Protein is the Greek word that literally means, “of prime importance.” It’s the foundation to every human body, required by every cell in the body, and is an important building block for the structures in our body including muscles, bones, blood, and cartilage. Protein is so important that nature has made it pretty hard to be deficient in it. In fact, despite popular belief, all meat AND all plants have protein. So as long as you are eating enough calories, then you are getting enough protein. It’s in everything. Though some plant proteins technically aren’t “complete,” as long as you’re eating a variety of plant protein sources, your body does the work of “completing” the proteins for you. Complete proteins are protein foods that contain all of the essential amino acids— those your body can’t produce itself.
The average bodybuilder has a lifespan of just 47 years old. “We don’t want to eat like bodybuilders,” says Plant-based Nutritionist Alisia Essig. “Most people eat more protein than they need and it actually puts a strain on the liver and kidneys. Many studies have shown that our muscles can only synthesize about 25 grams of protein in one sitting. Your body has to figure out what to do with the rest, which is why it puts a strain on your system.”
Plant-based diets offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients than the standard American diet. Adding more plant protein to your diet from sources like legumes, whole grains, and nuts may in fact help you live longer. In a review published in July 2020 in the BMJ, every 3 percent increase in daily plant protein consumption was associated with a 5 percent lower risk of premature death from all causes.
High-protein, low-carb diets work great to help you lose weight fast, but in the long run, they put you at a higher risk for premature death. Those following high animal protein, low-carb diets increase their chances of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
The Journal of the American Heart Association study found that a plant-based diet lowers the risk of all causes of mortality by 25%. And beyond that, the protective levels increase if you stick with healthy plant-based foods. “Science shows a mainly plant-based diet can actually add years to your life,” says Alisia. “A plant-based diet that is mainly made up of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can reduce your risk of major diseases. Plant-based foods lower the likelihood of getting chronic illness and give you the vitamins and minerals you need to improve your skin, nails, hair, and support a long, healthy life.”
A diet high in fiber helps control blood sugar levels, normalizes bowel movements, (dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it), lowers cholesterol levels, aids in achieving a healthy weight, and helps you both to detox and live longer.
“Our society is currently obsessed with protein, yet 97% of us are over-consuming protein, while about 95% of us are under-consuming fiber, and it is hurting our health.” says Alisia. “While protein can be found in both meat and plants, fiber ONLY comes from plants. A great predictor of good gut health is a variety of antioxidant, phytonutrient, and fiber-rich foods.” One of the best things we can do for our health, Alisia suggests, is to “eat meat sparingly, so that we can shift our attention on eating more whole plant foods that contain fiber.”
Alisia started a plant-based nutrition company called PlantWhys which helps individuals and families transition to a plant-based diet. She offers meal plans, courses, and coaching to help people eat more plants without turning their lifestyle upside down. Check out her free guide, “18 Easy Ways to Add More Plants to Your Diet.”