The Plant Rx

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Archive for the ‘Protein’ Category

Can a plant-based diet be unhealthy?

Posted by Jenn on February 10, 2011


Telling you that almost everything you do in life can be performed in either a good way or a bad way or can be done well or not well probably isn’t earth shattering news to you. .  Of course there are many variations in between but you get the idea.  The same is true with diets. Like any diet out there, plant-based diets can be complete, healthy and balanced or incomplete, unhealthy and unbalanced. Thus, merely consuming a diet free of meat and dairy products does not necessarily guarantee good health.  Now, before you stop reading in disgust, hear me out.

Don’t get the wrong idea , choosing not to eat animals or animal products is a great thing and does in and of itself confer health benefits.  That being said, not all products free of meat and dairy are created equal.  Let’s use soy & soy products to illustrate.  As a whole food soy beans are an excellent, high quality, complete source of plant-based protein and fiber. So are unprocessed soy products such as soymilk and tamari.  Furthermore, they are low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium.  A true super food!   Then there are processed soy foods.  Processed soy foods have become very common and are very appealing especially to the new vegan looking to shift the protein sources in their diet.  While they still may retain some of the beneficial properties of unprocessed whole soy they also have a much less desirable side.  They tend to be high in sodium, fat, sugar, and often have artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Although exceptions do exist, calling these foods “healthy” would be more than a slight exaggeration.

Another example would be eating refined (“white”) grains rather than their whole grain counterparts such as white rice, bread and pasta.  While, it is true that these are not animal-based products, which is good, compared to their whole wheat and brown counterparts they have less fiber, less protein and a higher glycemic index.

The whole grains haven’t had their bran and germ removed by milling, making them good sources of fiber — the part of plant-based foods that your body doesn’t digest. Among many health benefits, high-fiber foods also tend to make you feel full longer.

Refined grains, such as white rice or white flour, have both the bran and germ removed from the grain. Although vitamins and minerals are added back into refined grains after the milling process, they still don’t have as many nutrients as whole grains do, and they don’t provide as much fiber naturally. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Protein Conundrum: the REAL truth about Protein

Posted by Jenn on February 7, 2011


Out of all the conflicting information that is bestowed upon the American public in regards to nutrition, the one seemingly straight forward and universally agreed upon tenet is the importance of protein.  The general consensus is that in order to maintain a healthy weight and be healthy in general, it is vital to consume enough lean protein (which in America typically equates to white meat and fish) and limit intake of carbohydrates. It is commonplace to hear people say,”I really need to eat more protein”.  Whereas it would be almost shocking to hear someone say,”I really need to eat more carbs”. One might go so far as to say American’s are obsessed with protein.

It is for this reason that protein is frequently at the top of the list of concerned family members and skeptical friends and why those who eat a plant-based diet are bombarded by questions about where they get their protein.  In fact, people not familiar with plant-based nutrition often assume that it is terribly hard to get enough protein by consuming a diet free of meat and dairy products. In the same vein, most carnivores are not aware of how much protein they are consuming on a daily basis and that they are likely consuming far too much which can be detrimental over time.

So, what is the real truth? Below, I will address and answer the common questions I am asked regarding protein consumption and a plant-based diet.


  • Where do people who consume a plant-based diet get their protein? Do plant-based protein sources provide enough protein to be healthy?

Almost every food contains protein, so it’s nearly impossible not to get enough if you’re consuming an adequate amount of calories.  Protein is found in ALL plant foods including vegetables (yes, vegetables!), grains, legumes (such as beans and lentils), soy foods, seeds and nuts. As long as your diet contains a variety of grains, legumes and vegetables protein needs are easily met.

Protein Comparison Chart

  • Is there a difference between Plant-based protein sources and Animal-based ones? I heard animal sources provide better (quality) protein, is this true?

Protein is an essential nutrient which when ingested is broken down into it’s building blocks which are called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids used by our bodies to build the various proteins our body needs.  Of these 20 our body is capable of making 11 of them on its on.  Nine of them cannot be made by the body and therefore must be obtained through our diet. Because our bodies cannot make these 9 amino acids they are termed “essential” amino acids meaning it is essential to get these through our diets.

