Archive for December, 2009

Got Plants? Is Animal Protein Necessary?

Most of us have been taught that the only way that we will get ample protein in our diets is by eating animal protein such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs and cheese. This could not be farther from the truth! Contrary to what most people might believe, you can easily obtain all your protein from good old fruits and vegetables.

Although we Americans are on non-stop low-fat, low-carb, low-whatever diets and, as a nation, spend 100 billion dollars on health care, we are reaching near epidemics with respect to cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease! In our country, 47% males and 38% females at risk for getting cancer, 1 out of 3 adults is considered obese, 1 out of 13 have diabetes, and 1 out of every 3 adults are at risk dying from heart disease. We are killing ourselves with “disease of affluence.”

In The China Study, the distinguished Cornell professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell shows through his research studies that we can literally turn off or on our cancer genes by eating a diet consisting of fewer than 20% and as close to 5% of animal protein. So, why don’t doctors tell us this? We may lose weight eating high-protein diets, but at what cost?

Since I don’t eat meat, I am constantly being bombarded with questions about how I get my protein or my iron and many clients (especially those who have been advised to go on high-protein diets to lose weight) come to me thinking that they need to have animal protein at every meal in order to lose weight and get lean. My athlete clients and friends are especially aggressive with their beliefs that they must eat animal protein in order to build muscle and energy.

This article is not intended to convert everyone to a plant-based diet! Many people (my husband included) would be miserable without his weekly sushi or steak au poivre on a Friday night. The real issue, though, is your health. If you are at risk for diabetes, cancer or heart disease or are eating over 20% protein, I beg of you to reduce your animal protein intake for your long-term health!

So, what exactly is protein?
Proteins are complex molecules comprised of small units called amino acids, which link together in chains to form peptides. Each protein has a specific number and combination of amino acids to determine its structure and function. Amino acids are simple compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and, in some instances, sulfur. There are a total of 20 amino acids, 8 of which must be present in our diet for good health and are called essential amino acids. Amino acids can be produced by our bodies but the 8 essential amino acids must be obtained through dietary sources. These are leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and lysine. Although animal-based proteins do contain all 8 amino acids and plant-based ones do not, it is essential to vary the diet to ensure you get all 8 if you are eating primarily plant-based foods.

What does protein do? Why is it so important to have in our diets?
Protein plays a crucial role in virtually all functions in our body and we all need protein in order to be healthy and thrive. Not only are proteinsessential for growth and repair, but they also play an important role in the body’s metabolism, hormonal balance, immune protection, muscle contraction, transmission of nerve impulses, and help us maintain muscle and skin support for our structural system. Many people are under the impression that protein provides us with energy but the body actually uses carbohydrates and fats for energy and only uses protein when there is an excess of carbohydrate and fat stores are depleted.

So, how much protein do we need?

Women 11-14 yrs.__________41.2g
Women 15-18 yrs.__________45.4g
Women 19-49 yrs.__________45g
Women 50+__________46.5g

Men 11-14 yrs.__________42.1g
Men 15-18 yrs.__________55.2g
Men 19-49 yrs.__________55.5g
Men 50+__________53.3g

Although protein as we have discussed is crucial to our well being, here is the important point- this protein does not (and should not!) come from animal sources! We can get all of the protein we need from fruits, vegetables, soya products (like tofu) beans and legumes, grains and nuts and seeds!

Here are some plant-based foods with their protein contents:

Tofu (5 oz)__________10.3g
Soy milk (1 cup)__________7g
Tempeh (1 cup)__________9.3g
Seitan (3 oz)__________22.1g
Edaname (1 cup)__________9.6g
Baked beans (1 cup)__________11.5g
Lentils (1 cup)__________18g
Chickpeas (7 oz)__________16g
Quinoa (1 cup)__________9g
Brown rice (7 oz)__________4.4g
Peas (1 cup)__________9g
Veggie dog (1)__________8g
Spaghetti (1 cup)__________8g
Whole wheat bread (2)__________8g
Almonds (1/2 cup)__________8g
Hemp seeds (3 tbsp)__________11g
Chia seeds (1 oz)__________4g
Spinach (1 cup)__________5g
Broccoli (1 cup)__________5g
Baked potato__________4g
Kale (1 cup)__________2.2g
Beets (1 cup)__________2g
Avocado (1)__________4.5g
Blackberries (1 cup)__________2g
Dates (1 cup)__________3.6g

For those that feel that they just have to have eggs or milk and feel that they need to give these to their children so that they “get enough protein” please read ahead. One egg has only 6.37g of protein and one cup of milk has only 8g!!! You could get the same amount of protein from 2 slices of whole wheat bread and a glass of soy milk!

