People who consume a Whole Food Plant Based diet are often asked questions specific to diet. Questions arise for several reasons, mainly curiosity or concern and often skepticism that a diet consisting entirely of Plant Based Whole Foods provides the adequate nutrients required to sustain healthy bodies.
When it comes to the most popular inquiry;
Where do you get your protein?
It is important to not only understand the answer for the sake of your own good health but to equip yourself with the correct knowledge to answer the question capably and succinctly, to hopefully dissuade further debate.
The building blocks of protein are amino acids. There are 20 standard amino acids of which 10 are essential for human health.
There is no question that protein is a very important nutrient. Protein is essential to the development of healthy cells and bodies. Our bodies do not make our own protein so we must consume protein to make protein.
This fact, which is both valid and widely accepted is so integrated into the mainstream nutrition belief system of both the population and healthcare professionals alike, that to question the role of protein, its' optimal source or related effect from level of protein consumption is to tear away at the ABC’s of Nutrition. The building blocks of nutritional essentials.
A) Protein consumption is synonymous with quality nutrition.
B) “Meat” has become synonymous with Protein as Animal Protein (amino acid chain) most closely resembles our own and thus can be adapted by our bodies at a much faster rate leading to increased/faster rate of growth. (faster rate of growth may not always be optimal for humans)
C) Too little protein equals Poor Health.
The interesting note in wording is that the majority of protein questions are framed as to “Where” not as to “Amount”.
There is an underlying assumption within our society that Dietary Protein is exclusive to Animal Based Foods. (Meat, Milk/Dairy, Eggs, Fish) There is another “widespread belief” that Plant Foods do not contain or provide protein, at least not in amounts necessary to maintain healthy bodies.
Let’s begin with the where.
Plants Contain Protein. If they did not then the larger animals on the planet (Gorillas, Oxen) who consume a solely plant based diet would not be doing so well. The fact that they are intimidatingly large and muscled while eating a vegetable based diet demonstrates that nature has included in her plan, providing adequate protein to diet from plants alone.
Are we getting enough?
The RDA/Recommended Daily Allowance of Protein consumption which has been standardized with extensive study is 9-10%. That's actually 2% higher than optimal but a bit more is added on for variance. Not everybody absorbs nutrients in the same amounts so adding a padding allows for that insurance that an adequate amount is being consumed.
If you consume a diet that includes an abundance and variety of whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits your body is receiving all of the protein ( approx. 10-12% for WFPB Diet) needed to maintain good health.
Isn’t getting more Protein better for you?
As protein is essential and important as a single nutrient, there is acceptance to the belief that larger amounts may be beneficial or superior. That’s not always the case when it comes to diet and nutrition.
The recommended upper/safe limit of protein to diet is 35%. This has been established as an upper limit. There is no indication for optimal health benefit that consuming the upper limit versus a diet which consists of 10-12% protein (above RDA/WFPB) is more beneficial to health.
Consider The Source of Protein
A Whole Food Plant Based diet delivers protein above the RDA.
Along with delivering more than adequate protein, plant based foods deliver an abundance of other nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber & water) which animal based products (protein and fat) do not provide.
Not everybody draws nutrients in the same amounts at the same time. By offering an abundance of nutrients the body has the opportunity to absorb as needed in the amounts which are desirable at the time needed.