On Protein and The Vegan Diet

I've never had any real nutritional education. I took a class in college, and I vaguely remember learning a little about the "basic 4" food groups when I was in grade school. Neither of these classes went into any depth, but I did learn that food is comprised of macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate, and fats; and micronutrients: vitamins and minerals. I also learned that protein was very important, perhaps the most important macronutrient, and that protein should comprise the base of all our meals. Our proteins wear out regularly and must be replaced, and in order to do this, we must consume protein. Assuming I received a typical education, it's not surprising that the first question I hear when I mention I've gone vegan is "where do you get your protein?"

T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, calls protein "the most sacred of all nutrients." Indeed amino acids, which make up protein, are considered the building blocks of life. Eight of those amino acids are called the "essential" amino acids as we cannot make them ourselves, we need to ingest them.

Campbell goes on to discuss that idea of "quality" proteins, those proteins which provide the right kinds of amino acids in the right quantities needed to create the proteins required for us to survive. Apparently, human flesh is the most efficient food we can eat, in that it provides the correct amount of amino acids our bodies require. Since cannibalism is not something we typically engage in unless we've got some fava beans and a nice chianti (referencing The Silence of the Lambs), most of us look to animal flesh for our protein. Plant proteins make us work harder. We can get all eight of the essential amino acids by eating plant proteins, we just have to eat a variety of plants to do so. Extrapolating here... that means we could eat a steak and get what we need, or eat a variety of plants to get those same nutrients. When we had to work hard to get our food, it behooved us to eat meat if we could.  But in today's era when food is readily available, and produce can always be gotten at the local grocery store, we can get the nutrients we need without consuming animal products. According to Dr. Campbell, "plant protein, which allows for slow but steady synthesis of new proteins, is the healthiest type of protein."

I've only started this book and have just gotten through the second chapter. You can read Skinny Bitchor take your cue from Oprah and read Quantum Wellness. Those books will give you the ethical and spiritual motivations to try or continue with a vegan diet. But if you want to understand the medical reasons to be vegan, you should probably read The China Study.

You can find links to additional nutritional information on our Resources page.

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Comments

  1. Good call! I’m a little over half way through this book and before this point I never considered a plant based diet to actually be healthier. I was under the impression that it was vegan for ethical reasons (the environment, animal treatment, etc.). But now . . . the data is pretty astounding. This is a vegan must read.

  2. Everyone must read that book. It takes a close look at animal derived protein and concludes that for people who have abundant plant sources of food, animal food (meat, dairy, eggs) is not only unnecessary, but actually dangerous. Numerous studies show that animal proteins tend to trigger disease such as cancer, diabetes (both types), MS, heart disease, and many others. There are multiple causes, but with the introduction of animal foods, the underlying risk factors (genetic predisposition, exposure to carcinogen, virus, etc.) barely matter. Someone who is predisposed to Diabetes (both types) is far less likely to get Diabetes if they eat a plant-based diet than if they eat an animal-based diet.

  3. Hi Nate,
    It’s funny, Jane started us on this road for health reasons, but after watching Earthlings, we don’t think we could ever go back to an omnivorous diet. Perhaps the occasional slice of pizza when we’re in NY, but other than that… we’re vegans. This book is serving to reinforce our health concerns.

    Hi Elaine,
    Yes, I’d agree that everyone needs to read this book. Jane’s even considering buying a copy for our physician!

  4. Thanks for the book recommendation, Lane. Even as a vegetarian, I get asked the protein question every time the subject comes up. It’s ridiculous. I will pick the book up the first chance I get.

  5. Hi Lee,
    It’s really a good book. I have to say it’s a tad dry though. There’s a lot of data and text about the science… which validates his findings in my opinion, but it’s not a book to read in bed. — Unless your a science geek and this stuff excites you! ;-)

  6. The China Study is great. I’ve given it to several nonvegan family members already. I think Becoming Vegan by B. Davis & V. Melina is another essential book that answers allllllll the questions re: vegan nutrition, if you are interested in that. They’ve redone the “food pyramid” for vegans–I hung it on my fridge. (There are even sections on pregnancy, raising children, and how to be a vegan teen, and special concerns for seniors. It’s terrific.)

  7. Hi Essie,
    We just got Becoming Vegan out of the library. We’re both really behind on our vegan reading though. We’ve got 6 vegan books on the nightstand.
    Yes, we have a link to the veg*n food pyramid on our Vegan Resources page.

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