diet, esselstyn, plant based, plant-based, protein, vegan, vegetarian

“Where do you get your protein?” Plant-based answers from a real doctor

(Plants.  In a farmer’s market in Nuremberg, Germany.)

What is your annoying question?  An annoying question may be a perfectly sensible question, it’s just that you get asked it over and over again.  My brother has identical twins.  His annoying question is, “Are they twins?”  (I hear that the annoying question for parents of fraternal twins is, “Are they identical?” EVEN when one is a boy and one is a girl.) Homeschooolers get asked “What about socialization?” and Canadians get asked, “Where is Canada?” or “Isn’t Canada really just North Minnesota?”

But now we are plant-based eaters and the most annoying question we get is, “Where do you get your protein?”  Everyone asks this question. Medical professionals, friends, family, and the guy at the burrito place who notices that we don’t order meat, cheese, or sour cream. It’s surprising how many M.D.s ask that question. My standard answer is usually, “plants,” or “the same place cows do — grass.”


(A guac/humus wrap with black beans and Verde salsa.  Loads of protein and 10 times better tasting than a baloney sandwich.  We did have to abandon the Wegmans whole wheat wrap when we found out it had canola oil, anchovy oil, sardine oil, and tilapia solids in it. Tilapia solids? Ew.  #foodyoucantfeelgoodabout)

You would never ask an annoying question, but it’s possible that some day you will need to come to the defense of a beleaguered vegan or plant-based eater who is being accosted by a protein obsessed carnivore.

To that end, I did a highly scientific analysis of my protein intake the other day.  I noticed that I’d eaten a fairly typical plant-based menu and so I did some precise measurements and calculations.  Here’s the kind of precision we’re talking about… “I ate a handful of nuts… Hmmmm… that looks like about a 1/4 cup.”  Then I googled how much protein there was in a 1/4 of mixed nuts… and so on.  I’m using the precision standard of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, which is sometimes referred to as, “Ballpark.”

Breakfast:  None.  I don’t eat breakfast.  I quit about 5 years ago.  It’s an old husband’s tale that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and as much as I love breakfast food, fasting in the morning is just an easy way to axe a bunch of calories.  I do drink a big mug of chai tea with lots of honey, but I don’t think there is any protein in honey or tea.


Lunch:  African Peanut Stew over whole grain rice with corn on the cob.  These were leftovers.  I also ate some plant-based yogurt (Silk) w/ flax seed.

Snacks: Handful of mixed nuts, some pickle spears, and a bowl of cereal with cashew milk (not all at the same time!).

Dinner:  Pizza.  Well, what my wife and I call pizza, but it’s really nothing like pizza.  It’s a thin multi-grain flatbread with pizza sauce, fresh mushrooms, spinach, and some seasonings. No cheese, of course.  I also had some watermelon and a plant-based ice cream bar (no protein).

It wasn’t really alotta food: Partly because I didn’t eat breakfast, but also because I’m on a diet (that’s a long plant-based story).  Had I eaten 3 meals and eaten as much as I wanted, I would have had way more protein.   I also didn’t drink a protein shake or eat a bunch of extra beans or tofu or whatever to try to jack my numbers.

Without really trying, I ate 78 grams of protein.

People with a diverse set of chromosomes (XY) are supposed to eat, according to the FDA, 57 grams of protein per day.  People with hegemonic chromosomes (XX) only need to eat 46 grams.  78, even with ballpark calculations, is way over the recommendation.

Looks like I’m doing ok.

You’d die without protein, but it’s also really helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.  It fills you up and makes you feel full for a long time.   I used to eat a salad at noon and I’d be looking for a snack by 2:30.  But now I pour 1/2 a cup of chipotle seasoned black beans on my salad and I’m full for hours. Protein also keeps you from losing muscle, so it’s a great dieting nutrient. Protein is the least of your worries if you’re a meat eater.  Your worries include things like obesity and colon cancer.  The standard America diet will keep you well above the daily requirements for protein intake, but it will also keep you well above the daily requirements for fat, sugars, preservatives, and food coloring.


(This is amazing, vegan, and loaded with protein. But it’s not technically legal for plant-based people because it’s made with added oil.  #foodyoucanalmostfeelgoodabout)

So, where do we get our protein?  Plants.  Most plant-based eaters replace meat with lentils, black beans, pinto beans, and chick peas and, as luck would have it, they are all loaded with protein. Nuts and seeds also score well, but you knew that.  We also eat a bunch of things we rarely (or never) ate before like chia, quinoa, and hemp seeds,  and odd things like nutritional yeast, edamame, tofu, and tempeh.  Those last three are loaded with protein.

So now you know.  Plant-based eaters like us (and cows, elephants, rhinos, and almost all of the dinosaurs) get their protein from, surprisingly enough, plants.  You can stop worrying.

p.s.  When my kids were little they used to ask this annoying question: “But you’re not a real doctor, like Uncle Kendell, right?”  Sigh.


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