How much protein do we really need?

I get asked about protein and calcium every time I tell someone I’m trying to be vegan.  It amazes me how well we’ve all been brainwashed into believing that only meat has good protein and only milk has good calcium.

Let’s go over a few simple facts that have put my mind at ease about my potential deficiencies:

1.  Behind these questions about protein and calcium is the assumption that non-vegans have all the nutrition they need.  In fact, that is not always the case.  Vitamin D, C and E deficiencies are common among meat eaters.  Omega 3’s also have a tendency to be out of proportion with omega 6’s because of the inordinate amount of omega 6’s in processed foods.  Beta carotene intake is often lower than it should be, and so is fiber intake. Vegans, on the other hand, may have low levels of one B vitamin, but only if they don’t drink fortified soy milk, which I do. Otherwise, the vegan diet is complete without supplements.

2.  If increasing your protein made you thin, than the United States should be the thinnest country in the world.  We have a protein-heavy diet and yet we are getting fatter and sicker all the time.

3.  When was the last time you heard of a cow, hippo, giraffe, or whale with a protein or calcium deficiency?  They don’t eat meat.  They don’t drink milk once they’re adults.  The largest mammals in the world are vegan.  How many gorillas suffer from osteoporosis?  They don’t drink milk either once they’re out of their infancy. 

4.  Countries that consume the most dairy have  higher rates of osteoporosis.  The condition is almost unheard of in areas of the world where milk is not consumed (rural Asia).  Here’s why:  Excessive protein, like the type found in animal products, causes your body to become more acidic.  Your body, in order to keep its pH balanced, uses the calcium stored in your bones to bring your body chemistry into balance (like a Tums for your circulatory system).  Thus, your body loses calcium at a higher rate when animal products such as milk are consumed.  If you didn’t need to leach calcium out of your bones to straighten out your body chemistry, you wouldn’t need to consume such high amounts of it or risk lower bone density.  By the way, grown cows don’t drink milk.  They get their calcium the same way vegans do–from greens.

 I should follow the protein question with a few of my own.  The conversation may go like this:

“As a meat eater, where do you get your fiber since animal products don’t have fiber and a lack of fiber has been linked to certain cancers?”  …Pause for interesting answer…

“What about the calcium deficiency that comes from having an acidic pH?”…pause for another answer that will probably cite some experts called “they”….

“Where do you get your vitamins?”…pause for explanation of how some of their meat and cheese has vegetables under it in a salad…

I wouldn’t ask any of those questions obviously because that’s obnoxious and really none of my business.  Besides, meat eaters may have very complete, well-rounded diets.  They’d have to be very conscientious and plan their meals carefully to fit in all the nutrition they need without exceeding their caloric boundaries, but they could do it.  I respect that and wouldn’t dream of interrogating them over it.  Maybe someday my well-meaning friends will feel the same way about me.


3 responses to this post.

  1. My only question is usually, “What made you decide to eat vegan?” It is not to be rude, I’m just curious about nutritious alternatives. That is why I have enjoyed reading your blog. It answers many of my questions about vegans that I feel are impolite to ask. Thank you.


    • The book The China Study is what made me switch. It’s very thorough and well-supported by research. The movie Forks Over Knives says the same things, but with less clinical detail. Basically, I became convinced that if I ate a whole foods, plant-based diet–in other words, the most natural, highest quality food I could afford–my weight and health would take care of itself. So far, I have not been disappointed. I am not perfectly vegan or perfectly natural, but I’m better at it than I was a year ago. I also feel better, have a healthier body, and worry a whole lot less about my weight.

      If you’re interested in trying it, go to to find out the best way to try out veganism for 21 days. Also, I’m enjoying all of the books Dr. Neal Barnard has written. He’s got some great videos on youtube too.


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