Transcript: Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?
The largest study in history of those eating plant-based diets recently compared the nutrient profiles of about 30,000 non-vegetarians to 20,000 vegetarians and about 5,000 vegans, flexitarians, and no meat except fish-eaters, allowing us to finally put to rest the perennial question, “do vegetarians get enough protein?” The average requirement is 42 grams of protein a day. Meateaters get way more than they need, and so does everyone else. Vegetarians and vegans get 70% more protein than they need every day.
Surprising that there’s so much fuss about protein in this country when less than 3% of adults don’t make the cut, presumably folks on extreme calorie-restricted diets who just aren’t eating enough food period. But 97% of Americans get enough protein.
There is a nutrient, though, for which 97% of Americans are deficient. Now that’s a problem nutrient. That’s something we really have to work on. Less than 3% of Americans get even the recommended minimum adequate intake of fiber. So the question isn’t “where do you get your protein?” but “where do you get your fiber?” We only get about 15 grams a day. The minimum daily requirement is 31.5 so we get less than half the minimum. If you break it down by age and gender, after studying the diets of 12,761 Americans, the percent of men between ages 14 and 50 getting the minimum adequate intake? Zero.
This deficit is stunning in that dietary fiber has been protectively associated in population studies with the risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and various cancers as well high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugars. Therefore, it is not surprising that fiber is listed as a nutrient of concern in the guidelines.
One problem is that most people have no idea what’s in their food; more than half of Americans think steak is a significant fiber source.
By definition, fiber is only found in plants. There is no fiber in meat, dairy or eggs, and little or no fiber in junk food. Therein lies the problem. Americans should be eating more beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—how are doing on that? 96% of Americans don’t even eat the minimum recommended daily amount of beans, 96% don’t eat the measly minimum for greens, 99% don’t get enough whole grains. Look at these numbers. Nearly the entire U.S. population fails to eat enough whole plant foods. And it’s not getting better, a lack of progress that’s disappointing.
Even semi-vegetarians make the minimum, though. And those eating completely plant-based diets triple the average American intake. Now when closing the fiber gap, you’ll want to do it gradually, no more than about five extra grams a day each week until you can work your way up.
But it’s worth it. Plant-derived diets tend to contribute significantly less fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and foodborne pathogens, while at the same time offering more fiber, folate, vitamin C, and phytochemicals, all essential factors for disease prevention, and optimal health and wellbeing. And the more whole plant foods the better. If you compare the nutritional quality of vegan versus vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diets, traditional healthy diet indexing systems, like compliance with the dietary guidelines, consistently indicate the most plant-based diet as the healthiest one.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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