Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

Got Plants: Is Animal Protein Necessary?

Published on February 22, 2010 by   ·   476 Comments Pin It

Every veggie gal or guy’s least favorite question is “But how do you get your protein?”   Guest Blogger and Nutritional Consultant Katherine Pennington of   Be In Balance weighs in on this hot button issue;

Most of us have been taught that the only way that we will get ample protein in our diets is by eating animal protein such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs and cheese. This could not be farther from the truth! Contrary to what most people might believe, you can easily obtain all your protein from good old fruits and vegetables.

Although we Americans are on non-stop low-fat, low-carb, low-whatever diets and, as a nation, spend 100 billion dollars on health care, we are reaching near epidemics with respect to cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease! In our country, 47% males and 38% females at risk for getting cancer, 1 out of 3 adults is considered obese, 1 out of 13 have diabetes, and 1 out of every 3 adults are at risk dying from heart disease. We are killing ourselves with “disease of affluence.”

In The China Study, the distinguished Cornell professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell shows through his research studies that we can literally turn off or on our cancer genes by eating a diet consisting of fewer than 20% and as close to 5% of animal protein. So, why don’t doctors tell us this? We may lose weight eating high-protein diets, but at what cost?

Since I don’t eat meat, I am constantly being bombarded with questions about how I get my protein or my iron and many clients (especially those who have been advised to go on high-protein diets to lose weight) come to me thinking that they need to have animal protein at every meal in order to lose weight and get lean. My athlete clients and friends are especially aggressive with their beliefs that they must eat animal protein in order to build muscle and energy. If you are at risk for diabetes, cancer or heart disease or are eating over 20% protein, I beg of you to reduce your animal protein intake for your long-term health!

So, what exactly is protein?
Proteins are complex molecules comprised of small units called amino acids, which link together in chains to form peptides. Each protein has a specific number and combination of amino acids to determine its structure and function. Amino acids are simple compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and, in some instances, sulfur. There are a total of 20 amino acids, 8 of which must be present in our diet for good health and are called essential amino acids. Amino acids can be produced by our bodies but the 8 essential amino acids must be obtained through dietary sources. These are leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and lysine. Although animal-based proteins do contain all 8 amino acids and plant-based ones do not,    it is essential to vary the diet to ensure you get all 8 if you are eating primarily plant-based foods.

What does protein do? Why is it so important to have in our diets?
Protein plays a crucial role in virtually all functions in our body and we all need protein in order to be healthy and thrive. Not only are proteins essential for growth and repair, but they also play an important role in the body’s metabolism, hormonal balance, immune protection, muscle contraction, transmission of nerve impulses, and help us maintain muscle and skin support for our structural system. Many people are under the impression that protein provides us with energy but the body actually uses carbohydrates and fats for energy and only uses protein when there is an excess of carbohydrate and fat stores are depleted.

So, how much protein do we need?
Women 11-14 yrs.             41.2g
Women 15-18 yrs.           45.4g
Women 19-49 yrs.           45g
Women 50+                               46.5g
Breastfeeding                           53-56g

Men 11-14 yrs.                     42.1g
Men 15-18 yrs.                     55.2g
Men 19-49 yrs.                     55.5g
Men 50+                                          53.3g

Although protein as we have discussed is crucial to our well being, here is the important point- this protein does not (and should not!) come from animal sources! We can get all of the protein we need  from fruits, vegetables, soya products (like tofu) beans and legumes, grains and nuts and seeds!

Here are some plant-based foods with their protein contents:

Tofu (5 oz)                                    10.3g
Soy milk (1 cup)                   7g
Tempeh (1 cup)                        9.3g
Seitan (3 oz)                              22.1g
Edaname (1 cup)                 9.6g
Baked beans (1 cup)      11.5g
Lentils (1 cup)                       18g
Chickpeas (7 oz)                 16g
Quinoa (1 cup)                        9g
Brown rice (7 oz)                      4.4g
Peas (1 cup)                                 9g
Veggie dog (1)                            8g
Spaghetti (1 cup)                    8g
Whole wheat bread (2)   8g
Almonds (1/2 cup)             8g
Hemp seeds (3 tbsp)     11g
Chia seeds (1 oz)                 4g
Spinach (1 cup)                     5g
Broccoli (1 cup)                     5g
Baked potato                           4g
Carrot                                               0.4g
Kale (1 cup)                               2.2g
Beets (1 cup)                           2g
Avocado (1)                               4.5g
Blackberries (1 cup)         2g
Dates (1 cup)                             3.6g
Banana                                              1.29g

For those that feel that they just have to have eggs or milk and feel that they need to give these to their children so that they “get enough protein” please read ahead. One egg has only 6.37g of protein and one cup of milk has only 8g!!! You could get the same amount of protein from 2 slices of whole wheat bread and a glass of soy milk!

On the other side of the equation are the meats! 4 oz of a roasted chicken breast has 36g and 4 oz of lean grass-fed strip steak has 24g. The way we eat in America today can leave us to get our whole protein requirement in just one meal. And, this is not a good thing! We don’t need that much protein when we look at our needs over the course of the day. And, any animal protein intake over 20% helps contribute to the incidence of disease.

So, is it really practical to get ALL my protein from fruits and vegetables?
Yes, it is! For one day, I set down to writing everything that I had eaten  and computed how much protein each food had in it and I basically met my requirement before I even had dinner! Eating a plant-based diet for lunch and dinner, I consumed 43g of protein for a total of 48g/day without even trying!

Not to bore you but here is my day:

Breakfast: 19g
Green Smoothie
(2 cups spinach, 2 cups kale, banana and 2 cups almond milk, 2 tbsp chia seeds)

Lunch: 24g
Spinach salad with sliced avocado topped with 2 tbsp hemp seeds, sprouted lentils & 6 pecans
Carrot/Green juice: Romaine, cucumber, parsley, celery and carrots

Dinner: 5g
Steamed sweet potato
Grilled kale

You would not have to eat this “green” and your day could look more like this:
This diet is actually 53g of plant-based proteins- and this is a fairly moderated diet without any snacks!

Breakfast:                                                                                                                                 17g
2 slices whole wheat bread with 1 tbsp almond butter
Soy latte

Lunch:                                                                                                                                           16g
Veggie burger on whole grain bread
Side salad

Dinner:                                                                                                                                           20g
1 cup steamed brown rice
Tofu or tempeh
1 cup steamed broccoli

Go veg, and stay healthy, strong and disease-free!

Founded by nutritional consultant Katherine Pennington, Be in Balance offers holistic health and lifestyle counseling in New York for women and men who want to lose weight, gain energy, sleep better, reduce stress, get in shape and achieve a greater sense of well-being, balance and happiness in their lives and those of their families.   For more information, please visit her website at or   send an email to

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