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Protein -- Animal-based Protein vs. Plant-Based Protein

for your health Nov 09, 2021

As a vegetarian working toward a vegan lifestyle, I am often asked questions about my nutrition. The truth is, prior to going vegetarian I wasn’t paying close attention to my nutrition and that hadn’t changed much once I made this choice over 3 years ago. 

A year and a half into this pandemic, I found myself feeling lost. I’d lost live gigs, I’d lost the 2 mile walk to and from work Monday-Friday. I’d lost income. I’d lost time spent visiting family. I’d remained single. I’d started turning to alcohol more casually and less physical activity. I could feel my whole life slipping away. 

I wasn’t moving my body like I’d used to. I wasn’t challenging my mind creatively. I wasn’t living in connection to my spirituality. I began going through the motions of a life unlived which to the few of you who know me, is quite the opposite of who I am. I lost myself. 

And then one day, I woke up.

I won’t sit here and say there aren’t still days that I feel lost. This is an ongoing journey for me, but something inside my mind shifted this year. A consciousness for new things began to arise. I was no longer just interested in reducing my waste and minimizing my shopping habits, but for mindful consumption. I found myself questioning what news I was consuming and how often, what people I was “following” and how often I paid attention to others’ social media posts. I began looking at what food I was eating, what things I was drinking, and how often I mindlessly reach for either of those things as ways to numb my mind.

After going vegetarian, I’d gotten really used to saying “I eat beans” anytime someone asked where I got my protein. This wasn’t because I knew anything about protein, but was because I was sick of people questioning my choices. But now, now when I hear these questions, I’m learning to lean into them. Instead of finding a quick way to end the conversation, I’m opening the conversation even further. I don’t justify my choices, (as none of us ever need to) but I give more in-depth responses because I feel that this is how we, as humans, continue to grow. We don’t grow by halting conversations but rather by diving into them more fully.

So — for anyone reading and wondering “but where DO you get your protein?” this blog post is for you. It’s for you and it’s for me as a reminder of all of the different places that protein is hiding that bring us more good than harm.

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NOTE: As a current student of the mindbodygreen Functional Nutrition program, what I am sharing is a result of my studies via this program and alternative resources, today’s post including research from as The China Study. With any and all of this information, please consult your doctor and/or nutritionist prior to making any adjustments to your lifestyle.

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People come to vegetarianism and veganism for a variety of reasons, some of the main reasons being animal rights and environmental concerns, but health concerns are another incredible benefit to these lifestyles.

Whatever your decision for making this lifestyle change, you are bound to see positive changes in your body when approaching these lifestyles with a deeper knowledge of nutrition.

A bit about protein:

In the mid to late 1800s, scientists had found that “man” needed only 48.5 grams of protein per day, yet recommended 118 grams per day due to the cultural bias at that time. Success, after all, meant having a lot of animal protein on your dining room table.

Based on studies regarding cancer growth and animal-based protein, humans should only be getting about 10% of our energy from protein (5-6% required but varies from person to person). The average American, however, consumes 15-16% protein with our government recommending 17-21%, leading to increased risk in cancer growth.

When these same studies were performed using plant-based proteins, they did not promote cancer even at higher levels of intake.

Protein is a vital component of our bodies. Protein is constructed as long chains of hundreds of thousands of amino acids which wear out on a regular basis and need to be replaced as a result. There are approximately 8 amino acids needed for making our tissue proteins which are not created naturally within our bodies, therefore, we must find them in the food that we eat. ALL of these essential amino acids are able to be found in a variety of plants.

While there are MANY more benefits to consuming whole, plant-based diets, a few reasons to opt for plant protein over animal protein, as found in The China Study, are:

  1. Consumption of animal protein increases tumor development.
  2. Consumption of plant protein decreases tumor development.
  3. Cows milk protein can and has been proven to initiate Type 1 diabetes in babies.
  4. Animal protein increases the acid load in the body. In order to neutralize the acid, the body must use calcium from the bones which causes bone weakness and greater risk for fractures. 

For many, many years, we’ve been fed the narrative that cow’s milk and chicken make us grow stronger, and while there is plenty of protein to be found in chicken, it does not come without some pretty crazy side effects. Luckily for all of us, we can find our protein in far more places than just chicken or beans.

Foods such as nuts, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, etc.), seeds, and vegetables are ALL places in which we can find protein along with other incredible vitamins and nutrients. Foods such as quinoa, hemp seeds, kale, chickpeas, and spinach are all prime examples of places to find protein without a need for animal-based products. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot of truth behind Popeye growing stronger and stronger from consuming a lot of spinach. ;)

So, next time you’re looking to add a little extra protein into your diet, I encourage you to dive a little deeper into where you’re getting your protein as well as the full range of its effects. If not for the sake of the animals and the environment, for the sake of your health.

Cheers!
xx, jamie

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