Where’s the Protein?


“What do you eat? You’re vegan, right? You don’t even eat eggs? Wow. No meat or dairy products? Aren’t you hungry all the time? How do you get enough protein?!”

Our society is protein-obsessed.  People live in mortal fear of being stuck in an elevator or on a walk without their protein fix. (By the way, if you see only one box of Clif Bar Builder Chocolate Mint bars left on the shelf, just. walk. away. I have no idea what’s in these besides 20 grams of beautiful protein, but I will fight you for them.)

On a recent visit to the grocery store, I noticed no less than 12 brands of protein powders in the health food section, ranging from “Pure Protein” and other whey-based brands to soy, rice, and/or hemp protein blends.  Are we so protein deprived that we need to add expensive, pasty scoops into our morning smoothies? If you’re training to compete in an Iron Man competition, drink up, man, but I really think the rest of us can go a more natural route.

Protein is big business; of course nutrition companies want you to believe you need their fancy shmancy bars and potions to feel and look radiant, but here’s the truth: you don’t. Processed protein snacks and meal replacements have their place in our fast-paced lives –I ate loads of them while training for a half marathon last year, and when I travel I often bring along a few Clif or Lara bars.  On a daily basis, though, eating natural is always best.  And, protein junkie, did you know that vegetables and fruits are plenty high in protein? Every whole food contains protein.

To those who will throw the animal protein argument out there–yes, meat and dairy have a lot of protein, but they also contain cholesterol, saturated fat, and no fiber.  (Wonder why you’re oh so NOT regular? Try leaving off your cow’s milk, pizza, and burgers for a week and get back to me! And please don’t even bring up Activia. Gross.)  Broccoli, an underrated veggie in my opinion, actually has more protein than steak, calorie for calorie.  We don’t need to worry about eating “complete proteins” at each meal, either, as long as we’re eating a variety of foods throughout the day.  When my grandma discovered complete proteins back in the early 80s, she served us heaping plates of rice and lentils every time we saw her for at least five years.  I’m finally eating lentils again.  Don’t ruin this for me.

We always hear that we need more protein, yet we rarely hear about the symptoms of over-eating protein, which can include but are not limited to: excessive sweating (always fun), bad breath (yes, please), fatigue, constipation, body odor (nice), and freaking gout (how old are we?)!  This is basically a list of every condition you’re trying to avoid if you ever want to be close to another human being again. So take a deep breath, try eating more of the foods I’ve listed below and you will do just fine. (If you are someone who really needs to know numbers, it is recommended that adults consume about 40 grams per day.)

Some of the top natural, non-meat sources of protein:

1 Avocado (10 grams)

2 cups kale or spinach (5 grams)

1 cup cauliflower or broccoli (5 grams)

1 cup sweet potato or pumpkin (5 grams)

1 cup cooked lentils (18 grams)

1 cup cooked beans (15+ grams)

2 T. Peanut Butter (8 grams)

1 cup Almond milk (8 grams)

1 cup cooked oatmeal (6 grams)

1 cup cooked quinoa (9 grams)

Easy Kale Salad (makes 4 servings)

4 cups chopped raw kale (remove leaves from stalk, rinse well)

½ cup shredded carrots (or other veggies)

1 avocado, diced

½ cup sweet onion, diced

2-3 tablespoons sunflower or pumpkin seeds (or walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, etc.)


2 T. tamari (or tahini); sounds odd, but both are delicious

1 T. maple syrup (or other sweetener)

2 T. fresh lime or lemon juice

1 T. olive oil

2 T fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

salt / pepper to taste

Directions: Mix kale, carrots, onions, seeds, and avocado; stir up dressing separately and pour over kale mixture.  Serve with black bean veggie burgers or chili to really up the protein content. 🙂

Crunchy Green Tahini Salad


4 responses »

  1. Hannah you know I love you like a sister, and your blog is awesome, and I totally respect the healthy eating thing you’ve got going on! I also want to highlight how many similarities there are between the Paleo and Vegan religions…..we both love whole foods….tons of veggies and fruits and nuts and seeds and that sort of stuff….maybe also throw in there a healthy suspicion of processed foods and anything with a label….and I’m guessing also an interest in sustainability when it comes to agriculture, maybe even a shared hatred of Monsatan? In fact, now that I think about it, you’re just really +1 to bacon and -1 to grains and soy away from the dark side [Paleo]!

