Nov 222011
Sherif Kamal

Where do vegetarians get their protein?
If you don’t eat meat, chances are someone has asked you this question. This is the #1 question I get asked as a vegetarian. If you’re a meat eater, you’re probably guilty of asking one of your vegetarian or vegan friends already. Turns out finding protein might be easier than you think. Read on to get the real scoop on protein.

Do we all remember the old version of the four food groups? (Check out the update here, although it’s still inaccurate it’s going in a better direction).  Protein had it’s own section, with things like a thick steak, a whole fish, or an entire chicken. We were told it was the best of all nutrients; it would make us strong, healthy, and energetic. Unfortunately, cancer rates skyrocketed along with our meat intake. Even so, old thoughts die hard, and most people cling to what they were taught as children.

Do we need protein?

Yes of course we do, protein has a lot of important roles in our body. But do we need meat to get protein? Definitely not. There is plenty of protein in plant sources. You don’t have to be a chemist to get the right combination of amino acids either, even the essential ones can be found in almost any mixture of natural foods. The problem comes in when someone who is vegetarian consumes a diet of mainly bread, pasta and other processed foods. These don’t contain much protein, and definitely don’t have a good balance of amino acids. Read about being a good vegetarian HERE.

How to get the right amount of protein in your diet?

Easy. Include vegetables, whole grains, beans or nuts in your diet. That’s it.

Quick quiz. What has more protein: Oatmeal, ham or a tomato

Actually they all have about the same. The difference? The tomato (and oatmeal) come with fiber and other important nutrients. The ham comes with cholesterol and saturated (bad) fat. It’s like dating that guy who is good looking, but a complete screw up in life. Or… that other guy, who has the whole package. Which to choose, which to choose?

Do I need to mix and match to get all the essential amino acids?

Absolutely not. Where do you think all the herbivores (gorilla, chimp, rhino, cow etc) get their amino acids? They don’t make them by magic; they consume them in the form of fresh produce.

Another quiz for you. Which has more protein 100 calories of broccoli or 100 calories of steak?

Actually it’s broccoli. Both spinach and broccoli have close to 50% of their calories coming from protein. What about steak? It has about ½ the protein as 100 calories of broccoli and the majority of its calories come from fat. Gross.

How much protein do we need?

This is actually highly controversial and the recommended daily allowance (RDA) changes all the time. Either way, the average North American consumes close to double the RDA of protein (and most of it in the form of meat, packaged with fat and cholesterol). If you get your protein from plant and whole food sources, you will be getting closer to the real RDA and you’ll be getting a lot more healthy nutrients with it. Not to mention the benefits of cutting out fat and cholesterol. (Forget about heart disease and obesity). Stop worrying about protein, and start eating vegetables.

Do you need more protein if you work out?

You actually need more of everything, not just protein. When you’re hungry after your workout, try a green smoothie with kale or spinach. You’ll be getting protein and a lot more. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel when you cut weird things like whey protein out of your diet. Check out THIS ARTICLE on raw food and stamina. The photo is of Sherif Kamal, a ripped raw foodist.

The bottom line here is that you absolutely do not need to eat meat to get protein. In fact you are doing your body more harm than good, by relying on animal sources that are loaded with unhealthy fats and cholesterol. If you feel like you absolutely could never give up meat, trying cutting back to two or three meals per week that include meat, and base your diet on fruits and vegetables. You’ll feel amazing and probably lose a few pounds in the process.

PS: I got much of my information from Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live. And if you needed any more reasons to cut out meat, read THIS POST about why I’ll never eat meat again.

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  13 Responses to “Do We Need Meat For Protein?”

Comments (11) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Great, great article, I took a class based on Doctor Fuhrman’s teachings back in high school, and it was a big eye opener. I’m as healthy as ever! I’m glad there are more articles out there that agree!

  2. You barely mentioned fish early on in this article, but completely forgot to compare it to other meats or vegetables in any way. Perhaps you you intentionally left it out so to strengthen your own arguements.

    • Hi Jawier,
      Thanks for your comment. I usually lump fish in with meat, because that’s just how I see it! Fish is one of the highest polluted foods available, due to our quickly degrading aquatic ecosystems. I don’t recommend people eat beef/chicken/pork because of the high amounts of steroids and cholesterol, and fish is no different! They are raised in polluted waters, and this pollution passes onto us when we eat them. I’m aware of the benefits of omega-3′s and especially DHA in the diet. But there are vegetarian sources of these fatty acids, ones that don’t come with risk of heavy metal toxicity.

  3. I’m afraid your quiz about the ham, tomato, and oatmeal is misleading, at best. According to, 140g of ham has 29g of protein, while 182g of tomato has 2g. If you have a better source of data, I’d like to see it. Maybe you are considering it per calorie, but that’s not the implication.

    • Sorry if you didn’t get the implication Mike! If you want a more thorough explanation, check out Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live. There is a link to the book in the article. Enjoy!

  4. I’m so glad that this guy failed to point out that it doesn’t matter how much protein is in a food it matters what type of protein is in a food. The Broccoli comparison is like saying I have one glass with a pint of water in and the other with half a pint. the first glass has more but its puddle water whereas the second glass has less but its from a fresh spring. Both rehydrate you but one is better than the other.

    • Hi Murray, thanks for your comment! It’s a great point that heme vs non-heme protein is not equally bioavailable. You do need to eat more non-heme protein to utilize the same amount than you would from a meat source. But that’s not to say that non-heme or veggie protein is like puddle water! Quite the opposite. Using your analogy, the vegetarian protein is actually more like the spring water, because it comes with other health benefits besides just protein. You also get phytonutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, and perfect balance of carb/fat/protein. If anything is muddy puddle water, it is protein from meat! Just like water with dirt in it, heme protein comes with a price. High fat, cholesterol, hormones (both natural and added), and often steroids and other additives. Why not drink the spring water, even if you have to drink a bit more, you are getting a better deal in the long run.

  5. I really like the ripped raw foodist ;-)