Protein is the building block of life. Every part of our body uses it to develop, grow and function properly. For many Americans, though, protein simply means meat. In Clean Protein: The Revolution That Will Reshape Your Body, Boost Your Energy—and Save Our Planet (Hachette, 2018) Kathy Freston, a best-selling author and wellness expert, and Bruce Friedrich, cofounder and executive director of The Good Food Institute, examine what kinds of proteins are best and why.  

Why did you decide to write this book together? 

KF: For the past eight years, I’ve been delving more deeply into the food I was consuming, where it comes from, and how it affects the body and environment. Over a meal, Bruce and I were discussing clean protein. I told him he should write a book, and he asked, “Why don’t you do it with me?”  

BF: I’ve been eating entirely plant-based for more than 30 years. There are so many false understandings about protein. This has been a personal passion of mine, and it animates many of the conversations I have with Kathy. So we decided to turn our conversations into book form.  

What are some of the top myths about protein? 

KF: The number-one myth is that most people think meat is protein and protein is meat. But it’s not the only source, and it’s not necessarily the cleanest. This goes for dairy and eggs, too. Another myth is that meat alternatives aren’t real food; in reality, they are very clean and full of protein and fiber, with very little fat and zero cholesterol.  

BF: We know that 97 percent of Americans are getting plenty of daily protein; even vegetarians get 70 percent more than they need. But we also know that 98 percent of Americans are not getting the recommended daily amount of fiber. If more people consumed clean protein from plants, they would also be getting a lot of that needed fiber. 

How would you define “clean protein”?  

BF: It is protein that is clean for our bodies and clean for consciences. Basically, animal proteins are linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. They are also often contaminated with bacteria, like salmonella. According to the Centers for Disease Control, tens of millions of people get sick from contaminated meat every single year, and tens of thousands end up in the hospital. Clean protein avoids all of that; it’s beans, whole grains, nuts and plant-based meat alternatives predominantly. 

Your book title highlights saving our planet. How does our diet affect the environment? 

BF: According to the United Nations, animal agriculture is contributing to the most serious environmental problems, generating more global-warming gases than all transportation globally combined. So, shifting some of our diet away from animal-based protein to clean, plant-based protein packs a real power punch on behalf of a host of environmental concerns.  

What are your favorite forms of clean protein?    

KF: I’m a big fan of beans. They are inexpensive, versatile and delicious. They’re high in protein, fiber, iron and antioxidants, with no saturated fats or toxins. They’re associated with lowering cholesterol and aiding digestion. I’m also a big fan of nuts and nut butters, which are packed with fiber and complex carbs.  

BF: Nuts certainly resonate with me. I enjoy tossing a half-cup of nuts like walnuts into smoothies, as well as flaxseed. I always travel with deluxe mixed nuts. I also enjoy a number of plant-based “meats,” such as Beyond Meat, Gardein, Tofurky and Lightlife products.