More on the Vegan Protein Debate

More utter nonsense about vegan protein, this time from, which reprinted an article from Natural News, one of the worst sources of health information on the internet.

The author makes grossly inaccurate statements that only serve to mislead people considering a vegan diet. According to Amy Goodrich, with “lots of leafy greensin your diet, you get sufficient protein.”[1]

That’s pure webaloney, and here’s why. Yes, all plants contain protein. After all, protein is required for all structures like stems and leaves, as well as reproductive systems including pollen and seeds. But leafy greens contain such miniscule amounts of protein, you’d have to eat a nearly a bushel a day to get “sufficient protein.”  Think I’m exaggerating? Ask the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, or my textbook in Clinical Nutrition.

First of all, why all the fuss about protein? Answer: Protein is not only critical for growth. It is required for all repair processes. And in the damage / repair model of aging (now the most widely accepted view) protein plays a major role. What’s more, it is not stored in significant quantities like carbohydrate and fat. The National Academy of Sciences sets daily protein requirements at 0.75 g per kg bodyweight. Thus a 70 kg (154 pound) person will need about 53 grams of protein every day.

Since green leafy vegetables range from 1.2% (lettuce) to a high of 3.5% (kale), you would have to consume about 4 POUNDS of leafy greens each day to get “sufficient protein.” And even that is debatable because it assumes that you’re going to digest and absorb all the protein in those vegetables, which is not going to happen.

We’ve come a long way when it comes to measuring protein quality. The latest advance, known as the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) actually looks at the amount of protein that is not absorbed from a meal. That’s right; they measure fecal protein and subtract that from the amount of protein that was ingested. And, no surprise, vegetable protein scores are much lower than dairy and egg, likely because of the high fiber content of vegetables.[2]

More on protein quality

Green leafy vegetables are also low in the essential amino acid, lysine and nearly devoid of two others, methionine and cysteine. People who make statements about broccoli or spinach being great sources of protein are either ignoring current biomedical literature, or unable to understand it.

Let me introduce you to your liver, the organ responsible for providing growth and repair compounds to every cell in your body and brain, 24/7non-stop. Every one of these growth and repair molecules contain amino acids. Lacking a single essential amino acid means that growth (if you are under 20 years of age) or repair (the rest of us) will be slowed.  Omnivores generally do not have to worry about that. Vegans do. And I’m not saying that all vegans have impaired growth and repair functions, but why take that chance, when filling the “vegan gap” is so easy?

Two eggs a week

By any measure of protein quality, egg always comes out on top. Based on amino acid score, digestibility, or growth and repair biomarkers, egg is number one. Eggs are such a protein powerhouse that two eggs a week is enough to fill the methionine and cysteine gaps. So what’s the problem? Since chickens lay more eggs than they can hatch, literally donating them to humans or other animals, I have always wondered what rationale prevents eggs from inclusion in a vegan diet.

Researching this issue on vegan websites, it comes down to three core issues.

1. Animal cruelty. Grocery store eggs come from hens that are kept in inhumane conditions.

Cherniske reply:Agreed. So what about chickens in my back yard that are treated more like pets? They lay more eggs than they can hatch. In fact, without a rooster, hatching eggs in not a problem.

2. Eventual animal cruelty. What happens to the hens when they can no longer provide eggs?  

Cherniske reply: Life always comes to an end. In the case of chickens, there are three choices. You can let them go free, where they will be torn to pieces by a predator. In our case, it would be raccoons, coyotes, eagles or hawks. Option # 2 is to leave them in the brood,where they will be pecked to death by the other chickens. Or option three, where I quickly kill the chicken and use it to nourish six of my seven children, with gratitude and respect.

Of course, there is no argument with belief. If one sincerely believes that there is something morally wrong about eating eggs, I certainly honor that choice. But to support that choice, people often make up quasi-scientific justifications that are nonsensical.

Claim: Eggs are“acid-forming.”

Cherniske reply: People who worry about this have no understanding of acid/alkaline physiology.

Or the cardiovascular canard:

Claim: Eggs raise cholesterol levels and clog your arteries.

Cherniske reply. The connection between egg yolk consumption and cardiovascular disease was always thin. Today, I’m willing to say that Egg-o-phobia was never justified, as the preponderance of evidence clearly demonstrates. [3-12]. Two recent meta-analyses showed no association or even a dose-response relationship between egg consumption and heart disease or stroke.[13,14]. In other words, there is no data – anywhere – to suggest that 2 eggs a week will have any adverse effect on circulation. New research, in fact, suggests the opposite. Rabbits fed egg yolk showed improved blood lipid profiles and reduced atherosclerotic plaque.[15]

Bottom line. The vegetarian community has always allowed for the consumption of eggs, preferably from community broods. People who make this dietary choice are called ovo-vegetarians. When I ask why it is not possible to be an ovo-vegan, I am told –vehemently – that there’s no such thing as an ovo-vegan; that someone eating two eggs a week could not use the word vegan in any way to describe their lifestyle.

Which opens the door for a discussion of radical diet restrictions, and the ongoing debate in the vegan community regarding things like honey, sugar (which might be processed with bone char), perfume, wine, and a dozen other substances where an animal (or insect) product might have been involved in the processing. Where does it end?

Ah well, another day for that discussion.


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