It may be the most common asked question a vegetarian or vegan ever get. In fact, how much protein do you think we need? I certainly didn’t knew before I started reading about it. Many official health groups, including The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. National Academies’ Institute of Medicine recommends that eating 10 % of our total calories as protein is sufficient. In fact, most of us are already eating 16 % or less of our calories from protein, it’s even hard to get more than 16 % on a any diet out there1.
Have you ever met anyone with an protein deficiency? It’s extremely rare in the Western world. All plant foods contain protein and to consume less than 5 % of protein is difficult to avoid if you’re eating enough food for your caloric needs. Even if you ate a diet of only white rice (which of course is not recommended) you would consume 8 % of your calories from protein. Studies in which humans have been fed potatoes alone, or corn alone or rice alone, have all shown that these plant foods does not only contain enough protein, but enough of all the essential amino acids to support growth and maintenance of healthy adults2. The following list shows the protein content of common foods in percentage of calories. As shown vegetables range from 10-30 % protein and fruits, potatoes and rice range from 4-10 % protein.
High protein diet or high fat diets?
But how come that when we think we’re consuming high protein products, we’re still only getting 16 % of our calories from protein? The truth is that most of our commonly consumed protein foods such as meat, eggs, diary, nuts and seeds contains an overwhelming amount of fat, that the number of protein significantly drops as a percentage of total calories consumed. For example, eggs contains 60 % fat, cheese contains 72 % fat and beef contains 60 % fat of total calories. So when we’re think we’re eating a high protein diet, we’re actually eating a high fat diet.
Protein for muscle growth
But don’t we need protein for muscle growth? In fact, only weight bearing exercise builds muscle. At what point in our lives do we grow the most and are in greatest need of building blocks? The answer is as growing infants. Mother’s milk provides on average 6 % of calories from protein. This should be the significant proof that infants, with extremely rapid rate of growth, do not need more protein, so why should a fully developed human adult need more? If you’re sceptical, just look at the Vegan Bodybuilders that’s out there, where do you think they get their protein from?
1. The only way one can eat more than 20 % of the calories from protein is by strictly eating a diet of refined protein powder and egg whites. Only 5 % of the Americans eat more than 21 % of their calories from protein.
2. For more information, visit the The Vegetarian Resource Group.