Protein and Health on Vegan or Meat-Free (Vegetarian) Diets

In some vegan/vegetarian groups, people are rather alarmist about this idea that “PEOPLE ARE GETTING TOO MUCH PROTEIN ALREADY.” Really? Says who?

Is too much protein harmful?

I haven’t seen any reputable sources that say that getting too much protein is harmful (assuming you don’t have medical issues that require a low-protein diet). Eating too many calories and ending up with unwanted weight gain, or eating too much sodium, nitrates, saturated fat, trans fats, sugars, yes, I’ve seen issues with those. Often times protein is PACKAGED with those other things (and it ALWAYS comes with calories), but … is the protein itself a problem? Not from what I’ve seen.

If you’ve got information to the contrary, showing that the protein itself is a problem, please share. I’m not an expert of any of this, just sharing what I’ve seen reported by reputable sources. But I haven’t seen or read everything. I’m always ready to learn.

Is getting enough protein automatic?

On the flip side, some folks in the vegan/vegetarian communities promote misleading ideas like the following, paired with a dismissive attitude, “If you’re getting enough calories (and you’re not eating a junk food diet), you’re automatically getting enough protein … so it’s silly to even bother with protein … in fact, let’s make memes dismissing anyone who asks about animal-free sources of protein.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve seen, many people are not meeting minimum protein targets. Yes, some of the people are starving children, or adults living in poverty, but some of them are financially OK adults who do not regularly include protein-rich foods in their diet. Isn’t that true? It certainly was the case for me. Before I started taking note of regularly including beans, lentils, soy, seitan and other protein-rich vegan foods, I was getting only 30 grams of protein per day, as a financially OK adult following a vegan-based diet.

Is extra protein actually helpful to your health?

On top of that, some studies have shown that getting protein beyond the minimum requirements can be helpful for preventing muscle loss and frailty, maintaining a desired body weight, and recovering from illness or injuries, especially for older adults.

Optimal Protein Intake Guide |

Quoting the article above:

Notably, doubling protein intake from 0.8 to 1.6 g/kg has been shown to significantly increase lean body mass in elderly men.[58] Similar observations have been made in elderly women who increase their protein intake from 0.9 to 1.4 g/kg.[59] Even a small increase in protein intake from 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg has minor benefits towards lean mass and overall body composition.[60]So how much protein should you get?

Sedentary but healthy seniors: 1.0–1.2 g/kg (0.45–0.54 g/lb)
Sick or injured seniors: 1.2–1.5 g/kg (0.54–0.68 g/lb)
Seniors wishing to lose weight: 1.5–2.2 g/kg (0.68–1.00 g/lb)
Seniors wishing to build muscle: 1.7–2.0 g/kg (0.77–0.91 g/lb)

In addition, higher protein intake, as long as calcium intake is sufficient, is important for the prevention of osteoporosis and fragility fractures.

Protein Intake and Bone Health

Sufficient protein intake is important if you are planning to embark on a weight loss program as well.

So, it seems to me, protein is pretty important, and getting enough is not “automatic.” Correct me if I’m wrong there. I’ve been wrong plenty of times, and I’ve got no problem being wrong again.

More Resources for Protein

While we are here, here are some resources on meeting protein needs on a vegan diet. Registered Dietitians Ginny Messina and Jack Norris are good sources for science-based nutrition information.

Now, for some Frequently Asked Questions. #1. If you read it on a vegan propaganda site, does that mean it’s true?

When I first went vegan more than 15 years ago, I heard the ideas about getting enough protein being automatic, or that too much protein is actually harmfut. Sometimes, well-intentioned vegans and vegetarians try to “educate” me about these ideas, now. Previously, I believed the same things, too, just because everything was new and overwhelming. However, when I looked into it more, I realized that much of it wasn’t based on peer-reviewed science.

For example, in some of the studies touted by PCRM (Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, which I’ve donated money to, in the past), they sometimes imply that a mostly vegan diet can cure people of X or Y. What they don’t advertise is that a percentage of people dropped out of the study, meaning that there isn’t any report on what happened to them. Quite possibly, the “mostly vegan” diet didn’t work for those folks and that’s why they quit. But they aren’t included in the final numbers.

