"But how do you get your protein?" That's the most common question people ask when they hear that you're eating vegetarian, vegan, or just cutting back on meat. This question illustrates two common misconceptions about our diets:
- Most folks assume that they need WAY more protein in their diets than they actually do. The Federal government's dietary guidelines recommend that an adult should have about 10% of their calories come from protein each day -- that's about 200 calories for most of us. Examples would be 4 oz. of pork, 5 1/2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or 1 1/2 cups of black beans. Take a look at these comparisons of what we eat and what is recommended.
- People often assume that the only way to get protein is to eat animal products -- not true! The molecular building blocks of protein are smaller molecules called amino acids. There are 21 amino acids needed by your body to make protein (sources cite between 20 and 22 amino acids), and your body can manufacture all but 10 of these amino acids. These remaining 10 are what we call "essential amino acids" -- you must acquire these amino acids through your diet. Here's where the confusion lies -- many people think you must eat animal products to have a complete protein. It turns out, there are plant-based ways to eat all the amino acids in one sitting. You can eat soy-based protein, or combine certain foods, like rice and beans, to get the proper nutrition.
Still thinking that meatless will make you weak and they'll be kicking sand in your face at the beach? Then check out this recent article in the Chicago Tribune about elite athletes who are eating vegan diets.