Protein is not a food group.
Yeah, I said it. Protein is NOT a food group and we need to stop treating it as such. It’s a macronutrient—a very important one at that.
The worldwide obsession and glorification of protein seems to be a hallmark of the 21st Century—and the demonization of other macronutrients like carbohydrates (and in the past, fats) has caused us to overconsume meat, dairy and eggs to the point where it has become detrimental to our health.
The “cholesterol doesn’t matter” camp has been gaining steam since the inception of the Atkins diet, and the surge in the Ketogenic diet fad has brought dietary cholesterol back with a vengeance.
High Fat/Low Carb and Low Fat/High Carb
High fat/low Carb diets (very popular) will lead to temporary weight loss. Low fat/high carb diets (less popular) will also lead to temporary weight loss. Both can easily lead to muscle loss and nutritional deficiencies and in my opinion, should not be considered long term diets. From my experience helping people on keto get through their diets, they tend to lose a lot of muscle, despite the exorbitant amounts of protein they consume.
Any body builder will tell you that you have to have carbs to put on muscle. Sadly, so many dieters are focused on the number on the scale, rather than the image they see in the mirror, or most importantly, how they feel.
My advice to anyone trying to lose weight/get fit/bulk up, would be to not eliminate any macronutrient category. Eliminate the foods that aren’t serving you (dairy, sugar, refined grains, alcohol, etc.) but don’t eliminate carbohydrates or fats.
They’re all macronutrients and they’re all important. And the good news is that we can get plenty of all three of these essential macronutrients through a plant-based diet.
Grains are Good
One of the easiest ways to get ample protein is to choose nutrient dense, hearty whole grains rather than their weak, processed and refined counterparts. Whole grains are far higher in protein and fiber than refined grains.
If we start to think of the bread as a protein/carbohydrate, then we will realize that the turkey, chicken, cow and pig parts in the middle of the sandwich aren’t actually necessary at all.
Let’s take Ezekiel Bread for example: Each slice of the classic Ezekiel 4:9 Bread has 4 grams of protein. It’s a complete protein, so it provides 8% of your daily value. You’re probably going to make your sandwich with 2 slices, so that puts you at 16% right there—and that’s just the bread! Slap a veggie burger in between those buns and you’re looking at another 10 to 20 grams of protein on that sandwich (1 Veggie Burger could potentially provide 50%-70% of your daily value of protein)
Ezekiel bread is just one of many examples. Whole grain rice, freekah, buckwheat, tabbouleh, quinoa (technically a seed, I know), steel cut oats—these are all excellent sources of both protein and fiber.
If you choose for refined wheat pasta, white rice, white bread, refined corn, etc., then of course you’re going to feel the need to fill that protein void. The white sesame seed bun you get from McDonald’s will not fill you up, which is why you crave a heavy protein patty in the middle of it.
Refined white pasta? Needs meatballs.
White Rice? Needs teriyaki chicken or raw fish.
White wheat tortilla? Needs ground beef.
To put it bluntly and very “vegany,” your shitty carbohydrate choices are causing you to overconsume filthy animal based proteins.
Carbs are NOT your enemy. Grow up and choose high quality, hearty whole grains. Get used to fiber. Start looking at your grains as proteins, and your whole nutritional point of view will start to shift.
Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit
And then how can we forget about legumes? They’re an excellent source of protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber. Forget the lectin controversy. If you’re eating thoroughly cooked beans, then it’s a non-issue. I won’t name any names, but let’s just say that there’s a lot of money to be made by selling “lectin blocker” supplements.
Here’s a short, level headed, evidence based video from NutritionFacts.org, that’ll explain the lectin issue.
Popeye was Vegan
Vegetables have become another overlooked source of protein, even though they used to be highly revered for the nutritive, muscle building properties. Remember Popeye? “I’m strong to the finish, ‘cause I eats me spinach!” There is nothing wimpy about eating greens. Previous generations understood this.
Cruciferious vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are known for their testosterone boosting effect on men, and hormone regulating effect on women. Cruciferous vegetables also have a liver cleansing benefit due to their natural Sulphorophane content. Spirulina and chlorella, both algae, are nature’s highest source of protein (gram per gram).
The Fungus Among Us
Although not technically a plant, mushrooms are another decent source of protein. Depending on the shroom, it will contain 2-3 grams of protein per cup (raw, sliced). Anyone who has ever cooked mushrooms know that that isn’t a lot of mushroom. It’s easy to get upwards of 10 grams of protein with a realistic helping of cooked mushrooms. If you haven’t ever tried Quorn, I highly recommend it. They are veggie patties made of mycoprotein. Remember the “chicken patty on bun” from your school cafeteria? Well, it tastes like that, only way better. Quorn has both a vegan and vegetarian line. The vegetarian line contains a bit of egg.
Seeds of Change
Nuts and seeds are arguably the most important source of plant based protein—with one cautionary note. Modern food processing has made it incredibly easy to overconsume nuts and seeds. Now they come shelled, roasted, salted, buttered, you name it. It’s never been easier to eat an abundance of nuts or seeds. Because of their ridiculously high fat content, this can lead to weight gain and incredibly high omega-6 levels. Sunflower seeds is probably the most blatant example. You could spend days getting through a bag of in-shell sunflower seeds, or just minutes eating the exact same amount of de-shelled, ready to eat sunflower seeds.
Some nuts can even be dangerous in high amounts. Brazil nuts are incredibly high in selenium, which is a very important mineral that’s lacking in the Standard American Diet (SAD). But 4-5 Brazil nuts is all it takes to get your daily recommended value of selenium. Beyond that, selenium toxicity can be a concern.
In their natural state, nuts and seeds are very difficult to get to. Imagine a squirrel opening up an acorn. It takes some work. Back when we were hunter-gatherers, nuts were an incredibly important staple of our diet. They store easily (just ask any squirrel) and they’re super nutrient dense. But the bottom line is the effort that it used to take to crack nuts open prevented us from overconsuming them. Now anyone can go to the store and down a jar of peanut butter in a depressive stupor without batting an eye (yes, I know peanuts are not technically nuts).
Protein is abundant in the plant and fungus kingdoms. Getting protein from an animal is like filtering your drinking water through a sewer. All nutrients originally come from plants. Animals get their protein from plants in one way or another. Whether they’re eating the plants directly (Rhino) or eating other animals (Cheetah).
So why don’t you be like one of the stronger animals and get your protein directly from the original source, you filthy, beautiful animal.