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SHELLY WARNER, September 5 2022


This past weekend, I was out running with my running group on our Saturday morning long run. These runs are so fun for many reasons but one of the most important for me is the depth of conversation which can happen while out running with others. Deep and true friendships are made in those miles as we pound the pavement. As so often happens with runners, one of the most common topics of conversation is the food we eat. It’s curious how much we focus on what we eat, how does it fuel our bodies and help our performance? How do we feel when running after eating certain foods? How do we like to fuel up post-workout? What do other people eat? How does what they eat help their performance? Is that something I should be eating? It is amazing how much discussion and attention can be centered on what we put into our bodies in an effort to drive after best performance.

 On this Saturday morning, we once again were on the topic of what foods to eat. I was running in front of a few people and one of those runners behind me is also a dietician. She was asked: “So how does someone like Shelly, who eats a vegetarian or vegan diet, get enough protein in their diet?” I am fascinated with how often we hear this question. Why is it so many people are so focused on the amount of protein we eat? Of course, I understand the significance of protein as a dietary component to the health of our bodies and our longevity. But what I do not understand is why there is such a powerful misconception by so many that the most important source of protein must come from animals. Many people do not even realize plant foods have protein. Why is this false narrative so invasive in the mindset for many people, especially those in the U.S.? Have you ever met someone who is protein-deficient? How common is this in our nation? If you google this question, you will find it is almost unheard of in the United States. In fact, in most developed countries, protein deficiency is not a major threat to health due to the abundance of food choices we have. Protein deficiency occurs most often in children who live in countries where famine and imbalanced diets are common. It is important for us all to pay attention to the balance of our diet and nutrition as we work to have the appropriate amounts needed for not just protein, but all macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that is needed for a healthy and strong mind and body. Regarding protein, the average woman needs 46g of protein daily while the average man needs 56g. As common as the protein question is, I find it uncommon for most people to even know how much protein they are truly ingesting in a day. If we are so consumed with the importance of adequate protein intake, why is it most people do not know how much they are actually eating?

 When the question of protein intake came up during our Saturday morning run, I did not need to hesitate to think of an answer that question. Even though the question was not asked directly to me at that moment, I felt strongly I needed to have a response to it, especially because my name was brought up in it. Immediately I started listing many plant-food options which are not only high in protein, but also other nutrients and are very satiating. Many people are shocked to learn how much protein can be found in plant foods. And when you consider not only the sheer volume of food my husband and I eat in a day, but also the variety of plants we eat, we are not concerned with getting enough protein. A challenge came back to me as to how can someone who struggles to make their own meals due to their busy lifestyle or other top life priorities, eat this healthy, especially when they are so often dependent on others preparing their food for them. This too is a very common question and a difficult reality for many in today’s world. The level of responsibility and burden of time constraints many deal with is often very overwhelming. Taking some time to plan and prepare is essential to stay on top of your health and nutrient needs. This should be a priority for anyone, regardless of what type of diet you eat. I shared with my friends an example of a very easy, plant-powered meal we had made just the day before. This meal was not only super healthy, including powerful plant protein, but also delicious and very satisfying. And leftovers from it taste even better than when eating it freshly made from the pot. The meal we had made was a split pea soup, cooked in the instant pot. The instant pot, by the way, is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. It is tied for #1 with our blender and coffee pot. Tough race! The winner is still TBD. 

 Below are the ingredients used for my soup and the protein content for each item:

·       Split peas:              48g/1 cup                (we used 3+ cups)                  Total = 144g

·       Gold Potatoes:       3g/each                    (we used 4)                             Total = 12g

·       Kale:                       3g/cup                      (we used 4 cups)                      Total = 12g

·       Onion:                    1.2g/1 med             (we used 1)                                Total = 1.2g

·       Carrots:                  0.6g/1 med             (we used 3)                                Total = 1.8g

·       Celery:                    0.7g/stalk                (we used 3)                                Total = 2.1g

·       Garlic:                    .3g/clove                 (we used 3)                                 Total = 0.9g

·       Brown Rice:           5g/cup                      (we used 1 cup)                      Total = 5g

·       Total Protein Content in this soup is:                                                Total = 179g


As you can see from these numbers, the ingredient in this soup with the highest amount of protein is the split peas. Interestingly enough, one 8oz steak has 45g of protein. The same amount (8oz) of split peas has 48g. Which source wins here? Legumes and grains are most often your highest source of protein in the plant-based world, but they are not your only source. As you can see from above, every item we used in this dish contains some amount of protein, even if only a small amount. What I didn’t even bother to include are all the spices and the veggie broth we used because they are not pertinent to the protein question. But they are definitely pertinent to additional nutrient benefits in this dish. Usually when we make a pot of soup, it will last my husband and I for at least three meals. This soup was so delicious it took us only two days to eat it, in two different meals. So, for each of us, we had ¼ of the nutrient content in each dish. This equaled 44.75g protein in this one dish. This is almost the equivalent for an entire day of protein intake for us both. I ate essentially my daily quota in my one bowl of soup. Mind you, this was not the only food we ate in our day. So, as you can see, we are getting plenty of protein in our diet. And I have not even begun to discuss all the other health benefits we are receiving from all the additional vitamins, nutrients and fiber included, not to mention what we are not ingesting which is harmful to our health.

 My mission with this blog is to shed light on a topic which is so prevalent in our culture, but one which has many false conceptions and untruthful beliefs surrounding it. It is absolutely not necessary to eat animal foods to receive the adequate amount of protein your body needs, whether you are an athlete or not. What is important is you have a diet rich in a variety of whole-plant foods. Feed your body and mind all the nutrients it needs without being primarily focused on just one. 

Now my question to you is: “Where do you get your fiber?”                         


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