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The Truth About High-Quality Protein

2 Sep

In my practice, protein is one of the most controversial issues I face with clients.

It’s a touchy subject for many because in  people’s minds, protein usually equals meat.  And meat is something that people can become very defensive about; either their right to eat meat, or the injustice of people eating meat.

That isn’t my concern.  My concern is health through nutrition.

So, let’s uncover the truth about high-quality protein: it will probably surprise you.

You’ve probably heard talk about different sources of protein being higher or lower quality.  And, if you have, no doubt you’ve heard that red meat is the best-quality protein people can eat; this is why vegetarian protein is so often doubted.

Basically, there are 8 essential amino acids that our body needs to produce tissue proteins.  These must be provided by our diet; that’s what the word “essential” means in this context.  If any one of these amino acids are lacking, the synthesis of new protein will slow down or even stop completely.

Quality protein, therefore, is supposed to provide the right types and amounts of amino acids.

We actually know the very best source of protein to provide these replacement proteins.  Maybe you can guess what it is?

Human flesh.

Since we don’t recommend cannibalism, animal meat is the next best option because their proteins are similar to ours.  This source of protein is used efficiently and, therefore, labelled as high-quality.  Plant proteins can be lacking in one or more of the 8 essential amino acids, and so have become known as lower quality protein.

The problem here is that efficiency in promoting growth of new proteins sounds very beneficial, but is a completely different idea that the idea of, say, health.  Wellness.  Optimum health.

In fact, research is mounting to show that while plant proteins provide a slower, steadier synthesis of new proteins, they are actually the healthiest source of protein.  And, even though one plant food may be lacking in an amino acid, we now know that the body is able to derive all essential amino acids from the natural variety of plant proteins that we consume.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that the whole protein thing has been overemphasised for a long time.  Man’s right to meat became twisted into marketing claims and enhanced daily recommended intakes – back in the 19th century, scientist Carl Voit found that ‘man’ required 48.5 grams of protein per day, but recommended an intake of 118 grams daily because of cultural bias.  Historically, the civilized, upper-class, rich person has eaten a lot of meat while the lower-class, poor people ate bread and potatoes.

Once that bias has begun, it’s very difficult to stop.

Chances are that if you are following a healthy, balanced diet, you are receiving an adequate protein intake without focusing on it especially.  This is good news for vegetarians and vegans, but also food for thought for meat eaters.

As a meat eater, you should ask yourself if you are fully aware of the health implications of a diet high in red meat.  Red meat intake has been linked with various health problems ranging from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.

Are you risking your own health because an 18th century bias decided that animal produce was superior?

I’d love to hear your comments on this!

Council Attempts To Seize Child For Being Vegetarian!

22 Apr

I read this story in The Sunday Times and was simply amazed.

Can you believe this happened?  Imagine making a dietary choice for your child, and not an uncommon one, but simply to have them avoid eating meat and dairy produce… and then being accused of selectively starving that child.

The child in question, who is remaining unnamed, became under Social Services’ watch when he required hospitalisation for rickets and the doctors began to suspect malnutrition as being the cause.

Regardless of the fact that the parents had two other children at home following the same diet, who were perfectly healthy, the council applied to have the boy taken into care!

I read this article, as I said with horror, but also with a great sadness.  I have to wonder at what stage (if age), professional nutritionists were consulted about this child’s diet.

The child was shown to be deficient in Vitamin D, zinc and iron.

So, was malnutrition the obvious conclusion to come to?

Well, not really.

Deficiencies of Vitamin D, zinc and iron are all common, and the family’s diet wouldn’t be the obvious reason for the child to have them.

The best sources of Vitamin D are fish, which the family ate in abundance (they avoided poultry and red meat, and dairy produce, but ate fish), and while the most common sources of zinc are red meats, it can also be obtained from seeds and fish such as sardines.  Iron, again, although usually associated with red meat, can be obtained from bran, seeds and fish.

While it’s possible that the specific diet this family followed may have been lacking in iron and zinc, and to a lesser extent Vitamin D, their choice to follow a meat and dairy free diet should never have resulted in losing their son being a possibility.  Maybe some education was needed, to make the family aware of the nutrients needed and the best sources for them.

The thing that I find most worrying is that a team of doctors and medical staff made the decision to involve Social Services!  People from a medical background, who the majority of the public like to believe are informed about nutrition as well, thought the appropriate measure was to almost have a child separated from his family.  Could they not have referred the family to the hospital dietetic?  Surely this would have been a more suitable measure?

Fortunately, the family in question have a happy ending, but this story raises important questions and certainly acts as a reminder that nutrient deficiencies are more common than we often imagine.

What are your thoughts on this story?  I’d love to hear what you think…

Vegan Living: An Interview With Wendy Conrad

6 Apr

Today’s post is an interview with Wendy Conrad of The Vision Quest of Life.  Wendy is a Florida native, currently living in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and two rescue dogs, Camille and Elsie.

Wendy has recently began following a vegan diet, and very kindly agreed to share her thoughts and experiences.

So Wendy, I understand that you haven’t always been vegan? What did your diet used to be like?

For the ten years prior to changing my diet, I had been a meat eater of varying degrees. I was cutting out or down on red meat, not eating pork, going back to more red meat. and so on. When I decided to go vegetarian in November 2009, I had not eaten pork for at least a year, and was trying not to eat red meat as much. I had cut out cow’s milk as well. But, we were eating meat as the main dish with every meal- typically steak, turkey burgers, chicken, or fish. Very little vegetables were on the plate, with the exception of potatoes and occasionally a salad. And don’t forget tons of cheese!

