How many times have you heard somebody say that that leafy green vegetables are high in protein?
I’ve even heard raw food teachers go as far as to say that there is more protein in spinach than there is in ground beef! Those who are concerned about protein on a raw vegan diet are often encouraged to eat more leafy greens for protein.
So, what’s the truth behind this? Can you really get enough protein from eating spinach?
Spinach vs. Ground Beef
Well, first of all, let’s look at the “spinach has more protein than beef” claim.
Looking at it from a calorie perspective, 100 calories of ground beef has 10 grams of protein while 100 calories of fresh baby spinach has 12 grams. Per calorie, spinach does have more protein than ground beef. Percentage-wise, spinach is 30% protein while ground beef is 40% protein (and 60% fat).
On the surface, it sounds like good advice to “eat more greens for protein” but in reality, in order to get 12 grams of protein from 100 calories of spinach, you’d have to eat almost an entire pound of it! Picture a 12-inch by 12-inch (30cm by 30cm) container packed full of spinach. That’s a LOT of spinach for anyone to eat in a meal, let alone an entire day!
The “spinach has more protein that beef” claim is clearly over-hyped. But does that mean that a raw vegan diet is deficient in protein? Does it mean that ground beef is a better source of protein than raw spinach?
No, not at all! Greens are just one of many foods that I eat that contain protein. Besides, you don’t need to get massive amounts of protein in each meal. Stop worrying about the protein percentage of a particular food and focus on your overall, daily protein intake – from whole foods.
10% Of Calories From Protein Is Enough
When I did a 30-day trial of a 100% raw vegan 80/10/10 diet (10% of calories from protein), I found that I easily met my daily protein intake recommendations. Ten percent doesn’t sound like a whole lot but when I track my nutrients, I find that it is quite adequate.
Most of my protein comes from fresh fruit which averages about 6% protein. Leafy greens (I eat about two bunches each day on a raw food diet) provide a higher percentage of protein.
I’m not 100% raw, however, as I have added some cooked brown rice and quinoa to my diet. These are also great source of protein. Averaged out, I get about 10% protein intake and effortlessly hit my protein requirements for the day. I don’t need to eat lots of sprouted legumes and I don’t eat a lot of nuts for protein. I certainly do not require animal products that contain 40% or more protein and also contribute a lot of unhealthy fat, cholesterol and other contaminants into my diet.
How to Get Adequate Protein on a Raw Vegan Diet
Know Your Protein Needs: You most likely eat more protein than you realize or even need. To find out exactly how many grams of protein you need in a day, use the calculation on this page.
Calories: It is vitally important to consume enough calories, especially when you are eating raw. It is too easy to under-eat on a raw food diet. If you come up short on calories, I guarantee that you will also come up short on protein as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Too few calories on the raw food diet will equal failure on the raw food diet! So if you feel like you are not getting enough protein, you most likely are not getting enough calories.
Eat Protein-Rich Foods, But Don’t “Protein-Load”: There are many protein-rich, raw vegan foods that you can eat to get protein. Quality protein powders are not necessarily the best sources of protein either, but they are fine if you are starting out as a vegan and want to make sure you are meeting your protein and amino acid needs. I recommend a high quality hemp or rice protein powder, but do track your nutrients and try to get as much of your protein from raw, vegan sources as you can. You can also add healthy cooked foods like one cup of quinoa a couple of times a week to your diet.
However, don’t feel that you need to “protein-load” your meals. As I mentioned above, a low fat, raw vegan diet that meets your calorie requirements will supply sufficient protein, even when only 10% of your total calories come from protein.
A Note About Amino Acids: If you consume fewer than 2000 calories per day on a raw vegan diet, then it is important to periodically track your amino acid intake. While you might meet your daily protein intake requirements (in grams), you could still fall short on two essential amino acids – lysine and methionine. Use Cron-o-Meter to ensure that you are getting adequate intake of these amino acids in your diet.
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Tracy Russell is the creator of the Green Smoothie Weight Loss Program, the 30-Day Whole Foods Challenge and founder of Incredible Smoothies. She is passionate about helping people improve their health with green smoothies and a whole foods lifestyle.