Myths about veganism 2: Vegans don’t get enough protein.

A very persistent myth about veganism is the unusually common belief that vegans don’t have a sufficient plant-based protein intake. Upon turning vegan you might have been quite surprised how often you heard the phrase: “But where do you get your protein from?”
Especially if you are a vegan athlete or an athlete who thinks about going vegan you might wonder whether the increased protein requirements you have can be met by a solely plant-based diet. It turns out that even vegan athletes do not have to worry about their protein intake if their diet is a healthy one.

It is estimated that a normal person needs about 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams of protein for each pound) and that an athlete needs between 0,8 and 1,9 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight  (0,36-0,86 grams of protein for each pound). Very few athletes require the amount of protein at the upper end of this range, but even this can be covered by a plant-based diet. In case bodybuilders are still worried about their protein intake, there are various vegan protein-drinks that can be integrated into a healthy diet.

Now let us have a look at some plant-based protein sources and the amount of protein they contain.Generally, it can be said that legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are relatively high in protein. Products frequently used for meat-replacement such as tofu and seitan (wheat gluten) are also high in protein.

The following table provides some examples of plant-based foods that are high in protein, but is obviously not exhaustive.

Food Amount of protein per 100g Amount of protein per ounce
Chickpeas, cooked 9g 2,55g
Lentils, cooked 8,5g 2,41g
Kidney beans, cooked 8,5g 2,41g
Quinoa, cooked 5g 1,42g
Peanuts 26g 7,37g
Sunflower seeds 21g 5,95g
Tofu 14g (varies) 3,97g (varies)
Seitan (wheat gluten) 22g (varies) 6,24g  (varies)
Bread 12g 3,4g

As a comparison, 100g of lean beef steak include about 27g of protein which equals 7,65g of protein per ounce.  From the table, it should be clear that many plant-based products are actually high enough in protein to make it easily possible to get the recommended amount of daily protein with a vegan diet.

Another issue concerning plant-based protein intake is that not all protein sources contain an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids. While animal products usually contain all essential amino acids, i.e. can be considered whole proteins, some sources of plant-based protein do contain less from (or more from) some essential amino acids, therefore being incomplete protein sources.  Some plant-based protein sources, such as quinoa and soy, are actually complete, but incomplete protein sources are less problematic than previously thought.

Upon finding out that some plant-based protein sources do not contain an adequate proportion of all essential amino acids, the idea to combine different protein sources during one meal became quite popular, resulting in sometimes complicated combinations. Luckily, this is not necessary: It is absolutely sufficient to have protein intake from diverse sources over the day. A healthy vegan diet should include different protein sources, naturally resulting in an overall balanced intake of all essential amino acids, but it is not required to cleverly combine them during each meal.

To sum up, vegans get sufficient protein intake if their diets include adequate amounts of plant based protein. This also results in an overall balanced intake of all essential amino acids if diverse protein sources are consumed throughout the day.

Have you encountered this myth as a vegan and do you know other myths you would like me to write on? Please let me know in the comments.

This blog post is part of the series “Myths about veganism.”
See also:
Myths about veganism 1: Vegans can’t be good athletes

Source of the protein values ; photo credit: pixabay

Myths about veganism 1: Vegans can’t be good athletes

olympics-84221_1280The idea that vegetarians or vegans don’t perform well at sports is quite common and interrelated with the myth that ‘vegans don’t get enough protein’ which will be featured in a future blog posts of this series. For the purpose of this post it is sufficient to say that a proper vegan diet can easily include all the protein required, even if you want to gain muscle.

In an interesting interview, the sports nutritionist Nancy Clark states that while the research on the influence of vegetarian or vegan diets on the performance of athletes is limited, anecdotally they do fine. This is further supported by statements later in the interview mentioning that vegans can certainly get sufficient calories and protein if they have a healthy diet.  One thing that should generally be supplemented in a vegan diet and is also required for good performance at certain sports is vitamin B12, which is nowadays frequently added to soy milk.

While research on the effects of a vegan diet on the performance of athletes is rare, some studies have indicated that a vegetarian diet can work out well for athletes. Examples are in this publication, summarizing earlier research and concluding that vegetarian diets might increase performance in endurance sports and that vegetarian diets include all needed nutrients known. Some studies indicated that exercise increases the iron requirements of our bodies, while vegetarian or vegan diets can sometimes result in insufficient iron intake. While iron levels should generally be observed, this suggests that especially female athletes with a vegetarian or vegan diet have to take care of their iron intake and should consider adjusting their diet in a way to increase it – while staying vegetarian/vegan of course.

Now let me mention some examples of vegan athletes demonstrating that it is possible to be a successful vegan athlete – without having much to say on the exact effects of a vegan diet on athletic performance of course.

Scott Jurek is a famous ultramarathoner who has been vegan since 1999. He won a very large amount of races, such as the Western States Endurance Run – in this case seven consecutive times. Many of his accomplishments occurred after going vegan – a complete list of them can be found here.

