Monday, March 5

Complete protein meals

After "So do you just, like, eat salad?" one of the next most annoying things I get asked is "But what about protein?" Let's take a trip back to the classroom, what is protein? Protein is needed for cell growth and hormone production, proteins are made of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids and different proteins are formed by different combinations of amino acids joining together. The different proteins are then joined together in different combinations to create hormones etc.

It is a commonly held belief that, because they don't eat meat, vegetarians and vegans don't get enough protein. This is not true. It is true that meat and animal products, such as dairy and eggs, are high in protein, but several studies have found that meat eaters consume up to twice as much protein as they should. Too much protein can cause you to excrete calcium in your urine, which can lead to osteoporosis and kidney disease. Meat and animal products also lack much nutrition besides protein. Sure there's some minerals and a few vitamins, but there are not many vitamins, basically no fiber, and no antioxidants, which counteract the damaging effects of free radicals. Animal products also tend to be full of saturated fat, some of which is good, but too much of which is really bad. And it's way too easy to eat too much! There are many oils besides saturated fats that our bodies require, and these can all be found in plants. Hey, what do you think the cows eat to get all that protein and fat in the first place?

Some good sources of plant based protein are grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, mushrooms (actually not a plant but oh well), and, strangely, broccoli. Grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, fruit, and vegetables provide all the amino acids in abundance, so vegetarians and vegans are not at risk of not getting enough protein! They are also not at risk of getting too much, especially vegans because they don't eat dairy or eggs, which could cause a vegetarian to eat too much protein.

Eating a meal of grains and legumes together creates a complete protein meal, one that provides all 20 amino acids. I have a cookbook, The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook (Murdoch books 1996), which has a great nutritional section. It would be great for anyone becoming vegetarian or vegan but not quite sure what their food pyramid should look like. Part of the nutritional section gives examples (and mouthwatering photos!) of complete protein meals.

Some examples of a complete protein meal are:
Red beans and rice (or any beans and rice!)
Hummus and flat bread (such as pita)
Split pea soup with a bread roll or toast
Chickpea and couscous salad
Tabouli and bean salad
Daal and naan (and rice!)
Peanut butter on toast
Lentil burger on a bread roll (Mmm, burgers anyone?)
Falafel wrap (or yiros)
Baked beans on toast
Plus many many more! You are only limited by your imagination.

So as you can see, protein is everywhere in the vegetarian and vegan world and they mostly come with fiber (unlike meat) and without saturated fat (unlike meat). Yay for baked beans on toast! So what can you say to the doubters? I just say "Well, gorillas all seem to grow up big and strong, genetically we're pretty much the same, and they're vegan. Would you fight a silverback?"

Happy eating! :)

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you!