If you are publicly acknowledging that you are now eating a plant-based diet, I have no doubt that at least one person has asked you about your protein intake. Likely more than one person has asked and you may find yourself stumbling to answer this question and other questions regarding your new food choices. I have always found it interesting that no one was worried about my protein intake prior to my making diet changes. In fact, I frequently did not eat meat before publicly making my diet changes but no one worried about my protein then. But rather than point that out, I simply reply that my protein choices now are far more interesting, tasty, and healthy than meat. Now I choose between tofu, legumes (multiple types of beans, lentils, peas), nuts, seeds, nut butters, quinoa, and vegetables. Yes, vegetables (potatoes, spinach, broccoli, etc.) have protein as well as fiber and anti-oxidants which are not found in meat. If I am feeling cheeky, I may ask them “Have you ever wondered how large, plant-eating animals get their protein?”
It is a sad but true reality that protein deficiency is a problem in some countries and most often occurs in children in developing countries where famine and imbalanced diets are common. However, if you are living in the United States, or other developed countries, it is unlikely you will suffer from too little protein. Instead, eating too much protein is more of a problem. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the average American male consumes 102 grams of protein per day, while the average female eats about 70 grams. That’s almost twice the daily recommended intake. People are far more likely to consume way too little fiber than too little protein but this fact doesn’t seem to concern people. The evidence is clearer than ever that eating a diet high in fiber can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. For example, every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily – slightly less than a cup of beans – can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 10 percent. And by the way, beans are a good source of protein with a 1/2 cup of chickpeas containing approximately 7 grams.
The “protein question” often arises during a meal and the dialog above is a lot to remember and share just to answer the protein question which often is followed by the B12 and calcium questions. The entire conversation begins to drag on while your food, that you are about to consume, is getting cold and/or you are getting hungrier. So, your response may be influenced by your personality, the amount of time you have, the nature of the question, and relationship with the person asking. Early in my plant-based journey, I was so excited to share my new way of eating because I wanted others to reap the benefits of plant-based eating. I soon found that the “innocent” questions disguised as concern for eating such a non-Western way were really just a way to find fault and a way to bolster their personal reasons to continue eating meat, dairy, and eggs. I quickly found out, and you may have also, that people are very defensive about their food choices and frequently feel threatened when someone is breaking out of the box and eating a new way. Once I figured that out, life became so much easier. I stopped trying to explain why I eat the way I do. I don’t ask others to explain their food choices to me so I don’t feel compelled to explain mine. Now I use a line I learned from a lecture given by Dr. Doug Lyle. My new response became: “I thought I would give this new way a try and it seems to be working for me”. However, if someone is truly interested I do elaborate and include all the benefits (more energy, weight loss, no constipation, etc.) I have derived from eating plant-based. Plus, eating this way is better for the animals and the environment which is an added bonus.
If you are the type of person that wants to develop an evidence-based response I recommend you read the volumes of information put out by the “plant-based gurus”. This will enable you to really become well versed in the science behind the health claims of a plant-based diet. Some suggestions to get started are:
Neil Barnard at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) https://www.pcrm.org/
T. Colin Campbell, PhD at Nutrition Studies: https://nutritionstudies.org/
Michael Greger, MD at https://nutritionfacts.org/
Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/
John McDougall, MD. https://www.drmcdougall.com/
Dean Ornish at https://www.ornish.com/
If you prefer to not engage and educate, then I have found that saying less is more. Choose a topic to discuss that does not involve what foods you are eating and why. With that said, some people truly are interested and want to learn about what you are doing. In that case, as mentioned above, I carefully share my experience with the plant-based lifestyle and will often even offer them a bite of my food. Remember, remain true to yourself and know that there will be naysayers but also know that there is a growing community of people who are choosing a healthier way of eating. Find them, follow them, read their books and blogs. The plant-based lifestyle is growing which is exciting because that means that many people will start to feel better, be healthier, and hopefully live longer active lives.
Keep eating plants!
VegHead Speaks podcast can be heard on Anchor, Spotify, Overcast, Google Podcast, Breaker, Castbox, RadioPublic and Apple Podcasts