need 0.8 or 0.9 grams of protein per healthy kilogram of body weight every day.
According to Dr. Greger’s findings, “The largest study in history of those eating plant-based diets recently compared the nutrient profiles of about 30,000 non-vegetarians to 20,000 vegetarians, and about 5,000 vegans, flexitarians, and no meat except fish-eaters, allowing us to finally put to rest the perennial question, ‘Do vegetarians get enough protein?’ The average requirement is 42 grams of protein a day. Non-vegetarians get way more than they need, and so does everyone else. On average, vegetarians and vegans get 70% more protein than they need every day.”
Basically, you need your ideal weight in pounds (not your actual weight, but ideal weight), multiplied by four, then divided by ten. So, if your ideal weight is one hundred and twenty-five pounds, that’s 50 grams of protein per day.
To give you an idea of the protein content in plant-based foods, one cup of quinoa has 9 to 17 grams of protein, depending on the variety; one cup of cooked oatmeal has 6; and one cup of green peas has 9 to 16, depending on if fresh or dried. So, you can see how easy it is to get to fifty grams with a day’s worth of healthy food.
The science shows that as long as you’re eating a nutritionally adequate diet—you’re getting plenty of protein. So, eat a healthy, plant-based diet and don’t worry about the p-word!
The Proof is in the Milk
If you need any more convincing that humans need a lot less protein than we’ve been led to believe, the proof is in breast milk.
Breast milk is the perfect food for each individual species. Breast milk has exactly what a baby needs to grow into a healthy adult — muscles and all.
Thousands of years of evolution have this substance down to an exact formula for humans, dogs, pigs, rats, and all other mammals.
And as it turns out, human breast milk contains less protein than almost any other milk in the mammalian world! Maybe any animal in the world!
Human breast milk is less than 1% protein – and it’s well-established that babies raised on breast milk grow into healthy adults. So we may need even less protein than we think.
In the words of Dr. Esselstyn, “The protein available in a diet of whole grains, legumes, fruit and beans, and red, yellow and green vegetables is adequate to nourish even professional champion athletes such as those who compete in the iron man races, professional football, mixed martial arts, track and field.”
You’re Not Eating Enough Fiber
The real issue we should all be thinking about isn’t protein; it’s fiber.
Unlike protein deficiency, which isn’t real, fiber deficiency is very real! That’s where constipation, IBS, leaky gut, and aforementioned constipation come from—along with a whole host of other unpleasant health issues and chronic diseases.
97% of Americans are fiber deficient. That’s why there’s rampant constipation! People may not want to talk about it, but it’s everywhere. That’s why we’re all so uncomfortable most of the time!
Fiber is found in (you guessed it), plant foods. All the high-fiber foods are plant-based.
Fiber is crucially important for good health and has been associated with a lower risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and certain cancers, as well as a reduced risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood sugar issues.
So stop worrying about protein and start thinking about fiber!
It’s so good for you and it’s found in all the wonderful plant-based colors of the rainbow. If it grows in the garden, it’s likely to be one of the high fiber foods.
Different Kinds of Fiber
Fiber actually comes in two different varieties; there’s a mix of both among fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains.
Soluble: it turns into a gel-like substance in the stomach and slows the digestive process (slower digestion is good for your cholesterol and blood glucose levels).
Insoluble: it doesn’t break down. It heads straight to the colon and makes your waste heavier and easier for your body to remove.
Neither type of fiber is actually absorbed by the body, but together they’re the key ingredient for a healthy digestive process.
Both kids and adults need at least 20 to 30 grams of soluble fiber a day, but most Americans only get about 15 grams per day.
High-fiber foods all come from plants, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) contains a lot of animal products and processed foods, which contain almost no fiber whatsoever.
The other great thing about fiber is that it’s filling! So you consume fewer calories and still feel full.
In the words of the folks at Forks Over Knives (a documentary I highly recommend!), “Plant-based foods have a lot more bulk because they contain more fiber and water than the standard American ‘diet’ foods. This bulk takes up more space, so our stomachs end up stretching sufficiently to shut off hunger signals despite our having consumed fewer calories overall.”
So, in addition to being great for your digestion, eating high-fiber foods can help you lose weight. Yay!
