Food Scoring Guide: Misconceptions about Protein

The most common question people are asked when they switch to a nutrient-rich diet is, “Where do you get your protein/” In a diet that is chock-full of vegetables and fruits, and short on animal products, it might seem like a reasonable question. But it isn’t.

It is an old myth that a diet needs to contain lots of animal products to provide enough protein and be nutritionally sound. Adding to the confusion are diet books and magazine articles that promulgate another myth—that eating more protein is weight-loss favorable and eating carbohydrates is weight-loss unfavorable. Another common misconception is the notion that you need to maintain a fixed ratio (percentage) of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. There also are plenty of self-appointed experts ready to tell you that the ideal diet should be based on your heritage, skin tone, eye color, blood type, or the spelling of your mother’s maiden name. Some recommend high-protein, others low-protein; some recommend very low-fat diets; others recommend much higher levels of fat. But regulating the macronutrient content of a diet is not the critical factor you should be concerned with, and here’s why.

If you are overweight, you consumed more calories than you have utilized. Micromanaging the percent of fat, protein, or carbohydrate isn’t going to change the amount of calories very much. You need to consume fewer calories. Therefore, almost all overweight individuals need to consume less of all the macronutrients—less protein, less fat, and less carbohydrate. These are the source of all calories. Don’t worry about not consuming enough of these. Unless you are anorexic, it is very rare to find an American who is deficient in fat, protein, or carbohydrates.

There is protein in all foods, ESPECIALLY VEGETABLES, not just in animal products. The fact is, protein deficiency is not a concern for anyone in the developed world. It is almost impossible to consume too little protein, no matter what you eat unless your diet is significantly deficient in overall calories. If it is, you’ll deficient in other nutrients as well.

It is a big mistake to put emphasis on trying to get enough of something (protein) you are undoubtedly getting too much of it in the first place. Hundreds of studies show that as protein consumption goes up, so does the incidence of chronic diseases. Is protein bad for us? No, incidence of chronic diseases goes up when you increase the consumption of carbohydrates and fat, too.1 Most Americans simply don’t need to increase eating any macronutrients. Increasing the consumption of protein (or fat or carbohydrates) is good if you need more calories because you are anorexic or are chronically malnourished, like a starving person in a troubled area of the world. But it is bad if you are already getting too much. If any of these nutrients exceed our basic requirements, the excess is harmful. Americans already get too much protein, and it iss hurting us.2

The problem is that people in modern societies like the United States eat diets that are deficient in micronutrients.
1. Roth GS; Ingram DK; Black A; Lane MA. “Effects of reduced energy intake on the biology of aging: the primate model.” Eur J Clin Nutr 2000;54 Suppl 3: S15-20.

2. Kelemen LE; Kushi; Jacobs DR; Cerhan JF. “Associations of dietary protein with disease and mortality in a prospective study of postmenopausal women.” Am J Epidemiol 2005; 161(3):239-49.
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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Heather Dube - March 28, 2008 7:44 PM

I beg to differ - your diet should be comprised of healthy sources of fats, carbs & proteins - including animal proteins, preferably locally grown/raised from a source you trust. While there is protein content in vegetables, it's so minimal it's literally not worth mentioning. You have to look at the ENTIRE caloric breakout of each food source (fat/protein/carbs), in which sense protein that a person gets from ingesting vegetables is incomparable to lean protein available in healthy meats. I respect MDs, but the only ones that have solid nutrition advice are those with a PHD/Doctorate in Nutrition that work in research and spend years in the field studying cutting edge concepts such as G Flux Principles, or Nutrogenomics. This is exactly what confuses Americans and creates the public health issues we have now - Dr's that don't have a nutrition background giving advice based on opinion, not solid nutrition research approved and published in our Clinical Nutrition Journals. Anyone consuming vegetables as their main source of protein is seriously nutrient deficient. Yes, Americans are also very nutrient deficient in terms of not consuming enough vegetables, but God gave us teeth for a reason. If you'd like to read more from a PhD in Nutrition in regards to what qualifies as healthy meal composition & daily caloric intake, visit

Gerry Pugliese - March 28, 2008 10:06 PM

Hey Heather-

Bringing up "god" when you are discussing science kind of rules out your!


sharon shaw - March 30, 2008 2:18 PM

Heather, you state that "anyone consuming vegetables as their main source of protein is seriously nutrient deficient". Apparently someone forgot to tell the innumerable athletes this "fact". I suggest you "Google" the acclaimed runner Carl Lewis, for example. His performance improved so dramatically after switching to a nutrient-dense vegan diet that he would never consider a return to animal products..While it is unfortunate that the vast majority of MDs receive either no information or some misinformation regarding nutrition, it shows extreme ignorance to place Dr. Fuhrman in either above catagory. To the contrary---he HAS done the research-impeccably-and has thousands of successful cases under his belt to prove it!

Michael - March 31, 2008 1:34 PM

All whole foods contain protein. Anyone who doesn't realize that is ignorant of nutrition. For all of this emphasis on protein, where in this country does anyone not get sufficient protein? What are the symptoms of protein deficiency? If consumption of protein is so important, how come during our most rapid growth stage (infancy) our protein needs are met by human breast milk which only contains 6% of calories as protein?

Corinne Rice - October 6, 2010 11:23 PM

hey heather- bet you didn't know that when you cook protein, your body is lucky to be able to absorb even 1/2 of the original amount. I'm glad you're able to regurgitate your government issued economic based nutrition facts, which I'm sure you spent lots of money to learn about :) let me guess, 3rd year disciple? I would suggest doing some unbias protein studies on your own and go with your gut!

Eric - July 27, 2011 6:57 PM

Heather just got served.

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