And what made you decide to become vegan?

I had always wanted to go vegetarian, but I just wasn’t ready for it yet. (in fact, I just found a note to myself that reads “Don’t want to eat meat? Watch ‘Earthlings’!” I still haven’t seen that movie.) In November of 2009, we watched the documentary, “Food, Inc.” From that day, I didn’t buy another meat product at the grocery store. A couple of months after that, I watched “Vegetarian Cooking with Compassionate Cooks” with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Colleen demonstrates how eating vegan is not scary, but in fact easy! Between the cooking lessons and some footage of animals on dairy farms in the bonus features, it was no longer a choice for me. I was going vegan. I had finally made the connection between the meat on my plate, and the animals I claimed to love.

Was it an easy quick change or did you gradually cut out meat and dairy?

Relative to other stories I have been reading, I guess my eating habits changed pretty quickly. I went from meat eater, to vegetarian, to vegan within a three month span.

What have you found to be the most difficult thing about changing to a vegan diet?

It really hasn’t been difficult at all. In fact, it’s surprising how easy it’s been! Once you commit to it, you find ways of doing things that may take more effort, but in the long run I feel it’s so worth it. The most difficult thing for me has been dealing with my own self-talk about what a vegan should be, or do, or say, or eat. I am finding my own way, and it certainly doesn’t fit what I think most people’s idea of a vegan is, or even what my idea used to be of what a vegan is. I love to eat. I am not aggressive or militant about it (an approach that I feel can be counter-productive to the animal rights movement). I am not a waif. I don’t only eat twigs and sprouts. I only wish I had realized sooner how easy it would be.

Do you have any tasty vegan foods to recommend to other people?

Yes Yes Yes! (I’m also jumping up and down right now) There are so many wonderful vegan foods and recipes out there. I prefer to cook from scratch, rather than do the pre-fab fake meats and meals. Some recipes that come to mind are chili nachos with brown rice, creamy mushroom fettuccini, arroz con gandules, black bean “big macs,” and orzo & bean salad. You can find lots of tasty recipes on my blog, along with links to other blogs that have even more tasty recipes. I also highly recommend Tofutti brand foods. They make alternatives to sour cream, cream cheese, American cheese, and ice cream that are all delicious. I’m the kinda girl who loves a great meal, and this wasn’t going to work for me on just twigs and berries. Vegan food can be very hearty, filling, and delicious. I haven’t missed a thing!

What advice would you give to anyone considering a vegan diet?

I will try and answer this as briefly as possible, because I have much to say in response to this question. (Can you tell that talking about veganism makes me excited?) Keep in mind that I am no expert, but in preparation for my own personal transformation, I researched this subject extensively, and not just vegan-friendly information, but the arguments against it as well. Here are my personal “Do’s and Don’ts” for new vegans:

1) Do cook at home. I knew if I wasn’t eating food that I liked and that was good for me this wasn’t going to work. I must have sifted through dozens of vegan recipes to find ones that would work in my kitchen. They had to be simple, no weird or obscure ingredients, and be filling. I never liked cooking before, but now I love trying out new recipes.

2) Don’t be afraid. Fear had kept me from trying this much sooner. I can see now how silly that was. What was I afraid of? Reactions of friends and family, going out to eat socially, and the big one: THE HOLIDAYS! There is still a little bit of fear there, but with each interaction I become more confident and less afraid. Whenever I feel like sticking my head in the sand, I think about the reasons I became vegan in the first place, and it puts me back on track again.

3) Do educate yourself. When I committed to changing my lifestyle, I devoured any information I could get my hands on about being vegan (and continue to do so). Nutritional information, responses to arguments against veganism, and books on animal rights are just a few of the topics I have been reading up on. If you do nothing else, I strongly urge newbie vegans to get their hands on “Vegetarian Food For Thought“, a podcast put together by Colleen Patrick-Gougreau. She covers many issues including nutrition, debunking myths, being vegan in social situations, and responding to non-vegans’ questions and comments. Listening to her podcasts has been tremendously helpful during my transition, and continues to be helpful to me.

4) Don’t sweat the small stuff! Many people believe that being vegan means all or nothing. Not so! No one is perfect, and you don’t have to be either. Don’t beat yourself up because you had to have cheese on your salad or milk in your coffee or you didn’t know that vegetable soup was made with chicken broth. Just do what is possible and practical for you. You don’t have to apologize to anyone else for that (not even yourself!) And I promise the vegan police will not lock you away.

5) Do seek out a support system. Luckily, my husband went vegetarian with me, and is very supportive of me eating vegan. I also have made some online vegan friends who I can vent to and trade recipes with. You can also join a vegan meetup group in your city. Go here to find meet-ups in your area.

6) Don’t forget to have fun!! Being vegan is what you make it. If you have a sense of humor, eat delicious and healthful foods, and have fun with it, you will increase the chances of it becoming a long term lifestyle change, rather than a phase or fad diet. Be a joyful example for those around you!

Wendy, thanks so much for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes. I would like to say that I have found most of the myths and stereotypes that I once believed myself about vegetarians and vegans to be untrue. I am just a regular chick, who used to enjoy cheeseburgers and filet mignon and fried chicken, who never dreamed that I would one day become vegan. Then I decided that I wanted my love for food and my love for animals to co-exist. It’s been a breeze for me to change how I live. Everyone has their own way of doing things; this is just my story and things that have worked for me. I hope that by telling my story, I have been of some help to those of you who are curious about the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.

Wow, what a great interview that was.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Wendy Conrad for her time and the amazing information she has shared in this post.

Please make sure to visit her blog for some of those great recipes she was talking about.