But, where do you get your protein?

I eat a plant-based diet. No dairy. No meat. No poultry. No eggs. No fish. (Okay, I’m more like 98% plant-based. On occasion, you’ll find that I have a slice of pizza with cheese or a small dish of ice cream. I am from Wisconsin.) 

You don’t even have to say it aloud. I know what you’re thinking.

“But, where do you get your protein?”

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that, I could go on a really nice vacation!

I do not blame individuals for asking this question. I blame the media and particular industries for convincing individuals animal products are necessary in order to consume adequate amounts of protein. But that is an entirely different subject. 

According to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, even vegetarians and vegans consume about 70% more protein than needed, every day. (1) 

Recommended verses Actual Protein (grams) Intake in Men & Women

Source: National Health and Examination Survey

Furthermore, only less than 3% of adults in the U.S. don’t get enough protein (2). These are typically individuals who follow extreme calorie restrictive diets, thus they are protein deficient due to the limited number of calories consumed.

Less than 3% of Americans are meeting the estimated average requirement (EAR).; Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition/NutritionFacts.org.

Less than 3% of Americans are meeting the estimated average requirement (EAR).; Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition/NutritionFacts.org.

What is lacking in the average American diet? Fiber. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Service identified that less than 3% of Americans consume adequate amounts of fiber (3). 

Yet, despite the lack of fiber and other nutrients deficient in the average American diet, our shelves are packed with packaged and processed foods with added protein. Protein granola bars. Protein powders. Protein cereals. Protein is even added to some yogurts. 

I get it. I too thought an adequate amount of protein needed to come from an animal. I thought drinking cow’s milk with dinner was the healthiest thing for me. I thought Greek yogurt was one of the healthiest snacks I could have. I would even order a side of sausage patties with my white flour pancakes at Sunday brunch thinking it would round out my breakfast treat to make it more “nutritious”. Boy, was I wrong. 

Unfortunately, animal proteins are associated with increased risk for: 

Cancer

Osteoporosis

Heart Disease

Hypertension

Kidney Disease

Obesity

Accelerated Aging

Diabetes

A study published in 2014 found that high protein diets for those between the ages of 50-65 had a 75% increase risk in overall mortality and four-times more likely to die from cancer within the next 18 years. Astonishingly, the study also found that if the protein intake was derived from plant-based proteins, the association (or risk of mortality and cancer) was eliminated or weakened.

That is right. You did not read it wrong. If you consume an excessive amount of plant-based protein, the risk of death and cancer no longer existed, or was weakened.

In addition, the study found a high protein diet increased diabetes across all ages by five-times (6). And here, this whole time we thought the cause of diabetes was high carbohydrate intake. There is more to that story too—we will cover that in a future post.

If animal proteins increase risk for several types of diseases, where should one then source their protein from? 

Plants.

In the post, Healthiest Diet, I discuss a diet that is focused on whole, plant-based foods. This diet is centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, with some nuts and seeds. All of these foods, with the except of fruit, contain protein--some greater than others. It is true that a "vegan" diet that includes high amounts of processed foods, such as white pasta and Oreo cookies, will not provide sufficient protein intake--or even sufficient overall nutrient intake. However, a diet focused on a WFPBD will supply adequate amounts of protein (and other nutrients!), while also aiming to reduce one's risk of chronic disease. 

Check out the infographic to learn more about common plant-based foods which contain protein!

What questions do you have about protein?


  1. Rizzo, N., Jaceldo-Siegl, K., Sabate, J., & Fraser, G. (2013). Nutrient Profiles of Vegetarian and Nonvegetarian Dietary Patterns. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(12).
  2. Fulgoni , V. L., III. (2008). Current protein intake in America: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 87, 1554S-7S.
  3. What We Eat in American, NHANES 2005-2006; Usual Nutrient Intakes from Food and Water Compared to 1997 Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D, Calcium, Phosphorous, and Magnesium. (july 2009). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400530/pdf/0506/usual_nutrient_intake_vitD_ca_phos_mg_2005-06.pdf
  4. Ochoa, M. S. (2017, March 09). 7 Serious Problems With Animal Protein. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://www.forksoverknives.com/animalproteindangers/
  5. Ornish, D. (2015, March 23). The Myth of High-Protein Diets. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/opinion/the-myth-of-high-protein-diets.html?_r=0
  6. Levine, M., Suarez, J., Brandhorst, S., & Balasubramanian, P. (2014). Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer, and overall mortality in the 65 and younger but not older population. [Abstract]. Cell Metabolism, 19(3), 407-417. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2014.02.006.