In the past, food sources that contained all of the essential amino acids were called “high quality” or “complete” proteins.  Animal proteins contain this complete complement of essential amino acids and therefore are termed “high quality”. This is where the notion of protein from animal sources having better quality protein over that of plant sources originated. This is not true, however.  The truth is all plant proteins have some of every essential amino acid.  The difference is that some plant protein sources have this full complement of amino acids in abundance (soybeans, quinoa, spinach) like animal sources do whereas as some have all of these essential amino acids but the amounts of one or two of these amino acids may be low. For example, grains are lower in lysine and legumes are lower in methionine than those protein sources designated as “high quality”.  This is where the idea of combining or complementing of proteins came from for vegetarians and vegans.

  • Do I need to combine proteins or monitor my consumption?

In an effort to make sure that all vegetarians and vegans were getting enough of all the amino acids, in the early 1970’s in her book Diet for a Small PlanetFrances Moore Lappe popularized this idea of combining plant proteins at each meal in order to get a “complete” protein.  For example, mixing beans and grains to get enough Lysine and Methionine at each meal. This practice has since been refuted as unnecessary since it is now well-known that our livers store the various amino acids and it’s not critical to combine different protein sources at each meal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can I get enough protein eating a plant-based diet?

Posted by Jenn on December 28, 2010


Engine2diet.com (Read the best-selling book by Rip Esselstyn)

(Source: http://engine2diet.com/about-the-diet/frequently-asked-questions/can-i-get-enough-protein-eating-a-plant-based-diet/)

Not only will you get all the protein you need, for the first time in your life you won’t suffer from an excess of it.

Ample amounts of protein are thriving in whole, natural plant-based foods. For example, spinach is 51 percent protein; mushrooms, 35 percent; beans, 26 percent; oatmeal, 16 percent; whole wheat pasta, 15 percent; corn, 12 percent; and potatoes, 11 percent.

What’s more, our body needs less protein than you may think. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average 150-pound male requires only 22.5 grams of protein daily based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, which means about 4.5 percent of calories should come from protein. (WHO recommends pregnant women get 6 percent of calories from protein.) Other nutritional organizations recommend as little as 2.5 percent of daily calories come from protein while the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board’s recommended daily allowance is 6 percent after a built-in safety margin; most Americans, however, are taking in 20 percent or more.

Doctors from my father to Dean Ornish to Joel Fuhrman, author of the best selling Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss (Little, Brown), all suggest that getting an adequate amount of protein should be the least of your worries.

Look around you and tell me the last time you saw someone who was hospitalized for a protein deficiency. Or look around in nature, where you will notice that the largest and strongest animals, such as elephants, gorillas, hippos, and bison, are all plant eaters.

Also, the type of protein you consume is as important as the amount. If you are taking in most of your protein from animal-based foods, you’re getting not only too much protein, but also an acid-producing form that wreaks havoc on your system.

Why is protein so potentially harmful? Because your body can store carbohydrates and fats, but not protein. So if the protein content of your diet exceeds the amount you need, not only will your liver and kidneys become overburdened, but you will start leaching calcium from your bones to neutralize the excess animal protein that becomes acidic in the human body.

That’s why, in the case of protein, the adage “less is more” definitely applies. The average American consumes well over 100 grams daily—a dangerous amount. But if you eat a plant-strong diet, you’ll be getting neither too much nor too little protein, but an amount that’s just right.

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Protein in a Plant-based Diet: Is combining necessary?

Posted by Jenn on December 20, 2010


Diversity in dry common beans

Image via Wikipedia

It is very easy for a plant-based diet to meet the recommendations for protein, as long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein combining is not necessary; it is more important to eat a varied diet throughout the day.

Some Americans are obsessed with protein. Vegans are bombarded with questions about where they get their protein. Athletes used to eat thick steaks before competition because they thought it would improve their performance. Protein supplements are sold at health food stores. This concern about protein is misplaced. Although protein is certainly an essential nutrient which plays many key roles in the way our bodies function, we do not need huge quantities of it. In reality, we need small amounts of protein. Only one calorie out of every ten we take in needs to come from protein 1. Athletes do not need much more protein than the general public 2. Protein supplements are expensive, unnecessary, and even harmful for some people.

