As a dietitian, I am neither for nor against vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. I have seen too many people take different paths to health to pretend that one road is right for everybody. I am for whatever works for the patient sitting with me at any given time. What I am against though are misleading oversimplifications, such as a meme I saw that posed the question, “Do you really need to eat meat to get protein?” followed by single bites of beef and broccoli and the accompanying statistics that beef contains 6.4 grams of protein per 100 calories in comparison to broccoli, which contains 11.1 grams of protein per 100 calories.
Let’s look closer at the numbers. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 100 calories worth of raw broccoli contains 8.31 grams of protein (or 6.83 grams if cooked), not the 11.1 grams reported in the above meme, but let us pretend that the protein content in the graphic is correct and go with it. Broccoli is so low in caloric density that it would take eating 3.25 cups of raw broccoli in order to ingest 100 calories of the vegetable. That means that a 150-pound individual, whose protein needs are likely at least 68 grams per day, would need to consume 20 cups or more of raw broccoli in a single day in order to meet his or her protein needs. Good luck.
In comparison, one would only have to consume 1.75 ounces of steak to reach 100 calories. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, that amount of steak would provide 13.66 grams of protein, not the 6.4 grams reported, although I can imagine that variables like the specific cut of beef and utilized preparation method are possible explanations for the two-fold discrepancy. Either way, the math shows that steak is a much more concentrated source of protein than is broccoli.
By showing one bite each of steak and broccoli side by side, the picture leads one to assume that the protein contents being compared are found in those two forkfuls of food. Think of how fast we breeze through our social media feeds. Honestly, how many people do you think pay attention long enough to disconnect the text from the graphics and realize that grams per calorie are being compared, not grams per bite? Conversely, how many viewers do you think take a quick glance and then move on, left only with the false impression that broccoli is a source of concentrated protein?
Changing the illustration to one that shows a piece of steak approximately half the size of a deck of cards next to a pile of raw broccoli almost the size of two Ben & Jerry’s pints would better represent reality, but that would not look so good for the vegan argument. I think we can safely assume that the creators of the meme realized this, hence their decision to instead opt for the misleading fork graphics.
The issue at hand is not one of animal versus vegetable. The point is that in our culture of fast-paced memes, Tweets, headlines, and soundbites, true meaning often gets skewed, either unintentionally or purposefully in order to fit an agenda. Despite the inconvenience of vigilance, taking the time to really consider and understand a post before clicking the share button can spare ourselves and our connections a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding.