Friday, January 13, 2012

Plant Based Diet Demystified Part 2 - Protein

One of the most common questions a Plant based person gets is 'Where do you get your protein!'

In the USA, we're told that protein isn't just part of nutrition, it's so important that not getting enough will immediately cause you to faint into an anemic heap of malnourished person. Of course really, anemia is caused by a lack of iron, but hey, just go with me here. We're shown pictures of steaks and told that this, is where our protein is located. In reality, that picture of a steak could be exchanged with any other food and the title of protein could be the same.

Animal based protein is a complete protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and meat happens to have all of these. There's approximately 7 grams of protein per ounce of meat. Which is why the meat industry is so quick to tell everyone that meat is necessary for protein. The fact that meat also contains cholesterol, saturated fat, is linked to chronic disease and cancer appears not to matter. What matters is that the protein is there, and it's complete.

What they don't tell you, is that protein is found in all food sources. Broccoli? Protein. Spinach? Protein. Barley? Protein. Kidney beans? Protein. Protein exists in everything. The difference is the amounts, and that plant based diets are incomplete proteins, not all plants have the same amino acids. Aha! So vegetarians ARE lacking in protein? Nope. Not at all. All we have to do is eat a varied diet. If we eat items from 2 categories of the following, we're just fine and dandy as we cover all the amino acids.

Grains: Barley, cornmeal, oats, rice, pasta, whole grain breads.
Legumes: Beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soy
Seeds and nuts: Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews
Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli

Of course, how hard is it to get our 50 grams (averaging of course) from the above? Well, one cup of soybeans has a whopping 29 grams of protein, one cup of black beans 15 grams. A cup of oats has 6 grams (oat bran has even more!) A cup of broccoli has 4 grams. It isn't really hard at all, it occurs over the course of the day. And of course, as with every other diet, sometimes it will be higher and sometimes lower. Our bodies are smart enough to handle that and deal with it accordingly. Where you run into problems is if you're consistently low (or more likely high with how abundant protein is in food) and make your body deal with that on a daily basis.

Of course protein is important. You need protein to survive. Protein is needed to have muscle, hair, energy and so on. The amount you need varies from person to person, it's around .08 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. There is no scientific data that proves excess protein is healthy, though some that shows it isn't healthy.

So why did your 2nd cousin Gina tell you she tried eating Vegan or Veg for a couple days and felt 'terrible' from the lack of protein. This could be for a couple reasons. First, she may very well have simply eaten junky foods. Living on potato chips, and spaghetti isn't a health diet. Or, more likely, if she was eating a healthy diet, her body was resetting. It's a big change to go from eating 150 grams of protein (not uncommon believe it or not ) to the correct 50 grams. And any dietary change can result in you feeling a little weird as your body sorts itself out. Of course it could also be psychosomatic. You 'know vegan diets are so low in protein' and expect to feel weak or weird. In my case, I switched from eating a very high protein, low carb diet to eating Pescetarian in March. I had one day where I felt like I was coming down with the flu and then it went away. Was I fighting something off? Maybe, or maybe it was my body resetting. I went from eating 150 grams of protein a day to about 70 at that point in time (I track my food). After that though, I had more energy and felt better than before.

From the time we're little, the fact that we need to eat meat for protein is drilled into us. It's no wonder that overriding that picture of steaks for protein from our minds is such a struggle.

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