Reducing Meat and Dairy Products in the American Diet -- Concerns about Protein, Calcium, and Iron


Many people may worry that a diet containing little or no meat and dairy products will be deficient in protein:

In reality, the protein content of the North American Diet is well above what is required….A typical North American consumes 100 grams of protein a day, about twice as much as is recommended. This extra protein is not stored as protein; rather, the excess is converted to carbohydrate or fat… Some problems may be associated with this level of protein consumption, particularly if the protein consumed is of animal origin.
~Nutrition, Science and Applications by Smolin and Grosvenor (Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994), pp. 167ff.

The U.S. recommended intake of protein is 44 grams a day for an adult female, 56 grams a day for an adult male. This is easily met by consuming the plant-based food groups in the amounts recommended by food guides:

*About ½ cup after preparation.


One of the problems associated with excess animal protein consumption is loss of calcium from the bones, eventually resulting in osteoporosis. It is estimated that for every 50 grams of protein eaten above the amount needed, an additional 1,000 mg of calcium must be taken in to replace what is lost. Excess sodium (salt) and the phosphoric acid added to some carbonated soft drinks also deplete calcium.

Milk does not have a monopoly on calcium: The 800 recommended milligrams are contained in three cups of cow’s milk, but can be gotten also from five half-cup servings of collard greens, for instance. Nearly all plant-derived foods contribute some calcium, while meat and fish (unless the bones are eaten) are notoriously poor sources.


People associate iron with beef, yet greens like broccoli and romaine lettuce provide much more on a per calorie basis. Dairy products are notoriously poor iron sources. (Over consumption of cow’s milk is to blame for much of the iron-deficiency anemia seen in small children.)

Vitamin C is needed to help absorb iron, so it is helpful to consume some fresh (or at least not overcooked) vegetables and/or fruits at each meal.

It is also a good practice to minimize use of highly processed and refined foods, and to seek organically-grown produce to optimize nutrition and avoid contaminants.


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