Eat Well and the Protein Will Follow

Because we're still relatively "new" to this vegan thing, we are constantly reading nutritional advice from people / places we feel are credible. I was leafing through Andrew Weil's new book, The Healthy Kitchen, and read this interesting tidbit:

More and more enlightened dietitians recommend that people move toward "plant-based" diets to reduce disease risks and improve well-being. That does not mean forgoing all animal foods and sticking to salad bars when you eat out. It does mean unlearning the habit of organizing meals around centerpieces of meat and poultry and becoming acquainted with the great variety of satisfying protein-rich dishes that can be made from vegetarian ingredients. Populations that eat plant-based diets live longer and enjoy better health than populations whose protein sources match those on the list above.

By the way, according to Dr. Weil we are far from not getting enough protein. Most Americans get too much, often taking in their whole day's needs with a typical breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and milk. If you're young and healthy, that's not a problem, excess protein is excreted from the body in urine and fecal matter. But eating too much protein can be particularly taxing on the kidneys if you older or have certain health conditions.

Of course, being vegan, excess protein is not a problem we typically have to worry about. The conventional wisdom is that plant proteins are somehow deficient and vegans / vegetarians suffer for it. According to Dr. Weil, that is not the case. We can get adequate amounts of protein in our diet through plant foods (whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts, and soy), and soy protein is equivalent to the protein we would get from animal products.

His dietary recommendations are that daily calories should be divided as follows (for everyone, vegan or not): 40 to 50 percent from carbohydrates (including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, starchy roots and tubers, and legumes), 30 percent from fat, and 20 to 30 percent from protein, which amounts to between 100 and 150 grams on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet.

Dr. Weil also recommends that we vegans pay particular attention to the following nutrients: vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Essential Fatty Acids, and Vitamin D. Click here for further reading on his specific recommendations for these nutrients.

Finally, Dr. Weil feels that a varied vegetarian diet is much healthier than the average American diet and will provide you with more than enough protein.

6 Comments on Eat Well and the Protein Will Follow

  1. Thanks Kara,
    We’re not runners although I used to run 24 mi/ week before I had both knees scoped. I miss it!
    I used to eat a lot more carbs back then.
    We’re still working on finding the proper balance for our nutritional needs, but this percentage seems to work well for us.

  2. One good way to see if you’re getting enough nutrients is to track your daily eating for a week or two with a computer food diary program that monitors such things. There are a few products on the market that do that for you or you can do it yourself if you take really good notes, use info online or in books about food nutrient content, and can do math ­čÖé

    Another good idea is to go get a doctor’s check up and have your bloodwork done. Then redo your bloodwork in a few months and see what it looks like.

    I personally believe that unless you have a strong dislike of fruits, nuts, and vegetables or an eating disorder, it’s really difficult to go seriously wrong with a vegan diet. So long as you eat a wide variety of vegan foods (grains and beans, plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and some nuts and oils) you’re likely to do well.

    The one think to worry about is B12, which you can get in nutritional yeast, fortified foods like store-bought cereal, or a supplement.

  3. Hi Elaine,
    Thanks for the info. I feel that we’re doing OK, but Jane is a tad concerned since she’s the one who’s feeding us. I find this humorous, since she never worried about the nutrient content of our meals when we were eating meat.
    For the most part we eat very well, but there are the occasional days where protein is definitely lacking. We take a B supplement every day, and a calcium supplement along with our daily multi and Jane tends to add nutritional yeast to a lot of our meals. We tend to eat a ton of fruits and veggies.
    I think I will look into getting a nutritional tracking program, it will provide that last bit of peace of mind. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. To All Our Readers:
    Jane and I have been paying attention to our food intake for the past few weeks. Although we haven’t been tracking our exact intake of foods, anecdotal evidence would support the fact that protein, for Jane at least, is something to think about, (but still not obsess over).
    I have a smoothie with brown rice protein powder every morning which is more than 25 grams of protein. Jane likes to have a piece of fruit or tea and toast. No real protein there.
    She’s found that on days when she doesn’t focus on getting a substantial hit of protein in at least one meal, she’s very sluggish. So we’re paying a bit more attention to our nutritional intake. You can read this post for further information and links on nutritional recommendations for vegans.

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