High Fiber Foods: Here’s What to Add to Your Diet
To help you navigate the landscape and plan a healthy, fiber-rich diet, here are some of the most high-fiber foods in the world (along with some tasty recipes to help you easily add these foods to your daily meal plan):
- Split (Dried) Peas
Whether in a savory soup or flavorful curry, split peas are a fiber powerhouse. Explore different ways to use these healthy veggies. They contain 16 grams of fiber per cooked cup. Try them in this Pea-Mole and Mango dip.
Another popular and delicious legume, lentils have a whopping 15.6 grams of fiber per cooked cup. Lentil burgers are one of my favorite creations! I also love to use them in this Indian Spiced Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard recipe.
- Black Beans
A cooked cup of yummy, versatile black beans contains 15 grams of fiber. They’re delicious in a soup, on top of a baked sweet potato, or just added to a salad. Best of all, try this Smoked Black Bean Pizza with Whole Wheat Crust recipe for a delicious twist!
This creamy, delicious green fruit packs in 13.5 grams of fiber. Use avocado in salads or make guacamole (but eat in moderation, it’s high in fat!). All you need is ¼ avocado to put in your salad — add some cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs with a sprinkling of lemon juice and you won’t need high fat, calorie-dense (yet nutrient deficient) dressings!
- Lima Beans
If you haven’t had much experience with lima beans, you may assume you don’t like them. But it’s all about how they’re prepared! There are lots of tasty ways to eat these healthy beans, and they contain 13.2 grams of fiber per cooked cup.
These exotic and delightful green veggies have 10.3 grams of fiber per cooked (medium-sized) artichoke. Eat the “meat” off of the leaves, and don’t forget the delicious, tender heart!
- Chia Seeds
These tiny little seeds are an amazing source of good-for-you nutrients! Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide a whopping 10 grams of fiber. Try this Banana Berry Chia Seed Pudding recipe to get your fill of fiber!
- Peas (Fresh)
Fresh peas are super versatile as a side-dish, as part of a stir-fry, or even to make a lower fat version of guacamole (I call it, pea-mole)! One cup of cooked peas has nearly 9 grams of fiber (while split peas and fresh peas are technically the same legumes, dried peas have more fiber because of the way they’re processed).
In general, berries are a nutrient powerhouse, so stock up and add them to smoothies, cereal, oatmeal, and more. When it comes to fiber, these red berries have 8 grams per cup.
These sweet, tangy summer berries have 7.6 grams of fiber per cup.
- Wild and Cultivated Blueberries
One cup of these nutrient-rich berries has 3.6 grams of fiber. Add them to smoothies, put them in your morning oatmeal, and eat them raw. Try them in this Heavy Metal Detox Smoothie Plus recipe.
Eat your broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage! These cruciferous veggies are wonderful for you across the board and have 5.1 grams of fiber per cooked cup.
This delicious seed contains almost twice as much fiber as most other grains and when cooked has between 5 and 17 grams per cup (depending on the variety)! It’s an excellent source of iron and magnesium, relieves constipation, and also helps to prevent heart disease by reducing high blood pressure and the risk of diabetes. Make this Rosemary and Raisin Quinoa Loaf as a healthy and satisfying bread.
- Brussel Sprouts
Another veggie that often earns a bad reputation, Brussel sprouts, can be used in an array of ways. I love to shave them thin and add them to salads! Roasting and boiling them are also great ways to enjoy them. They contain 4.1 grams of fiber per cooked cup.
You know what they say, an apple a day (plus lots of other fruits and veggies) keeps the doctor away! One apple contains 4.4 grams of fiber. They make a great late morning or afternoon snack, and there’s a variety for every taste – from super sweet to slightly sour.
- Sweet Potato
One cup of this colorful spud, cooked, contains 4 grams of fiber. Nothing beats a filling, fiber-rich, baked sweet potato!
So there you have it – the highest-fiber foods. Chow down on all that garden-grown deliciousness and reap the rewards!
Eat more plants
You’ll fit into your pants,
And want to dance
Your tummy will be flat
And you won’t be fat
You’ll live lots longer…
Who wouldn’t want that!!!
Please share how you get lots of fiber in your diet and any recipes our readers so desperately need!