You’ll probably agree with me on this, that there’s not a single vegan out there that hasn’t at some point in the beginning of this journey dealt with the anxiety he might not meet his daily needs of protein without eating meat, eggs and dairy. What’s even worse is that he/she also has confront everyone else being “worried” about his/her protein needs. “Where do you get your protein?” is a question you’ll have to answer thousands of times during your lifetime and I can understand that this might put more stress on you and your life decision, even though everyone knows that a western diet, which is more acceptable and easy to comprehend for most, doesn’t meet all our daily requirements in nutrients whatsoever. For all you vegans and friends of vegans who are distressed about protein consumption, let me make things easier for you: you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Plant proteins, especially beans, are healthier than meat protein, as they pack more nutrients in fewer calories, they’re rich in fibre and can perfectly meet our protein requirements, as long as we consume adequate calories in our everyday life. What you might not know is that compared to regular meat-eaters, those who consume low or no meat at all, consume higher amounts of high protein meat alternatives in their every-day meals, getting adequate protein from soy, pulses, seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521004/)
What needs to be emphasized here, before we move further, is the role of amino-acids. Amino-acids are organic compounds that combine with each other and form protein in our body. We need 20 different amino-acids for proper function and growth, some of them more essential than others. It is true that some plant-based proteins are relatively low in certain amino acids and this is probably how the myth of food combining started. I’m sure you’ve all heard that you need to eat lentils with rice or beans with whole-wheat bread to get all the amino-acids needed for complete protein. This myth, however, overlooks something really important: the magnificent abilities of our body.
Our body is much smarter than we think and one good example of this is that it can retain small quantities of free amino-acids so we can use them later. Besides that, a certain amount of protein we consume everyday is being broken down and then reassembled, which means that the amino-acids we get from our food have the ability to mix and match with other amino-acids we have consumed earlier. This means that you don’t need to combine for example grains with pulses in a single meal to get your complete protein, as your body will take care of that, as long as you get adequate calories every-day. So unless you like lentils with rice, there’s absolutely no other reason to force yourself to eat it.
What’s really important and needs to be emphasized, however, is that in cases of low-calorie consumption, we have a problem. It is then that our body can’t process the protein we consume and this is most likely to lead us to deficiency. This case is very well presented in Cultural Anthropology: A Contemporary Perspective by Roger M.Keesing and Andrew J. Strathern, a book on social and cultural anthropology, which focuses on eating patterns of certain tribes and protein consumption. This book confirms what many researches have shown: plant protein can be enough, if we get the energy we need from calories, to help our body do its job. It might even comfort you to know that no population on this planet has protein consumption levels lower than those needed –which by the way are much lower than those we think.
To cut a long story short, if you’re thinking about becoming a vegan or if you already are a vegan and you’re worried about protein, don’t. Nature will give you everything you need, as long as you don’t skip your meals and get all the energy you need from your food. Beans, lentils, quinoa, edamame, tempeh, tofu, peanuts, nuts, wild rice, almonds, chick-peas, oats, chia seeds, cashews, potatoes, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms are here to help you.