The Great Protein Debate (Part 2)

Ah'll be bahck... with my whey protein shake.

(Some common raw protein myths and issues, continued from part 1 of The Great Protein Debate)

There’s no medical term for “protein deficiency,” and you can only be protein deficient if you’re starvingright?

This is quite a popular argument lately, but it’s also a misleading one. The claim is that protein-deficiency diseases like kwashiorkor and marasmas only happen with a very low calorie intake—and therefore you don’t have to worry unless you’re severely undereating.

That’s only partly true, though. In developing countries and other areas where starvation is rampant, local cuisines yield a higher percentage of protein than raw vegan diets because they contain proteinaceous foods like legumes and animal products (albeit in smaller amounts than Americans see). Even grains are typically twice as high in protein as fruit. It’s impossible to get kwashiorkor if your diet is based on those types of food sources and you’re eating enough calories—hence why protein-deficiency diseases are widespread only where calorie intake is extremely low.

It’s different if you’re raw, though. Raw vegan diets—particularly ones high in sweet fruit, oils, honey, or avocado—skirt pretty close to the bare minimum of protein requirements, even when you eat enough food.  For instance, if you consumed 1600 calories worth of apples each day (enough to meet the calorie needs of a petite, sedentary woman), you’d wind up with a whoppin’ 8 grams of total protein. If you were starving in Ethiopia and living on a 100-calorie bowl of boiled lentils each day, guess how much protein you’d be getting? Also 8 grams.

Of course, most raw foodists don’t eat apples all day, every day (hardcore mono-mealers notwithstanding). This is just to illustrate why it’s possible to induce protein-deficiency problems on a raw diet, when those same problems only show up conjoined with starvation on other diets.

How to get enough protein

Chances are, if you’re active, have good digestive health, and eat a large volume of greens, you’ll be getting adequate protein on a raw vegan diet. This isn’t a “silent killer”; if you have no symptoms, you’re probably fine. But folks carrying a high amount of lean muscle mass and others with heightened protein requirements may notice hair loss, muscle loss, fatigue, weakness, and other low-protein problems. If you run into these issues, try the following.

  • Increase your calorie requirements through exercise, especially aerobic (and eat more to compensate!). You’ll be burning more glucose, but consuming more total protein. The biggest reason people face protein problems on raw diets is because they’re sedentary and/or don’t eat much.
  • If your digestion is compromised, take extra measures to ensure you absorb the protein in the foods you eat—such as by blending or juicing greens (or chewing extremely well) and restoring intestinal flora with probiotics (especially if you’ve had a history of celiac disease or antibiotic usage). Food combining may also help.
  • Consume sources of high-quality raw protein (see list below).
  • If your diet is largely or entirely composed of fruit, try consuming higher-protein varieties (8% or more) rather than lower-protein varieties (see list below).
  • If you aren’t vegan for ethical reasons, consider adding occasional animal products to your diet such as raw eggs, dairy, or fish.
  • If consuming raw dairy: fermented products like yogurt and kefir may have more bioavailable protein than raw milk alone, since active cultures serve as a “predigesting” mechanism. This is especially true if you have trouble digesting dairy but want to include it as a protein source.

Percentage of protein (per calorie) in raw foods

For anyone looking to amp up their raw protein intake, this list may be helpful. One caveat: these values assume you completely digest every bite of the foods listed. Unfortunately, a lot of high-fiber foods like leafy greens—as well as nuts and seeds—only get partially digested, so the actual values for assimilated protein may be lower than what you see here. Also, many of the vegetables listed have a high percentage of protein, but to actually get a significant amount from them requires eating a lot because these foods are so low in calories. A few leaves of spinach won’t do you much good, for instance, but a pound will give you 10 grams of good-quality protein.

Protein percentages are listed from highest to lowest.

Fruit

Guavas: 13% protein
Carambola: 11% protein
Cantaloupe: 8% protein
Peaches: 8% protein
Nectarines: 8% protein
Watermelon: 7% protein
Strawberries: 7% protein
Oranges: 7% protein
Grapefruit: 7% protein
Avocados: 6% protein
Cherries: 6% protein
Honeydew melon: 5% protein
Plums: 5% protein
Sapote: 5% protein
Papaya: 5% protein
Bananas: 4% protein
Pineapple: 4% protein
Plantains: 4% protein
Asian pears: 4% protein
Grapes, European: 4% protein
Blueberries: 4% protein
Grapes, American: 3% protein
Figs: 3% protein
Elderberries: 3% protein
Mangoes: 3% protein
Loquats: 3% protein
Cranberries: 3% protein
Persimmon, Japanese (fuyu): 3% protein
Persimmon, American (hachiya): 2% protein
Apples: 2% protein
Sapodilla: 2% protein

