Do I Need Meat For Protein? Discussing the Myths Surrounding Protein Sources

As vegans or followers of a plant-based diet, we hear it all of the time; “don’t you need meat for protein?”  It is a fair question, but it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of where protein comes from.  The reality is that true protein deficiency is almost unheard of in developed countries.  Vitamin deficiency, however, is most definitely real.  In a 2019 research study involving 270 apparently healthy adults ranging in age between 30 and 70, it was concluded that “the prevalence of deficiency of vitamins B2 (50%), B6 (46%), B12 (46%), folate (32%), and vitamin D (29%) was strikingly high”.

What is protein anyway?

Protein is absolutely vital to human health.  Without it, we can’t make muscle, bone, skin, blood, connective tissue, enzymes, antibodies, and hormones; we would literally cease to be.  At a biochemical level, proteins are made up of one or more chains of amino acids which perform a mind-boggling array of functions including carrying molecules, providing the scaffolding required for cells, and catalysing metabolic reactions.

How much protein do I need?

Estimates vary as to how much protein an adult should consume per day.  In the UK, the average adult requires 0.6g – 0.75g of protein per kilogram body weight per day.  On average, this equates to 88g for men and 64g for women.

While there is a minimum amount of protein we can eat, the human body is remarkably resourceful in that it will convert any excess into energy for later use.  Carbohydrate should, however, be the primary source of energy for the human body (and to a lesser extent, fat).

Protein content within plants

Vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes pack a punch when it comes to protein content.  The king of protein in the plant world, the huble lentil, contain 9g per ½ cup.  Chickpeas have 7 g of protein per ½ Cup, 85g of tofu contains 8g of protein, ¼ cup of nuts can provide 6g of protein, and a cup of oats contains in the region of 6g of protein.  It is easy to see how by choosing the correct staple ingredients, it is possible to consume plenty of protein.

Your body needs 20 different amino acids to function.  These are split into nine essential-amino acids which the body cannot produce itself, and 11 amino-acids which must come from food.  Animal proteins contain all of the essential amino acids we need, whereas this is not the case for all plant-derived foods (quinoa does contain all of the essential amino-acids).

But this is not the whole story.  Consuming meat from animals, especially red meat (and even worse, processed meat) is linked to cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.  The same cannot be said of plant-based food sources.

The solution?

Those who follow a plant-based diet can ensure they consume all of the essential amino-acids by simply varying their diet to include a wide range of plant food sources.

Wrapping up

So, in answer to the question, “do I need meat for protein”, the answer is a resounding no.  The documentary, Game Changers, is an excellent source of information and inspiration for anyone who needs to be convinced that the human body cannot perform at the highest levels without meat.  Many of the world’s elite athletes in all disciplines, including weight-lifting and body-building, have embraced a plant-based vegan diet and are even seeing better performance as a result.  If it is good enough for them, perhaps you should try it?

Veganism has become a watchword for health, but this is a misplaced notion.  Yes, there are considerable health benefits from removing animal products from our diet, including reducing heart disease and cancer risk, but there is a plethora of vegan food on the market which are less than health promoting.  Oreos, Pringles, Bourbon biscuits, Walker’s crisps, Jelly Tots, and (some) Pot Noodles are all ‘accidentally vegan’ foods.  The large food manufacturers are now making vegan versions of their best sellers (e.g. vegan Magnums, Galaxy chocolate, Greggs, and KFC).  One only needs to look at the ingredient list of these products to realise we shouldn’t be eating too many of them.  Many contain high levels of saturated fat, sugar, salt, and chemical additives.  Vegan Magnums, for example, contain glucose fructose syrup, sunflower lecithin, E471, exhausted vanilla bean pieces, E412, E410, E407, and E160a.  Hardly wholesome.

What makes for a healthy vegan diet?

The greatest health benefits can be achieved by aiming to eat wholefoods.  In reality, it is impossible to avoid all processing of foods.  Almost everything we buy from supermarkets is processed is some way.  The key is to ask the question, “would my grandmother recognise the ingredients in this food?”  The chances are she wouldn’t know what an emulsifier is, let alone hydrogenated oil, maltodextrin, and gelling agents, to name but a few ingredients commonly found in junk foods.  She would, however, recognise fruits, vegetables, sultanas, lentils, beans, spinach, seeds, oats, nuts, and just about every other wholefood.

Eating this way is also referred to as a ‘wholefood plant-based’ (WFPB) diet.  The high fibre content of WFPB foods is proven to assist healthy weight-loss, due in large part to the fact that it tends to make you feel full without being high in calories.  WFPB diets are also naturally nutrient dense.  Green leafy vegetables such as kale contain vast amounts of vitamin A, B6, K, C, and potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, and manganese.  Fruits such as blueberries have large quantities of antioxidants.  And flax seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is highly beneficial for heart, bowel, and joint health.

Final words

What makes the standard western diet unhealthy is a multitude of factors.  It is not merely the presence of animal fats and proteins which causes harm.  The problem is also the high levels of sugar, salt, fat/oils, added chemicals, and the general lack of nutritional value in many foods we now consume.

In summary, to eat a WFPB vegan diet, remember to:

  • Avoid animal products (including meat and dairy)
  • Look for ingredients which your grandmother would have recognised
  • Make sure that plants constitute most of what you consume – including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts
  • Try to eliminate foods high in additives, added sugars, white flour, and processed oils

 

 

Our Mediterranean fusilli recipe is ideal for those looking for a vegan, high protein and low carbohydrate alternative to traditional pasta.  This simple dish is quick, easy and ideal for a family dinner that doesn’t cost the earth. It’s so effortless! So guilt-free!

A light, easy-going mix of pea pasta, fresh ingredients, and classic Mediterranean ingredients like tomato, parmesan, and mushrooms, this simple but tasty healthy pasta recipe can carry itself at any meal. Ideal any day of the week as part of a family weeknight meal or even a romantic date night in, this Mediterranean pasta offers so much for so little effort.

Ingredients – 2 persons

  • 125g of Wellside Pure Pasta
  • 4-5 each of button chestnut, and shitake mushrooms
  • 8-10 each vine cherry tomatoes
  • 1 sweet orange pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped chives
  • ½ tsp mild chilli flakes
  • 3 tbspn Olive Oil
  • 30 g of vegan butter
  • Vegan parmesan
  • Seasoning to taste

Method

  1. Cook Wellside Pure Pasta in boiling salted water as per instructions and strain and put aside.
  2. In a shallow frying pan, gently heat 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and vegan butter.
  3. Lightly fry the finely sliced sweet pepper. When soft, add the halved cherry tomatoes and the sliced mushrooms until cooked.
  4. Add the cold cooked pasta to the vegetables, turning frequently until the pasta is fully combined with the vegetables.
  5. Season to taste, add the chopped chives and chilli flakes.
  6. Serve onto warm plates.

 

Let us know your thoughts or what you did to put your own twist on things!

vegan high protein low carb pasta

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