Day 28 of Vegan Plus: Getting Enough Protein?

whole raw chicken

Through my now 28 day journey of eating Vegan Plus — no meat, dairy, egg, gluten, or sugar additions — the most common question I receive is am I getting enough protein. To monitor this, I tracked my daily food and nutrient intake and now know my average protein intake. But before I can answer that question, I have to first explain what I discovered is meant by “enough protein”.

10% to 35% of your calories should come from protein

Some say you need 10% to 35% of your calories to be from protein, which is a notably inaccurate range. For my average daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories, that’s a range of 40g to 140g (as there are 4 calories in 1 gram of protein). And what does 40g to 140g of protein look like? A serving of chicken contains 30g of protein and is 3.5 oz — not the 6+ oz behemoth portions you usually cook or are served in a restaurant. In other words, as a meat-eater I needed anywhere from 1.25 to 4.67 servings of chicken breast daily to ensure I was getting enough protein.

Consider your own average day of meat, dairy, cheese, and egg consumption — it isn’t very hard to get enough protein. In fact, the average American consumes just over 8 ounces of meat daily, which probably means we are getting enough protein in our diet on animal flesh alone.

As a side-note — the average whole rotisserie chicken contains about 20 ounces, or 5.7 servings of chicken meat. As not every chicken is the same size and can range from 2 to 5 pounds, or 32 to 96 ounces, and the % that is meat vs bone vs. “other”, I’m taking an average. This average chicken, served skinless, contains about 1,000 calories — 166g protein, and 34g fat. It contains no carbs or fiber. I know plenty of paleo cross-fitters that brag about eating an entire rotisserie chicken. I question the level of moderation in this approach, although they are surely consuming enough protein daily (as well as potentially consuming 365 chickens, or 456 pounds of chicken meat, annually).

Protein intake based on your weight

Another suggests taking your weight, dividing by half, and subtracting 10. Again, this wasn’t helpful because I was trying to lose weight, not maintain my current weight. This calculation, however, might work for you if you are only maintaining your weight.

In the end I consume about 60g of protein on average daily, or 15% of my calories, without any real change in my vegan diet. On the days I eat more protein-rich vegan foods, such as tofu, nuts, or beans, I easily top 100g of protein (and double or triple my recommended fiber intake)!

In other words, I get plenty of protein through my vegan diet without even really trying. And when I try to consume more protein, I could consume enough to be a vegan body builder.

Are you getting enough vitamin B12?

The real concern of my vegan diet was not protein deficiency, but whether or not I was getting enough of a particular vitamin that only occurs when animals graze on soil — vitamin B12. Vegan diets are most concerned with vitamin B12 deficiency, although many humans have a vitamin B12 deficiency regardless.

Neither plants nor animals are independently capable of constructing vitamin B12. Rather, it is created by enzymes found only in certain bacteria. Animals ingest these bacterias, and when humans consume animal flesh, we also consume this vitamin. However, humans can by-pass animal consumption and directly consume the vitamin-containing bacteria. Nutritional yeast, a complete protein, is often fortified with vitamin B12. Or, one can also take vitamin B12 with a multi-vitamin.

Most humans don’t consume as much animal flesh and animal products as the western diet. This is probably a good thing — if all humans ate as much meat as Americans, we would need to increase our meat supply from 284 million tons to 550 million tons. Until we perfect growing meat in a vat, that means most of the human population is going to have vitamin B12 deficiency.

What’s more, many meat-eating westerners consume plenty of protein but stil have vitamin B12 deficiencies. This indicates that vitamin B12 deficiencies may be more of a cause from malabsorption than consumption or diet.

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