How much protein do we need? The RDA recommends that we take in 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh (or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that we weigh) 1. This recommendation includes a generous safety factor for most people. When we make a few adjustments to account for some plant proteins being digested somewhat differently from animal proteins and for the amino acid mix in some plant proteins, we arrive at a level of 1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight (0.45 grams of protein per pound that we weigh). Since vegans eat a variety of plant protein sources, somewhere between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per kilogram would be a protein recommendation for vegans. If we do a few calculations we see that the protein recommendation for vegans amounts to close to 10% of calories coming from protein. [For example, a 79 kg vegan male aged 25 to 50 years could have an estimated calorie requirement of 2900 calories per day. His protein needs might be as high as 79 kg x 1 gram/kg = 79 grams of protein. 79 grams of protein x 4 calories/gram of protein = 316 calories from protein per day. 316 calories from protein divided by 2900 calories = 10.1% of calories from protein.] If we look at what vegans are eating, we find that between 10-12% of calories come from protein 3. This contrasts with the protein intake of non-vegetarians, which is close to 14-18% of calories.

So, in the United States it appears that vegan diets are commonly lower in protein than standard American diets. Remember, though, with protein, more (than the RDA) is not necessarily better. There do not appear to be health advantages to consuming a high protein diet. Diets that are high in protein may even increase the risk of osteoporosis 4 and kidney disease 5.

Table 1: Sample Menus Showing How Easy It Is To Meet Protein Needs
Protein (grams)
Breakfast: 1 cup Oatmeal 6
1 cup Soymilk 7
1 Bagel 9

Lunch: 2 slices Whole Wheat Bread 5
1 cup Vegetarian Baked Beans 12

Dinner: 5 oz firm Tofu 11
1 cup cooked Broccoli 4
1 cup cooked Brown Rice 5
2 Tbsp Almonds 4

Snack: 2 Tbsp Peanut Butter 8
6 Crackers 2
TOTAL 73 grams
 

Protein Recommendation for Male Vegan [based on 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight for 70 kilogram (154 pound) male]

56-70 grams
Breakfast: 2 slices Whole Wheat Toast 5
2 Tbsp Peanut Butter 8

Lunch: 6 oz. Soy Yogurt 6
2 Tbsp Almonds 4
1 Baked Potato 4

Dinner: 1 cup cooked Lentils 18
1 cup cooked Bulgur 6

Snack: 1 cup Soymilk 7
TOTAL 58 grams
 

Protein Recommendation for Female Vegan [based on 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight for 57.5 kilogram (126 pound) female]

46-58 grams
*Additional food should be added to these menus to provide adequate calories and to meet requirements for nutrients besides protein.

Table 2 shows the amount of protein in various vegan foods and also the number of grams of protein per 100 calories. To meet protein recommendations, the typical adult male vegan needs only 2.5 to 2.9 grams of protein per 100 calories and the typical adult female vegan needs only 2.1 to 2.4 grams of protein per 100 calories. These recommendations can be easily met from vegan sources.

Table 2: Protein Content of Selected Vegan Foods
FOOD AMOUNT PROTEIN(gm) PROTEIN(gm/100 cal)
Tempeh 1 cup 41 9.3
Seitan 3 ounces 31 22.1
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 29 9.6
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 18 7.8
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 15 6.7
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 13 6.4
Veggie burger 1 patty 13 13.0
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 12 4.2
Veggie baked beans 1 cup 12 5.0
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 12 5.7
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 11 6.2
Tofu, firm 4 ounces 11 11.7
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 10 5.7
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 9 3.5
Tofu, regular 4 ounces 9 10.6
Bagel 1 med.
(3 oz)
9 3.9
Peas, cooked 1 cup 9 6.4
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), cooked 1/2 cup 8 8.4
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp 8 4.3
Veggie dog 1 link 8 13.3
Spaghetti, cooked 1 cup 8 3.7
Almonds 1/4 cup 8 3.7
Soy milk, commercial, plain 1 cup 7 7.0
Soy yogurt, plain 6 ounces 6 4.0
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 6 3.7
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 6 3.3
Whole wheat bread 2 slices 5 3.9
Cashews 1/4 cup 5 2.7
Almond butter 2 Tbsp 5 2.4
Brown rice, cooked 1 cup 5 2.1
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 5 13.0
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 4 6.8
Potato 1 med.
(6 oz)
4 2.7
Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18, 2005 and manufacturers’ information. 

The recommendation for protein for adult males vegans is around 56-70 grams per day; for adult female vegans it is around 46-58 grams per day (see text). Read the rest of this entry »

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