Patrik Baboumian, a former bodybuilder, is a strongman competitor who turned vegetarian in 2005 and vegan in 2011 without losing strength. In 2011, albeit before turning vegan, he was awarded the title “Germany’s strongest man”. A full list of his accomplishments can be found here.

Brendan Brazier is a former Ironman triathlete and endurance athlete who has been vegan since more than 20 years. A list of his race results can be found here, including for example winning the National 50km Ultramarathon Championship in 2006 and setting a new record. He also authored several books on the vegan diet. The foreword of “Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life” is written by Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), who received advise by Brazier on meal plans. While Jackman did not go vegan, he reported positive results.

Carl Lewis, a very successful athlete, went vegan in 1990 and his accomplishments include winning several Olympic gold medals. One of his greatest achievements happened in 1991 when he was 30 years old: He broke the 100m world record with a time of 9.86s. He believes that the vegan diet improved his performance and made this result possible.

The list of successful vegan sportsmen could go on and on, these are just some examples in order to illustrate that a vegan diet can be maintained even during extreme athletic performances.

Did you ever encounter this myth upon telling people that you are vegetarian or vegan? Did you maybe hold yourself that this myth could be true? Please let me know in the comment section and feel free to suggest other myths I should post on.

This post is part of my blog post series “Myths about veganism”
See also:
Myths about veganism 2: Vegans don’t get enough protein

Why you should not share this brutal picture of a dead animal

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Everybody who has some vegetarian and vegan friends on facebook probably knows the situation I found myself in this morning: I’m tired, scroll through facebook and one of the first things I see is a horrifying picture of a dead animal, posted by some animal activist. This made me reflect on the use of such pictures in animal activism and in which situations it might be appropriate.

Personally, I would never post such pictures on facebook and would encourage fellow vegans to refrain from doing so too, but let me explain why I think so. First of all, people posting such content are likely to have several vegetarian and vegan friends who already decided not to support this treatment of animals and might not want to be reminded of this violence over and over again. They don’t eat animals, what is the point in showing them this? Opinion might obviously differ on this point, but as far as my view goes, I don’t need and I don’t this kind of pictures on my facebook feed.

Then there is the group of friends that does not have a vegan or vegetarian diet for whatever reason. This group is usually in the majority even among people who add many vegans to their friendlist. The vast majority of this group can also get quite annoyed with regular involuntary exposure to such content. They might block the content of the person who posted it from their feed or they might just scroll over it and not think about it much. Therefore, posting these pictures too frequently is analogous to the inappropriate behavior by some overly motivated vegans lined out in “Fellow vegans, don’t shout at meat-eating strangers in public”

Does this mean that visual exposure to the conditions under which animals have to live for the mass-production of meat can’t convince people to reconsider their diet? I don’t think it does. Actually, many vegans probably watched videos or saw pictures showing these conditions  before turning vegan. This imagery can have an emotional impact on people and therefore influence their attitude towards these issues.

But these vegans often had the motivation to learn more about meat-production or were possibly asked by a friend to have a look and decided to do so. In any case, this exposure to the imagery is a voluntary one which is the major difference to the violent content posted on facebook. If the exposure to such content is an involuntary, it is more likely that people turn away from it, maybe as a self-defense mechanism and don’t reflect upon it.

To sum up, I don’t think that posting such pictures on social media will have the positive effect some people might think it has. Furthermore it can have a negative effect on both people who do not  have to be reminded of the ways animals are treated and on people who might not want to.

What was your experience with the usage of violent imagery in animal activism? Did seeing it influence you in your diet choices? Do you get annoyed if people post such content on a regular basis?

 

Why we don’t eat certain animals

retriever-348572_1280There is an asymmetry in our behavior towards animals that deserves being reflected upon more often:  We have our own pets at home, we care about them and we love them. Plus, we are incredibly sad if something ever happens to them.  At the same time, many of us do not seem to care much about the animals that suffer and die for meat production. How can we explain this asymmetry?

In fact, it can tell us a lot about the way in which our mind works. There are various reasons why certain animals are considered food while eating others would result in a public outrage.
First of all, it is clear that we do not eat our pets because we have a strong emotional bond with them. It seems completely nonsensical to us to even consider it. The same idea applies for pets from strangers, but it does not quite end here. Even if we knew that a certain dog or cat does not have an owner, we would still not eat them, so there is something more that makes these animals different.

One major factor is that our culture simply does not eat them. For some reason, most western cultures do not eat dogs and cats, so we intuitively feel that it is wrong, just because it is highly unusual. We could not justify this rationally since there is no coherent way to argue that eating cows and pigs is better in an ethical sense than eating dogs.

