Monday, January 16, 2012

The Mythical Health Value of Protein

People often ask me “If you don’t eat meat, then where do you get your protein?”  Or “Don’t you worry that you’re not getting enough protein?”
Immediately my brain seems to freeze and I’m at a loss for words.  
Not sure why this always happens to me because intellectually I know that my plant-based way of eating is not lacking protein. But for some reason I find myself unable to articulate why I eat the way I do. It seems most people buy into the myth that the only way to get protein is to eat meat. Even those who have heard that plants have protein still think that by foregoing flesh one is eating a poorer quality of protein. How do I effectively dispel this mythical thinking?
I’m not one to go around announcing that I’m vegan, but it does come up quite regularly.  Like at the company potluck when people try to figure out what they can bring that I will eat and vice versa. Or when my friends want to go out for dinner and I have to choose the restaurant. Or when I visit relatives and have to explain that I will need to swing by the grocery store for some of “my food” to have on hand. It’s inevitable that we will have  “protein discussion”--and once again I will be at a loss for words.
One day early into my plant-based eating I confided in a friend that I was now vegan. They spouted out “That’s just disappointing!” Wow. Didn’t see that one coming...
Quite honestly their response was disappointing to me. Even as I offered the explanation that I was making this change for my health, they continued to scoff. Not very supportive!  Why do most people think that the quality of life is better with meat? 
Here’s the low-down on understanding protein:
  1. Proteins in our bodies wear out and must be replaced. 
  2. The highest quality of protein has about 8 amino acids (which is considered to be a “complete” protein). These amino acids help our bodies make new proteins. 
  3. The lower quality of plant proteins (or “incomplete” proteins) are lacking one or more of the essential amino acids our bodies need.
  4. As a group plant proteins do contain all of the essential amino acids and are more efficient in replacing protein in our bodies. Plant proteins contain a steady stream of new proteins and is really the healthiest type of protein one can consume. 
“We now know that through enormously complex metabolic systems, the human body can derive all the essential amino acids from the natural variety of plant proteins that we encounter every day.” 
Campbell, T. Colin; Thomas M. Campbell II (2006-06-01). The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, We (p. 31).  
The next time someone initiates the “protein discussion” with me I will just have to smile and say “Nope, I get enough protein!” and let the conversation drop.  

There really is no need for me to explain. 

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