Please Stop Asking Me About Protein

Brittany Viklund is here today with tips on how to respond to people who have questions about how vegans incorporate protein into their diet.

Having been a vegetarian for 10-plus years and now vegan, I have received the “But where do you get your protein?” question over and over again. That question will sometimes come with genuine curiosity or a desire to learn, but a lot of times it feels more like resistance to my lifestyle. Either way, I’d love to address the question at-large and hopefully debunk a few misconceptions about protein.

Before you go asking me why, ask yourself why you might ask a plant-based person where they get their protein. Is it common practice to ask people where they get their nutrition? Are omnivores constantly asked how they get their vegetables? Is this question coming up because of a discomfort or resistance? Are you actually curious to learn so that you may begin to adapt a similar lifestyle? Consider approaching the question to better help the person you are asking answer in a helpful way.

Did you know, out of all the mammals, human breast milk is the least protein dense? That fact blew my mind when I watched “What the Health?” a few years ago and helped me see that if protein is not the end all be all for humans during the time of their life when they are growing the fastest, then it doesn’t need to be the end all be all for me as an adult. Apparently, it’s quite difficult to be protein-deficient. In fact, in all science-based research I have encountered (that is not funded by the meat or dairy industry), it suggests that health practitioners are rarely concerned with protein in comparison to other nutritional human needs. There are some great resources if you want to learn more. I love the Nutrition Rounds podcast with Danielle Belardo, M.D. and the “What The Health?,” a documentary you can find on Netflix. Always speak with your primary care practitioner for individualized support and seek your own unbiased sources of research. 

Do I think protein is an important component of my diet? Absolutely! But it’s not the only thing I focus on. As a mother, when planning meals for my family, I am not only concerned with protein but also fiber, healthy fats, iron, calcium, whole grains and other vitamins and minerals. Protein is a small fraction of our plate in comparison to the well-rounded nutritional components food provides.

I think it’s an unfortunate reality that meat and dairy are generally our only known sources of protein. The truth is, there are many plants that provide natural and whole sources of protein. Off the top of my head, some of the most protein-dense plants that will provide more than enough protein for our family are beans and legumes, tofu, seitan, peas, faro, various breads and sprouted grains, seeds (chia, hemp, flax), nuts and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

My answer to the question, “Where do you get your protein?” is simple—I get my protein by eating a balanced and healthy plant-based diet. I know that every person and their needs are different, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that because I don’t get my protein from an animal source that I am limited to anything I want to pursue in my life. Over the course of 11 years, I have been able to prioritize building muscle tone in preparation for competing at Miss USA, have two healthy pregnancies and two healthy births of an 8.5 pound baby and a 9.5 pound baby and feed my family without the need for meat as a source of protein. I am constantly working to learn and understand nutrition and how to provide what my family needs and what my body specifically needs and so far that has not required protein from animals or dairy (as of the past year). I hope this helps provide some reassurance that we all have a lot of options when it comes to protein sources and we do not need to rely on animals exclusively for protein. 

Brittany is a lover of routines, books, simple joys and anything creative. With a degree in marketing and advertising, she worked in early childhood education for 7 years before pursuing her creative work full-time as an illustrator, blogger, photographer and becoming a mother.

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