What do elephants, gorillas and Popeye the Sailorman all have in common?
They’re all 100 percent powered by plants!
If I had a penny for every time someone asked me where I got my protein over the 20 years that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’d be a rich woman. Seriously! It’s as if I might shrivel up and die if I don’t “get enough protein,” implying that the only place we can get sufficient protein is from eating meat.
In all my years of studying diet and nutrition, I’ve only heard of one person being protein-deficient. In fact, according to Dr. Patrick Holford, author of Optimum Nutrition, most people are in more danger of eating too much protein as opposed to too little.
Over-consuming protein has actually been linked to a slew of medical conditions: things like constipation, diarrhea, dehydration, increased risk for osteoporosis, kidney failure, heart disease, cancer—the list goes on. All this is especially concerning given the latest diet fads, in which some fitness fanatics suggest the only way to build muscle or lose weight is to consume a high-protein (read: animal protein) diet.
Don’t get me wrong, we need protein to survive.
Protein is a crucial part of any balance diet. But the veg-heads among us need not worry. According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, author of Conscious Eating, Harvard researchers have found that vegetarians who eat real food, and not a bunch of so-called “healthy junk food,” get plenty of protein from plants.
So, back to my massive mammal analogy. Elephants, gorillas, horses and even rhinoceros are all herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. They certainly do not lack any strength or muscle. I figure if these powerhouses can live on plants, well then, so can I.
But, I also want to be clear that every body is different and therefore so are our needs nutritionally. We all have different backgrounds, chemical make-ups, blood types, doshas, etc; so, naturally we are all going to have our own preferences. But, personal choice and protein grams aside, as a culture, we like to isolate macronutrients—protein, fat, carbs—in lieu of looking at food as food (ya know, the stuff that you would find in nature).
So play along for a moment, and let’s take a closer look at protein.
Protein is made up of amino acids, also known as the building blocks of protein. But more on these guys in a second. Our body needs proteins to build new cells and to maintain healthy tissues. We also need proteins for healthy hair, strong nails and most of our body’s basic functions.
So what then are the best sources of protein?
Well, the answer to that depends on the person. When Jo and I created the Conscious Cleanse, we had very different nutritional profiles. I was on a 100 percent raw food kick and Jo was eating animal protein three times a day.
Today, we both take a much more moderate approach, tuning in to our bodies and our needs on any given day.
But one thing we know for sure is that eating animal protein requires your body to work harder. Remember, those building blocks of protein? Well, when you eat protein from an animal source, your body has to break it down into a string of amino acid parts, and then reorganize it into amino acids before the body can actually utilize it.
When we eat plant-based sources of protein—things like nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and even dark leafy greens—we ingest the amino acids directly, skipping the step where your body has to work harder.
The results? Extra energy and easier digestion!
So back to the original question: “Where do you get your protein?”
Below are my top five favorite plant-based sources of protein.
1. Dark Leafy Greens and Other Vegetables: Spinach, watercress, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, cauliflower and cabbage provide some of the highest available proteins.
2. Nuts and seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds. I also love nut butters like almond butter, cashew butter, sunbutter.
3. Spirulina and Chlorella: Providing up to 65 percent protein, these forms of green algaes are a must if you are minimizing, or trying to lessen the amount of animal protein in your diet. High in chlorophyll and containing all the essential amino acids, these superfoods are great for active athletes and those of us who are on the go a lot. They are helpful for fending off energy slumps and can help satisfy your hunger.
4. Beans and Legumes: High in dietary fiber and protein, beans and legumes are generally inexpensive and provide long-lasting energy. They are a great source of calcium and other vitamins and minerals.
5. Quinoa: Quinoa is technically a seed, but it masquerades as a grain. It’s also a superfood! Hailing from South America, this Pervuian seed/grain is a complete protein, meaning it contains all eight essential amino acids. It’s earthy and nutty and goes great with steamed veggies.
What are your thoughts on proteins? Do you thrive on plants or are you a die-hard meat eater? What would happen if you reduced your animal protein consumption by 50 percent? How might you feel better? Leave me a comment below!
Julie Peláez (pronounced like Goliath with a P), known simply as “Jules” to friends and family, is the co-founder of the Conscious Cleanse, a 14-day program designed to guide health-seekers on a supportive journey of healing and whole body cleansing.
Mama to two wild little boys and lover of the sun, Jules is grateful to bring her passion for vibrant health, raw food and personal transformation to the work she does as a long-time yoga teacher and to the Conscious Cleanse. Her book, The Conscious Cleanse: Lose Weight, Heal Your Body and Transform Your Life, has quickly hit many best-sellers lists and is available at all major bookstores and online retailers.
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Ed: K. Macku/Kate Bartolotta