    AND I also want to start out by saying that I am not anti-broccoli, in fact it is an AWESOME food and I love it, heck I ate some like ten minutes ago [literally]. I eat a lot of broccoli!

    BUT I have to point out that steak does in fact have more protein than broccoli. If you go to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, at ndb.nal.usda.gov, you can see that 100 kcal of broccoli, cooked, which is 286 grams, has exactly 6.81 grams of protein in it. By comparison, 100 kcal of steak, sirloin, lean [’cause it’s grass-fed, amiright Paleoites?] which is 54.7 grams, yields 16.7 grams of protein. Which is um definitely more than the broccoli! *cough*

    Not that you can’t get some protein from broccoli! But if you wanted to get 40 grams of protein (you were saying that might be a daily goal for a 70 kg adult) you could either eat 4.5 ounces of steak or 11 CUPS of broccoli! That’s seriously about three heads of broccoli.

    To make things worse for broccoli, not all protein is created equal. If you start looking at the individual essential amino acids that are required daily, you will reach your goal with about 6 ounces of steak. But to get all of the essential amino acids you need from broccoli you have to eat nearly twice as much, basically 20 cups. I don’t even know if that’s humanly possible! =)

    As a final note, the 40 grams of protein per day for a 70 kg adult is definitely on the low end, a lot of experts in protein nutrition recommend about 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, or about 90-ish grams per day on average, and they recommend having at least 30 grams of protein with each meal. I’m just sayin’!

    You know what goes really well with broccoli? STEAK! 😎

    Ok anyway sorry if I have mortally offended all vegans, but I’m reaching across the aisle because we can still share a dislike for the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) and a love for farmer’s markets and organic produce, etc.!

    *Peace and love to broccoli*

  2. Dear Ted,

    I hope your excessively sweaty palms weren’t making it difficult for you to type out the above note. . . . . just kidding! 🙂 It’s great to hear from you, and I’m happy you’re feeling good and have found a diet that works well for you. (About the only meat eating I can respect at this point is grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free, etc. And of course we’re on the same page re: organic, sustainable, whole foods.)

    Back to the broc. The various sources I read comparing the protein content of vegetables versus steak stated that broccoli actually contained more protein, such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s site:
    “In the chart below, an equal caloric amount (100 calories) of porterhouse steak is compared to broccoli, romaine lettuce and kale. Broccoli provides the greatest amount of protein per calorie.” 100 calories of broccoli is about 12 ounces, while 100 calories of steak is about 1 ounce, so yes, you’d have to eat more broccoli — a lot more broccoli — but then you’d also be getting all kinds of fiber and other nutrients, too. I just looked at the website you reference, so I see your point. Many people are not going to consume a gazillion cups of raw broccoli when they can get the same amount of protein from a small steak, but also — and here’s my main point, which still stands — most don’t understand that vegetables are a wonderful source of protein, too, and because they aren’t as filling you could actually eat an entire stalk of broccoli if your heart so desired (which I have done!).

    I must sleep now, but let’s converse more later!

    • Ha, yes I am probably more thermogenic than the average vegan at all times, and after drying off my hands really really well I am able to type on a [waterproof] keyboard! 😉

      But wow you are SO RIGHT, I checked out Dr. Fuhrman’s web site, and he clearly states that broccoli has more protein than steak! So on one hand I like the fact that Dr. Fuhrman is a family practice doctor (that has to make somebody cool, right? I hope so)…..I also like his nutrition density part, that makes total sense to me and I agree 100%. But then somewhere in there he kind of loses me by saying that all meat is “disease-causing” and then of course the broccoli vs steak part which is definitely completely wrong. Hmmm…..

      But I see your point, you can get protein from vegetables!

      I’m honestly more worried about your FAT! Do you take a DHA supplement or something? Or do you eat eggs (that would work well)? Oh and if you don’t eat eggs, I am curious why not?

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