#2. Does the science show that a vegan diet cures or prevents cancer, diabetes and other diseases?

Another big myth in vegan and vegetarian circles is that one can prevent many different disease outcomes with a vegan or meatless diet. But, reputable science (as far as I know) doesn’t show that a vegan or meat-free diet is REQUIRED for preventing any particular sort of illness. What reputable science shows is that it is indeed POSSIBLE to be just as healthy, if not more so, than your contemporaries who are consuming meat, fish, dairy products, and/or eggs, if you are following a meat-free and/or vegan diet. But following such a vegan or meatless diet is not REQUIRED for good health.

#3. Are you saying that EVERYONE can be healthy on a vegan diet?

To clarify, my use of the word “you” doesn’t imply that it’s possible for EVERYONE to be just as healthy as their contemporaries. Some people are afflicted with disease or illness, and they won’t be as healthy as their contemporaries, no matter what they eat. Also, some people have food allergies or other medical restrictions which prevent them from following a vegan or meat-free diet, as not enough suitable, allergy-friendly meat-free or animal-free options are available to them. What we’re talking about is the fact that it’s possible for a person without other dietary or health restrictions to be as healthy as their contemporaries if following a well-planned vegan diet or meat-free (vegetarian) diet, assuming sufficient options are available to them, of course.

#4. Wait a minute … is diet the only thing determining people’s health outcomes?

Remember: other factors (examples: getting enough exercise, getting quality sleep, managing stress, maintaining in-person social connections, and … alas, genetics!) can be just as important to good health as diet.

Vegans and vegetarians, some of your contemporaries who are eating meat, cheese, and eggs on a daily basis, are just as healthy as you are, and some of them will outlive you. Maybe they exercised regularly, and you didn’t, maybe they had more help with stress management (example: well-supported mom with husband, grandparents, all helping out, versus a single mom with no support, going it alone), maybe they had more favorable genes, maybe they lived in a wealthier neighborhood with cleaner air, less noise pollution and better drinking water; the possibilities are endless.

#5. So what is this, some kind of ANTI-VEGAN SITE ?????

The next thing I often here from baffled vegans and vegetarians … ‘Well, if you don’t believe that meat is poison or that eggs and dairy products are toxic, and if you don’t believe that a meat-free, vegetarian and/or vegan diet is automatically better, health-wise, doesn’t that make you a paid shill for the meat, fish, dairy and egg industries?”

NO, ACTUALLY, I FOLLOW A VEGAN-BASED DIET. But if anyone from the meat, fish, dairy and egg industries wants to give me money to promote vegan options, I’ll gladly take it. LOL.

“Oh, Then, why are you following a vegan-based diet?”

The reason why I avoid animal products is because I don’t want turkeys, chickens, geese, pigs, cows, fish, shrimp, and other animals to be harmed for my food when I’ve got so many other options.

Yes, I’m aware that I could be just as healthy, regularly eating animal products that are low in saturated fat, low in sodium, with low to zero nitrate content. However, I’d rather show that I can be just as healthy, generally NOT EATING animal products. Why? Because, the more of us who exist, who can show that we are getting nutritious, delicious food WITHOUT animal products, the more people will see that they can do it, too.

#6. Why do you keep asking other people to contribute their stories and recipes, too?

It can’t just be me setting an example. People have different needs in terms of food allergies, medical conditions, calorie needs, budget restraints, cultural context, and other considerations. Therefore, the more variety of people we have trouble-shooting and figuring out animal-free and/or more animal-friendly* recipes that work for them, the better.

*Doesn’t have to be 100% animal-free; any reduction or switch to a less harmful alternative is helpful.

When more people are choosing animal-free and/or more animal-friendly meals, hopefully that will eventually translate to fewer and fewer animals being harmed. And I hope that it will translate to a smaller environmental footprint, too. In my mind, that would mean more clean air, fresh water, unpolluted land, unpolluted oceans available for everyone. Clean, unpolluted air, water and land will be helpful to everyone, human beings and other animals included.

All of this is why we have the facebook group, Let’s Go Vegan-ish. And that is why we have this blog, VEGANISH.WORLD. If you are a regular contributor in Let’s Go Vegan-ish and would like to contribute to the blog, let me know! Would love to add more authors from diverse backgrounds.


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