Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs

The Protein Myth

The Protein Myth says people who don't eat animals need to worry about getting enough protein. Here's the truth in five bullet points.

1) Nobody Doesn't Get Enough Protein

Nobody. Omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans all get on average at least 70% more protein that than they need. Proof (in 30 seconds):

Less than 3% of Americans are protein-deficient, and most of those probably aren't getting enough calories. About 10% of calories from protein hits daily guidelines, and both Americans (16%) and Brits (15%) consume way more. Virtually no one anywhere in the Western world is suffering from protein deprivation, or any ill effects of it. It's a non-problem. You'd have to starve yourself for it even to come up, and you'd probably get scurvy first. And more protein is not better – if you consume more than you need, it will just be excreted or stored as fat.

2) There's Protein in Everything That Grows Out of the Ground

Spinach is 30% of calories from protein. Black beans are 26%. Watercress is 50%. Even fruit is 10-12% protein. The belief that plant proteins must be “combined” (based on a 40-year-old book – later recanted by its author – itself based on a 100-year-old study) has long been debunked. Moreover, the belief that plant proteins are “incomplete” is also false. In fact, all plants contain at least moderate amounts of all nine essential amino acids. (You can look it up for any plant you like.) Not incidentally, this is where the animals we eat get it from. And no one including vegetarians or vegans needs to eat stuff like tofu to get enough protein. (I'm convinced the threat of having to eat tofu has kept millions from going veg…)

3) Nobody Gets Enough Fiber (I.e. Plants)

However, there is a massively widespread nutritional deficiency which vegetarians and vegans never get interrogated about. A whopping 97% of people on Western diets are fiber-deficient. Fiber deficiency is associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and a variety of cancers – which kill millions. Where does fiber come from? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes – plant-based foods alone provide dietary fiber. Plants are also loaded with the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants shown to improve health and reduce disease risk. (42% of Americans are vitamin-D deficient, nearly half are magnesium deficient, etc.) So, while no one is suffering any ill effects from protein deficiency due to eating only plants, millions are suffering chronic disease and death due to not eating nearly enough plants.

4) The Myth Gets Everyone

Even I'm not immune. For years I put vegan protein powder in my smoothies – justifying it by telling myself that I'm super-active, and constantly doing muscle repair, and needed the boost. But I didn't. I was already getting plenty of complete protein, and the extra was just coming out of my bank account and then going out in my urine. It's only in the last year that I finally woke up from this.

Me while supplementing with protein powder (age 43, 13 years vegan)

Me after I stopped supplementing (age 48, 18 years vegan)

Those pictures, by the way, prior to me finally writing this essay, were the official answer to the incessant question, “Where do you get your protein?” Right here, buddy.

5) Where Does the Protein Myth Come From?

In some measure, from the tireless efforts and money of the $186 billion animal agriculture industry. And, of course, this would hardly be the first time in human history most people have believed something that isn't true. But I personally don't think that's quite enough to explain how tenacious and widespread the belief is. Here's my theory. (The sections above are rigorously evidence-based. The following is psychological speculation on my part.)

Basically, we confine, torment, and slaughter 150 billion animals a year for food. More animals die this way every week than people have died in all of humanity's wars. It is violence without precedent in its scale and intensity. So – how to justify an industrial system of killing and torture? Well, if we have to do it, if we need the protein for our survival, then it's self defense. It becomes justifiable.

This is why debunking the Protein Myth is an urgent moral issue.

  health     veg'ism     veganuary  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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