On the other side of the equation are the meats! 4 oz of a roasted chicken breast has 36g and 4 oz of lean grass-fed strip steak has 24g. The way we eat in America today can leave us to get our whole protein requirement in just one meal. And, this is not a good thing! We don’t need that much protein when we look at our needs over the course of the day. And, any animal protein intake over 20% helps contribute to the incidence of disease.

So, is it really practical to get ALL my protein from fruits and vegetables?
Yes, it is! For one day, I set down to writing everything that I had eaten and computed how much protein each food had in it and I basically met my requirement before I even had dinner! Eating a plant-based diet for lunch and dinner, I consumed 43g of protein for a total of 48g/day without even trying!

Not to bore you but here is my day:

Breakfast: 19g
Green Smoothie
(2 cups spinach, 2 cups kale, banana and 2 cups almond milk, 2 tbsp chia seeds)

Lunch: 24g
Spinach salad with sliced avocado topped with 2 tbsp hemp seeds, sprouted lentils & 6 pecans
Carrot/Green juice: Romaine, cucumber, parsley, celery and carrots

Dinner: 5g
Steamed sweet potato
Grilled kale

You would not have to eat this “green” and your day could look more like this:
This diet is actually 53g of plant-based proteins- and this is a fairly moderated diet without any snacks!

Breakfast: 17g
2 slices whole wheat bread with 1 tbsp almond butter
Soy latte

Lunch: 16g
Veggie burger on whole grain bread
Side salad

Dinner: 20g
1 cup steamed brown rice
Tofu or tempeh
1 cup steamed broccoli

As stated previously, the point of this article is not to talk you meat-eaters out there into giving up your meats but to educate you on the fact that in America we are eating far too much animal-based meats and it is causing disease. Not ready to give up your sushi or hamburger yet? Fine! But, just try to moderate the amount of animal-based foods you are consuming so that you can stay healthy, strong and disease-free!

Hot Chocolate Anyone?

Nothing quite warms me up like a cup of delicious hot chocolate when it is cold outside, and there is something about the holidays that make this even a more enticing treat! The kids and I love to come home after our school and work days and make a hot steaming mug… YUM! This is our favorite recipe. Not only it this recipe healthy but it is down right decadent and a nice pick me up in the afternoons!

Chocolate contains natural antioxidants(photonutrients flavonol and polyphenol,) the alkaloids (theobromine, phenethylamine and anandamide) and is rich in magnesium. Chocolate can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes and dementia, balance brain chemistry, help build strong bones, help prevent cancerous activity and, last but not least, help with weight loss. On top of all that, it contains and has been linked to higher levels of the mood-altering serotonin, which boosts our energy and mood, and is a natural aphrodisiac!

As a sidenote, when you are shopping for the ingredients, it is important to look at the label and make sure that the chocolate powder you are buying is pure chocolate and does not contain sugar, butter or oil. Try to find raw cacoa, which is the actual pure cocoa bean and not only tastes better but has not been roasted and processed into powder and is much more nutritious!

2 cups vanilla almond milk
2 tbsp unsweetened dark chocolate powder (or, even better, raw cacoa powder)
1 tbsp agave nectar (or more or less depending on how sweet you want it)

If you have a Vitamix blender then it is beyond easy to stick all of the ingredients in the blender and turn it on and viola! Vitamix blenders will literally heat up the mixture and make your hot chocolate for you. If you don’t, just put the almond milk and chocolate powder in a sauce pan and stir. I like to add in the agave at the last minute so you don’t literally cook it. If it does not seem to want to mix, then put it in a regular blender for a bit and back into the sauce pan.