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Protein, Soy and Tofu - Myths and Facts

How Vegans Get Plenty of Protein

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Updated June 16, 2014

In addition to being animal-friendly, a vegan diet is healthy. The American Dietetic Association supports vegan and vegetarian diets, but there are still a lot of protein myths out there. Here are the facts:

  • Myth: Most vegans and vegetarians don't get enough protein.
    Fact: In the United States, most vegans and vegetarians eat less protein than omnivores, but still get more than the recommended daily allowance of protein. On the other hand, diets that are high in protein can put you at risk for osteoporosis, gout and kidney disease.
  • Myth: Vegans and vegetarians need to carefully combine proteins at every meal.
    Fact: While most vegan sources of protein are not complete proteins, we do not need to combine proteins at the same meal. Humans need nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Very few vegan foods contain all nine essential amino acids, but by combining grains and beans, we can get all nine. Protein combining - eating both grains and beans together in the same meal - was popularized by Francis Moore Lappé in the 1970s, but is no longer considered necessary as long as you eat a varied diet throughout the day. Even Lappé has reversed her position on protein combining and says that it's not necessary to eat them together.

  • Myth: No plant foods are complete proteins.
    Fact: While most plant foods are not complete proteins, soy and quinoa are both complete proteins, which means that each contain all of the essential amino acids.

  • Myth: I can't go vegan because soy is bad and contains phytoestrogens.
    Fact: One does not need to eat soy in order to be vegan or vegetarian. Furthermore, while some believe that high soy consumption is linked to certain health risks, scientific studies have given conflicting results. Phytoestrogens are naturally ocurring chemicals in soy and other sources that act like estrogen in the human body. Whether soy and phytoestrogens are linked to health risks is unclear. While some studies have shown a correlation between phytoestrogens and increased risks for breast cancer and thyroid cancer, others have shown that there is no correlation, and one study on Chinese women has shown a correlation between increased soy consumption and a lower risk of breast cancer. It should also be noted that some studies have used animal models, so aside from the animal exploitation concerns, the data may not apply to humans. If you'd like to avoid soy, you can still be vegan or vegetarian and there are plenty of other beans and nondairy milks to choose from.

  • Myth: Rainforests are being cut down to grow soybeans for vegans and vegetarians, so we should eat more meat.
    Fact: The number one cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is meat - creating cattle grazing pastures and growing soybeans to feed to livestock. According to Mongobay.com: "60-70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon results from cattle ranches while the rest mostly results from small-scale subsistence agriculture. Despite the widespread press attention, large-scale farming (i.e. soybeans) currently contributes relatively little to total deforestation in the Amazon." Even the relatively small amount of deforestation from soybeans is caused by animal agriculture; the soybeans are used as animal feed to produce meat for fast food chains and supermarkets in Europe. Because of a campaign by Greenpeace, there has been a moratorium on planting soy on newly-deforested Brazilian rainforest land since 2006. But despite the moratorium, soy farming still contributes to deforestation because land that might have been used for other types of agriculture is taken up by soy, causing cattle ranchers and other farmers to seek newly deforested land. This is yet another example of the inefficiency of animal agriculture; the solution is veganism.

  • Myth: Tofu is bland and tasteless.
    Fact: Tofu is bland, but not tasteless. It has a subtle beany flavor that is nice in savory dishes but usually must be covered up if the tofu is used in a dessert. And the fact that tofu is bland is a good thing! It absorbs whatever sauce or flavors you choose to add. You probably wouldn't eat pasta or rice with nothing on it, and few people would eat tofu with nothing on it. Still don't know what to do with tofu? Try some of these tofu recipes.

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