The #1 question I think that most vegetarians
get asked is “Where do you get your protein? How can you possibly survive without meat?”
And if you’re a vegan, which means no dairy or eggs, the idea of living without milk,
ice cream, butter and especially cheese—that just boggles most people’s minds. The biggest
misconception is that the body can’t build muscle, or get any muscle development at all,
without a lot of meat and dairy consumption. In short, the assumption is, you’re a weakling
without meat and dairy. You know how I answer this? I flex my almost 60 year old biceps
and ask, “Do I look like I’m a weakling? Do I look like I have a protein deficiency?
I think not.” I get my protein from beans, nuts, seeds, greens and grains. All plants
have some protein, and that protein is very bioavailable. However, protein from meat and
dairy is not very bioavailable, which means you need to eat more of it to get the same
amount. Keep in mind that cow milk is meant to make baby cows grow up into ginormous cows.
The protein in human breast milk is designed to double an infant’s weight in 180 days,
while milk from a cow is designed to double the weight of a calf in 69 days. We are the
only species that drinks milk from another species. Our species milk is best for our
body parts, and especially brain development, when we are first born and very young. After
that initial period of time, no mammal needs its mother’s milk. Beans and legumes have
a great deal of ideal protein. Nuts and seeds, consumed in moderation so you don’t gain
weight if you don’t want to, are also ideal protein sources. My book has plenty of recipes
that include beans and seeds. They are not only nutritious and loaded with high-quality
protein, but they are the cheapest protein recipes on the planet. You can also get a
lot of protein from the many plant-based milks such as soy, rice, oat, almond and even hemp
milk. There are so many more choices now than when I started to eat this way. To get complete
proteins—or all of the amino acids—you don’t need to combine beans and grains as
was thought you had to do years ago. Eating a well-balanced plant-based diet over the
course of a week will supply you with all the nutrient and energy-rich food you need.
The only exception is Vitamin B12, which used to be in our soil and on our food, but it
isn’t any more because we wash our produce. So I do recommend taking a Vitamin B12 supplement.
Check out the daily food category recommendations and menu plan in my book for more information
on how exactly to do that. It’s worked great for me over 30 years. And when I’ve strayed…not
so great. The worst example was when I had no control over what I ate when I worked as
a financial consultant and greasy pizzas were our “working lunch and/or dinners” for
days at a time. I was faced with needing a hysterectomy after hemorrhaging fibroids sent
me to the emergency room. But my awesome doctor said, “Ellen, get back to that plant-based
diet and call me in the morning.” Sure enough, in three weeks, all symptoms of menopause
were gone, including hot flashes, much to the amazement of my usually skeptical husband.
And I never needed that hysterectomy. Keep in mind, I run 3 miles every day or every
other day, I weight train and do yoga a few times a week, and I help coach a high school
girls cross country team . I often place in my age group for 5K races, and can hold a
plank position for up to 6 minutes. If you look at pictures on my Eat Vegan on $4 a Day
Facebook page, I have a photo album called, “Races I have placed in on plant power.”
You’ll see dozens of pictures taken of me as I’m accepting the award in my age group.
5K races usually give awards to the top 3 finishers in each age group at 5 year increments.
When I stand next to the other two women in my 55-59 age group who have also placed, you
see I usually have more muscle development in my arms than my meat-eating competitors.
This is a surprise to many people. I did my first marathon last year and was the 5th oldest
female to finish the Palm Beaches Marathon. So I have plenty of muscle to do that, and
you will to on a plant-based vegan diet, especially if you exercise.