By Ellen Jaffe Jones
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. Learn more about Ellen Jaffe Jones at www.vegcoach.com

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