If there’s a question I get asked more than any other, it’s this: Where do you get your protein? Most people will go on and on about how you have to get protein from meat and eggs. I simply reply, “I get my protein from the same place that cows get theirs: from plants.”
Everyone can get all the protein they need, and more, from plant-based foods. In fact, Americans are eating way too much protein—about twice the recommended amount. This is terrible for health, leading to everything from kidney damage to weight gain, from constipation to increased cancer risk, from heart disease to calcium loss. See: How to Truly Eat a Healthy Plant-Based Diet
The recommended dietary allowance for protein is about 46 grams for women and 54 grams for men. Those levels are incredibly easy to reach on a plant-based diet.
Eat greens for calcium
Before I was healthy, drinking milk was part of my every day. I just knew I had to build a strong body, and a strong body meant strong bones, and that in turn meant I had to drink almost a quart of milk a day. Milk is the best source of calcium, right?
What we’ve learned about calcium over the years falls into the category of things that we must unlearn. Back when you were growing up, you may have had one or two friends who were lactose intolerant. You probably thought something was wrong with them. But did you know that approximately 65 percent of the human population is lactose intolerant?
That means most of us are eating and drinking dairy and putting up with all that bloating, cramping, gas, and diarrhea because we assume it’s normal. We’re so used to pain that we forget how often we experience it. See: 5 Plant-Based Snacks That Can Be Made in Less than 5 Minutes
Recent studies have also indicated that the proteins in milk may damage the production of insulin in people who are at a high risk of diabetes and that there may well be a link between milk and prostate cancer. You may be surprised to learn that countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis also have the highest consumption of dairy products.
Instead of drinking milk, try these excellent sources of calcium: bananas, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, lentils, tahini, figs, almonds and tofu. In fact, collard greens are one of the best sources of calcium around.
Fortify your body with plant-based iron
One of the first actions I took when I decided to become healthy was to undergo several tests to understand more about my body and what it needed. Surprisingly, it turned out I was taking in too much iron, which can lead to serious health issues, such as liver disease, hypothyroidism, certain cancers, arthritis, and heart disease.
This is not to say that iron isn’t good for you—we need moderate amounts of it for countless reasons, especially for our hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood. Too little iron and you’ll experience fatigue.
The problem is that animal foods are very high in heme iron, which absorbs very easily into your body. If you eat meat regularly, chances are you are receiving more iron than your body can handle.
Plants, on the other hand, are rich in nonheme iron, which our bodies have an easier time regulating. It’s found in everything from dark leafy greens to beans and legumes, from whole grains to nuts and seeds. When you eat plants, you’ll only be receiving a moderate, healthy amount of iron that won’t overload your body. See the box, left, for plant foods rich in iron.
Supplement with vitamin B12
A plant-based diet gives you every nutrient you need except one: vitamin B12. As Dr Neal Barnard explains, “Vitamin B12 is not made by plants or animals. It is made by bacteria. Presumably, before the advent of modern hygiene, there were traces of bacteria in the soil and on vegetables and fruits that provided traces of vitamin B12.
Those days are long gone, of course. Animals have bacteria in their digestive tracts that produce vitamin B12, and traces of it end up in meat, dairy products, and eggs.
But one major problem with animal sources is that their absorption is not always sufficient, which is why the US government recommends that everyone over age 50 take a B12 supplement.