Do I Need Meat For Protein? Discussing the Myths Surrounding Protein Sources
As vegans or followers of a plant-based diet, we hear it all of the time; “don’t you need meat for protein?” It is a fair question, but it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of where protein comes from. The reality is that true protein deficiency is almost unheard of in developed countries. Vitamin deficiency, however, is most definitely real. In a 2019 research study involving 270 apparently healthy adults ranging in age between 30 and 70, it was concluded that “the prevalence of deficiency of vitamins B2 (50%), B6 (46%), B12 (46%), folate (32%), and vitamin D (29%) was strikingly high”.
What is protein anyway?
Protein is absolutely vital to human health. Without it, we can’t make muscle, bone, skin, blood, connective tissue, enzymes, antibodies, and hormones; we would literally cease to be. At a biochemical level, proteins are made up of one or more chains of amino acids which perform a mind-boggling array of functions including carrying molecules, providing the scaffolding required for cells, and catalysing metabolic reactions.
How much protein do I need?
Estimates vary as to how much protein an adult should consume per day. In the UK, the average adult requires 0.6g – 0.75g of protein per kilogram body weight per day. On average, this equates to 88g for men and 64g for women.
While there is a minimum amount of protein we can eat, the human body is remarkably resourceful in that it will convert any excess into energy for later use. Carbohydrate should, however, be the primary source of energy for the human body (and to a lesser extent, fat).
Protein content within plants
Vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes pack a punch when it comes to protein content. The king of protein in the plant world, the humble lentil, contain 9g per ½ cup. Chickpeas have 7 g of protein per ½ Cup, 85g of tofu contains 8g of protein, ¼ cup of nuts can provide 6g of protein, and a cup of oats contains in the region of 6g of protein. It is easy to see how by choosing the correct staple ingredients, it is possible to consume plenty of protein.
Your body needs 20 different amino acids to function. These are split into nine essential-amino acids which the body cannot produce itself, and 11 amino-acids which must come from food. Animal proteins contain all of the essential amino acids we need, whereas this is not the case for all plant-derived foods (quinoa does contain all of the essential amino-acids).
But this is not the whole story. Consuming meat from animals, especially red meat (and even worse, processed meat) is linked to cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. The same cannot be said of plant-based food sources.
Those who follow a plant-based diet can ensure they consume all of the essential amino-acids by simply varying their diet to include a wide range of plant food sources.
So, in answer to the question, “do I need meat for protein”, the answer is a resounding no. The documentary, Game Changers, is an excellent source of information and inspiration for anyone who needs to be convinced that the human body cannot perform at the highest levels without meat. Many of the world’s elite athletes in all disciplines, including weight-lifting and body-building, have embraced a plant-based vegan diet and are even seeing better performance as a result. If it is good enough for them, perhaps you should try it?