The Protein Myth

This idea that we all need more protein is a myth. We are not running around protein-deficient, despite what all the ads promoting protein drinks and bars would have you believe.  Only about 3% of adults in the United States don’t get enough protein*. The rest of us get almost twice what we need. Every day. Even vegans and vegetarians. Cute boy and girl nerd looking at the laptop with surprise.

In a recent study of 50,000 people found that vegans, vegetarians and omnivores all get close to the same amount of protein in their diets. Are you surprised? Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables are all rich in plant-based protein.

When we eat a variety of plant foods we get complete protein, without the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes along with animal foods. And make no mistake, saturated fat and cholesterol in our diets are not our friends.

Eating a lot of animal protein has been linked to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, cancer, and obesity in study after study. They keep doing more studies because so many people don’t like the results, but the results are always the same.

Know what 97% of us are lacking in our diets? Fiber. And we are lacking a lot. On average we get less than half the fiber we need each day. Getting enough fiber is linked with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Natural fiber (the healthy kind) is found only in plant foods. That means whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruits.

Vegans and vegetarians are the only people getting enough fiber on a regular basis. And they have the lowest rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, inflammation and cancer.

See the connection here? The very same foods that are loaded with natural, health-promoting fiber are also loaded with plant-based proteins. You get it all, in one meal. Easy and simple and worry free. If you are getting enough natural fiber (not candy bars with added fiber), you are also getting enough protein. And you are probably feeling energetic and strong too.

The takeaway here is instead of reaching for a protein bar (they are usually full of sugar) or a piece of chicken/turkey/cheese as a snack, grab a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts or trail mix. Other good options are a bag of veggie slices or whole grain crackers and some hummus or bean dip; or low-fat/fat-free yogurt and fruit; or whole grain toast and smashed-up avocado.

It will put you in the top 3%. Right where you belong.

 

* The exception is the elderly, they often do not eat enough food in general and are more likely to be protein-deficient.

 

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