The last way  in which certain animals such as dogs and cats differ from the animals in meat production is that we are exposed more directly to pets. We have them in our houses; we see them in the park and so on. As far as cows and pigs go, a large portion of our population scarcely sees them – especially not in the conditions they frequently have to live under in order to make the mass-production of meat possible. Due to this very limited exposure, we are less likely to care about them. We do not have immediate contact with the cow suffering for our meal; we just buy the end-product in the grocery store. This demonstrates a completely natural – although irrational – way in which the human mind works: We care much more about beings that we are immediately surrounded with.

Let us make a little thought experiment: You are on the street and see a deer that was hit by a car and lies on the side of the street. The poor animal is clearly suffering and you have to wait by its side until someone comes to kill it. Later that day you hear on the radio that several animals died in a remote city when a farm burned down. Which situation has a higher emotional impact on you? Probably the first one has; which is completely natural, but does not imply that the second one is in any way less important. This brings us back to our original topic: The mere fact that cows and pigs suffer far away from us does in no way justify on ethical grounds that their suffering is to be favored compared to the suffering of animals which happen to be immediately around us.

This two-class view upon animals has to be reflected upon more often. I personally feel that it is a huge inconsistency in the worldviews of some people that is scarcely noticed. While starting to eat pets does not strike me as a particularly good solution to this problem, re-considering ones diet might be, but of course everybody has to decide this for himself.  

What do you think about these issues? Do you think it’s justifiable that some animals are treated very badly while others are not?

Fellow vegans, don’t shout at meat-eating strangers in public!

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Recently, I have found myself thinking about the coexistence of vegetarians and omnivores in our society and how problems can arise from this in individual cases. Let me begin with the reaction vegetarians and vegans get from their friends upon telling them that they don’t eat meat.  Some people respond that it’s quite healthy and maybe that they have thought about going vegetarian too. Others might look up to you for obviously caring about animals, but declare that they could not do the same. While the latter reaction may very well challenge one vegan or another to start a more or less furious debate about how they very well could do that, it’s still one of the better reactions.

But then, there are these  slightly more annoying reactions when people start almost stereotypical conversations on vegetarianism, frequently including the famous thought experiment of you suddenly being alone on some island where killing animals is the only survival option. It’s often accompanied with unprompted self-defense along the lines of ‘but it tastes so good’ and ‘how could you give that up’ or even worse an unqualified ‘that can’t be healthy!’

After one presentation I gave about veganism at school, presenting ethical, environmental and health reasons to consider a vegetarian/vegan diet, an audience member even told me that he feels like I was declaring omnivores bad people. But I did no such thing. I simply talked about the reasons why I think eating meat is not a good choice which caused him to express self-defensive behavior. While this may be understandable from a psychological perspective, I think such reactions should be reduced. We’re tired of the stranded-on-an-island scenario and we might not want to hear that you find meat absolutely tasty and impossible to give up over and over again.

Now let’s change perspective. It is note rare that vegetarians and vegans mumble something about animal corpses when there’s someone sitting at the same table eating a huge steak.  This might be annoying on a long-term basis, but as long as it’s more of a joke and if no lecture on the ethical reasons to seriously consider a vegetarian diet follows – all while the other person keeps eating the steak – no harm is done.

I understand that some vegetarians tend to have the wish to talk to omnivores about eating meat and why they think it’s bad. After all it’s an important part of their lives and they have spent quite some time looking into reasons not to eat animals. But these conversations should only happen if the hopefully-soon-to-be-a-vegan in front of you agrees to have this conversation. Furthermore it should not be repeated over and over again without making any progress. I suggest that the more extreme vegetarians/vegans become aware of the fact that we will always – at least in the foreseeable future – live together with omnivores and interact with them all the time. It is therefore not a good idea to vigorously shout at strangers who dare to eat meat in public transport.

To sum up, we can identify negative, unhealthy reactions coming from both sides. Talking about stranded islands and entering a state of self-defense is about as bad as unaskedly lecturing people on veganism when everybody just tries to enjoy their lunch. If we try to reduce these, coexistence becomes a lot easier and is much more fun for both sides. After all, we are not isolated groups of people but human beings interacting with each other all the time. So why not make these interactions better for everybody?

What do you think? Did you ever experience extreme reactions upon telling people that you are a vegetarian or did you ever see a vegan giving people an overly-enthusiastic and annoying lecture during lunch time?

On eating coffee beans

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Today I discovered that roasted coffee beans are not only edible but also quite tasty. They are very crunchy and taste like liquid coffee – just more aromatic. The caffeine in them is very concentrated so they should be consumed with caution. They contain large amounts of antioxidants, molecules required to repair and prevent damage naturally caused by free radicals in the body. The recommended amount of them is frequently not covered by our diets. Furthermore, coffee beans are very high in fiber, know to lower cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar levels. 
Sambuca, an Italian liqueur, is traditionally served together with three coffee beans, meant to represent health, happiness and prosperity.[1] Plus, Chocolate-covered coffee beans can be bought as a snack, if you want a contrast to their bitter aromatic taste. 

Did you ever eat roasted coffee beans or will you now? Please let me know whether you liked it in the comments. 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambuca