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Vegan Diet, Am I Getting Enough Protein?

Vegan Diet Myth Busting: Am I getting enough protein?

Vegan diet, am I getting enough protein?

Reduce your environmental impact by eating a vegan diet

While the idea of veganism has moved away from hippies and rabbit food, vegan myths and misconceptions aren’t exactly in short supply. Researchers from the University of Oxford suggest that eating a vegan diet could be the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on earth, in some cases by up to 73%, however, many myths circulate that put people off giving it a go. This mini-series will attempt to debunk the most off-putting myths, in the hope it will encourage readers to at least try a more plant-based diet.

Myth No.1: Vegans don’t get enough protein

By far the most common myth surrounding veganism is that it doesn’t enable you to consume as much protein as necessary. Firstly, although protein is vital for survival, we don’t need as much as is commonly believed. In fact, recommended amounts have halved in recent years, due to chronic diseases occurring that are linked to excessive consumption of animal protein. Studies suggest that a safe requirement of protein per day is 8% of total energy consumption, so put simply, you’d practically have to be starving to be protein deficient. In the UK, the daily reference nutrient intake for protein is 0.75g per kg of body weight, which works out as 56g/day and 45g/day for men and women of average build, respectively. The actual average daily intake of dietary protein is 88g for men and 64g for women. The UK population is not protein deficient.

The myth that we should eat large amounts of protein stems back to the beginning of last century where people started to believe it was essential for health, fitness, and even curing child malnutrition. However, wartime studies in the UK by Widdowson and McCance, …

…found that orphanage children grew faster than the general population when they ate a bread-based diet, with only a small fraction (14 percent) of their protein coming from milk products. The orphanage children grew no faster when nearly half of their protein was from milk! Bread provided the children with plenty of energy to support their growth, whilst meeting more than double their protein needs.

This isn’t to say that protein isn’t important in our diets, as it’s vital for muscle, hair, nail and collagen growth, alongside the function of important organs in our bodies. However, protein deficiency is almost always a result of energy deficiency, so is not something to worry about as long you’re eating a balanced diet. By eating a wide range of whole plant-based foods, you will get all the nutrition, amino acids, and protein you need. Whilst animal products tend to have a higher concentration of protein vs plant-based protein, they also have a higher level of saturated fat and cholesterol, so you can often bank on the vegetarian option being the healthier choice. Excess animal protein is linked with kidney disease, osteoporosis, cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Now you know that a swap to plant-based proteins won’t swindle your muscles, it’s important to touch base on the bigger picture. A recent study found that 57% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production come from meat and dairy products, showing just how critical cutting meat production is. As much as we tend to immediately point our fingers at the oil giants when it comes to climate change, the world’s five biggest meat and dairy producers emit more combined greenhouse gases than ExxonMobil, Shell, or BP, the top three oil production companies, according to a report by GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Sadly, many people believe that their impact alone isn’t enough to make a dent, but research from our own carbon calculator suggests that eating 75g of beef every day for a year is equivalent to driving a car across the United States 2.5 times (7,196).

To summarise

Plant proteins can do a better job of meeting your protein needs than animal products, both because they are less concentrated sources of protein (making it less likely that you’ll get too much) and because they are more likely to be present with other nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and healthy fats. Moreover, whilst a swap to a plant-based diet will support your welfare, it also supports the planet. Finally, labels such as ‘vegan’ make plant-based swaps feel like a scary commitment. Your contribution to helping save the planet is all about small, incremental changes that are realistic and achievable. So, we’re not saying to immediately bin the beef for beans, but a few mindful swaps make a great start and a great difference.

This is Part 1 of a mini-series on the myths about Veganism. The rest of the series will cover the below topics in detail. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

  • Protein Part 2 (inc. amino acids + complete proteins)
  • Essential Oils vs Overfishing
  • Animal Farming vs Grain Farming
  • Animal Farming vs Grain Farming Part 2

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