Vegetables

Spirulina: 56% protein
Watercress: 51%
Laver (seaweed): 40% protein
White mushrooms: 37% protein
Crimini mushrooms: 37% protein
Broccoi raab: 36% protein
Oyster mushrooms: 31% raw
Spinach: 30% protein
Sprouted mung beans: 28% protein
Chives: 27% protein
Asparagus: 27% protein
Arugula: 25% protein
Portabella mushrooms: 25% protein
Butterhead lettuce: 25% protein
Mustard greens: 25% protein
Beet greens: 24% protein
Lambsquarters: 24% protein
Mustard spinach: 24% protein
Cilantro: 23% protein
Sugar snap peas: 23% protein
Swiss chard: 23% protein
Green leaf lettuce: 22% protein
Sprouted lentils: 21% protein
Collards: 20% protein
Purslane: 20% protein
Nopales (cactus pads): 20% protein
Parsley: 20% protein
Broccoli: 20% protein
Cauliflower: 19% protein
Chicory greens: 18% protein
Endive: 18% protein
Romaine lettuce: 18% protein
Zucchini (courgette): 18% protein
Celery: 17% protein
Sprouted peas: 16% protein
Iceberg lettuce: 16% protein
Kale: 16% protein
Wakame (seaweed): 16% protein
Okra: 16% protein
Kohlrabi: 15% protein
Dandelion greens: 15% protein
Radicchio: 15% protein
Green beans: 14% protein
Scallions: 14% protein
Sweet red peppers: 13% protein
Tomatoes: 12% protein
Cabbage, green: 12% protein
Radishes: 12% protein
Garlic: 12% protein
Cucumber: 11% protein
Cabbage, purple: 11% protein
Turnip greens: 11% protein
Eggplant: 10% protein
Fennel: 10% protein
Kelp: 10% protein
Beets: 10% protein
Sweet green peppers: 10% protein
Celeriac: 10% protein
Sweet yellow peppers: 9% protein
Corn, yellow or white: 9% protein
Pumpkin: 9% protein
Turnips: 9% protein
Onions: 8% protein
Irish moss (seaweed): 8% protein
Leeks: 7% protein
Tomatillos: 7% protein
Carrots: 6% protein
Burdock root: 6% protein
Ginger root: 6% protein
Butternut squash: 5% protein
Acorn squash: 5% protein
Sweet potato: 5% protein
Parsnips: 4% protein

Nuts and seeds

Black walnuts: 14% protein
Pistachios: 13% protein
Almonds: 13% protein
Coconut water: 13% protein
Flaxseed: 12% protein
Sunflower seeds: 12% protein
Tahini: 11% protein
Chia seeds: 11% protein
Cashews: 11% protein
Brazil nuts: 8% protein
English walnuts: 8% protein
Hazelnuts (filberts): 8% protein
Pine nuts: 7% protein
Pecans: 5% protein
Macadamia nuts: 4% protein
Coconut meat: 3% protein

13 comments

  1. mmm if greens are better digested and used by the body when juiced why not changing salads for green smothis or juices,completely (im not really into salads, sorry)

    i mean is there any advantage of eating a big salad insted of a massive green smothie or juicing all those greens, apart from the taste (if you like greens by them selfs)

    1. For some people, the act of chewing a giant salad is more fun and satisfied than drinking a smoothie or juice. For others, salads are a chore. It’s really a matter of personal preference. If someone can chew their salad really well, there’s not a huge difference in terms of benefits between chewing and blending/juicing greens.

      The one problem with drinking your greens is that some people chug beverages down too fast. It’s really important to let each sip of smoothie or juice mix with your saliva before swallowing, because that’s where digestion really starts.

  2. Need to add Spirulina & Chlorella to the list which are very easy to obtain and a way better protein source and very sustainable. I wonder how much energy goes into a pound of animal protein and compare that to a pound of spirulina. You could say that spirulina is not really a natural choice.. considering that no one is living a truly “natural life” I think it really makes the most sense.

    You also missed hemp seed which is super sustainable and high protein and EFA source and if it was not for the silly laws a weed that could grow anywhere.

    Considering that animal proteins have issues of bioaccumulation of toxins, depleted uranium, mycotoxins, bacteria… is eating animal products worth it? Would be fascinating to see blood profiles/ live blood on those adding animal products back into their diets.

    All in love for discussion
    Hugs, Philip

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  4. My experience with probiotics was that they were useless. I trashed my gut flora with antibiotics and consumed probiotic pills and yogurts in vain.

    In fact, 10 years later I am now gluten intolerant and possibly intolerant to sorbitol and fructose as well.

    From what I’ve seen, actual research might validate colon to colon fecal matter transplants, but it doesn’t seem like you can *eat* your way to good gut health if you’ve already killed off your good bugs. (Also, no way to tell if the “active cultures” in those pills are actually still alive.)

  5. I think your all ridiculous and this religion of finding the wholly grail of eating is self serving rubbish. Science hasn’t been used here nor have I read any comment suggesting otherwise. Raw vs cooked, meat vs vegetable re protein intake. Sugar spiking from fructose in all these fruits ladden with pesticide used in many countries still using carcinogens. If you really want truthful answers then look to where your food is being produced and what the methods are in producing them. Your right author different strokes for different folks. But for God sake don’t start printing rubbish when your incomplete on your information and what credentials you hold before anyone should read further.

    The truth is through time man has cheated Mother Nature via cross pollinating and the amounts of nitrogen used to expedite our food to the dinner table. Raw, steamed, fish farming vs deep sea. The list is endless. The most important things we can do as humans is to explore this relativity in modern day cooking. It’s not just this forum but all these so called gurus who know nothing of the farming practices used today.

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