Want Protein? Eat Your Veggies

Protein: The Latest “It” Nutrient
By now everyone’s heard about the latest “it” nutrient. It’s protein, and everyone wants a piece of it — food manufacturers, marketers and consumers alike. It’s one nutrient you can count on, one that hasn’t yet been linked to diet-related diseases like heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. A diet rich in protein, moreover, can aid weight loss by making you feel fuller longer. Protein also happens to be an important building block of every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies. What’s not to like about protein?

Meat as Protein Source
As protein surges in popularity, meat has actually been on the decline. U.S. meat consumption is projected to fall by more than 12% from 2007 to the end of 2012. As Care2′s Jaelithe Judy reported, the reasons for the decline can be explained by economic forces (beef prices were at a record high in December 2011), public awareness of the environmental damage done in producing meat on an industrial scale and public concern about the health risks associated with eating it. Dr. Robert Lawrence, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future and one of the founding partners of the Meatless Monday campaign, told FoodNavigator-USA.com that “health remains the number one reason that people are changing their habits.”

Yet meat has one thing going for it. It’s a solid source of protein, and thanks to the meat industry’s crafty marketing and messaging strategies, Americans now equate protein with meat, meat with protein. Many Americans, moreover, believe that complete protein nutrition and the “highest quality” protein can only be obtained from meat.

One way to make people forget about the overwhelming scientific evidence against eating meat, writes food activist and public health lawyer Michele Simon, “is to conflate the idea of meat with a nutrient that we do in fact need: protein. And all signs indicate that this spin has worked. If you ask Americans why they eat meat, one of the top answers (if not the No. 1 answer) would likely be, for the protein.”

Plant Foods As Protein Powerhouses
The good news is that you can get your protein elsewhere, and it’s just as good as any protein from meat. “Calorie for calorie, green veggies — such as romaine lettuce, broccoli, and kale — have twice as much protein as steak,” says Janice Stanger, author of “The Perfect Formula Diet,” as cited on the Good Food Project website. As vegans and vegetarians have known all along, a whole foods, plant-based diet provides more than adequate amounts of protein.

But what about the argument that protein from plants is incomplete and that a plant-based diet can place you at risk for deficiency in one or more of the “essential” amino acids — amino acids that our bodies cannot synthesize on their own and that have to be obtained from the foods we eat?

In a 2009 position paper on vegetarian diets, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) said: “Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids… thus, complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal.”

“The difference between animal and vegetable proteins,” NYU professor of nutrition Marion Nestle explains, “is in the content of certain amino acids. If vegetable proteins are mixed, the differences get made up. Even if they aren’t mixed, all you need to do to get the right amount of low amino acids is to eat more of that food.” A combination of vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains can and do easily provide for our protein requirements, so as Nestle says, “there is no ‘need’ for animal proteins at all.”

No Need for Animal Proteins At All
The meat industry, of course, would beg to differ, especially because “meat as protein” appears to be the only remaining argument it can make in favor of eating meat for health. And on this premise it will continue to use the considerable funds and resources it has at its disposal to convince Americans that they cannot possibly get by without meat. The ADA, on the other hand, says that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

So protein is not a reason to eat meat. You can get plenty of it and the best kind from a plant-based diet. This holiday weekend, you might try grilling up some eggplant, summer squash and corn instead of hot dogs, burgers and chicken. Follow it up with some grilled fruit, and you’ll have a remarkably simple and tasty dessert, too.

Related Stories:

Go Vegetarian or the World Will Go Hungry

Meat Eaters Are Macho; Vegetarians Are Wimpy

The Ethical Dilemma Inherent in the Weekday Vegetarian Plan

Photo Credit: SweetOnVeg


Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Jarmila Bernathova


Dale Overall

These meat bashing articles get rather tedious. If one eats meat from factory farm sources laden with toxins/growth hormones/antibiotics, eats huge mega portions, yes there will be health problems. For those eating a balanced diet and who are not either vegan/vegetarian meat is healthy coming from organic/free range sources. Just because some don't include meat in their diet, demonizing it has become trendy. Eating too much raw bok choy will almost kill you...cooked is fine but some raw diets can be dangerous if research isn't done...one lady almost died because she insisted on eating 3 lbs of raw bok choy/day. Some veggies are better cooked (not boiled to mush please) as some interfere with the thyroid.


Kindly mind your own asparagus when it comes to my dinner plate. It is easy to have empathy for animals as they are more like us, nerve endings/brains and the like but plants are life forms and have as much right to life as we do. When Mother Nature redesigns our DNA so we can all live off rock pate, then I will stop eating plants/animals/birds, etc. While veggies is my mainstay, meat is still on the table, organic and healthy.

Alison Massa
Alison Massa5 years ago

I will soon be celebrating 30 years as a vegetarian. As a land use planner, I made the switch out of concern that using land to raise meat is extremely inefficient and that continued reliance on meat would eventually prove unsustainable for the globe. Increased well-being, energy and an absence of digestive problems were very welcome side benefits that I have continued to enjoy ever since.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you Jan, for Sharing this!

5 years ago

Joseph, Congratulations on your good health and that you can thrive on an exclusive diet. Most of us cannot so your generalization that no one needs to eat meat or dairy is misleading and irresponsible because it isn't true.

I started believing in myself and STOPPED eating a veg diet on the advice of a nutritionist, naturopath and holistic physician, and when I went to a nutritionally balanced diet of organic whole foods from ALL food groups, I got healthier.
I eat my own personal version of the Mediterranean diet and I don't eat processed foods or factory farmed foods, and I eat very little meat, but I do require protein from non-plant sources and so do most other people.
Many of us also want to avoid excessive amounts of gluten and GMO soy for health reasons, so eating fake meats is not an option.

It has nothing to do with tastebuds, and if someone thinks it's selfish to feed my body what it requires for good health, well then so be it. They don't know my body as well as I do.

I eat to nourish my body and not to feed a philosophy. My soul needs a healthy temple.

Joseph B.
Joseph B5 years ago

I'm 51 years old and haven't eaten meat for over 30 years...you simply do NOT need to kill another living feeling sentient being for protein! Stop being selfish to satisfy your taste buds!...you WILL live a much healthier life. I haven't drank milk or eaten eggs since 2008 and on January 3rd of this year I finally quit the cheese. We do NOT need to consume meat or dairy products...Stop believing the lies of the meat and dairy industries. Start believing in yourself and eat healthy!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

thanks.. but there is even MORE info out their promoting a diet with me. (food pyramid anyone?)

Lynda H.
Lynda H5 years ago

I would respectfully like to ask the author of this article a question.

Where exactly is the “overwhelming scientific evidence against eating meat”? I’ve gone over every single study that proclaims such a thing, and I didn’t need a fine-tooth comb to spot the flaws, loose correlations and bias. I’ve found overwhelming evidence FOR a balanced diet that includes animal products, especially fish.

Some people need more protein that others. The amount of protein available in a vegan diet may be more than adequate for some, and dangerously inadequate for others. There are 2 things I know with absolute certainty: I lost my health when I became a vegetarian, and that those who promote a plant-based diet by telling falsehoods are motivated by animal rights philosophy. They do not care about animal welfare, or your health.

Hanna Sjoberg

Thank you for letting me know!