Post courtesy of Courtney Mayhew
The most common misconception about a vegan diet, is that it is lacking in protein. Every vegan has been asked a million times, "but where do you get your protein?" Sometimes I want to wear a label on my forehead that lists my protein sources, but that might be taking it too far! Or maybe, I will just carry around a pamphlet spelling out all of my protein sources and hand that out...Seriously though, it is really sad that from a young age, we are all taught that we must consume animals and their secretions in order to have enough protein in our diets. It is so far from the truth! If anything, the average American diet, high in animal protein, is making us one of the fattest, unhealthiest countries in the world. Disgusting!
So, what is protein? why do we need it? and how much do we need?
Protein is a very important nutrient that is required for the building, maintenance, and repair of our bodies. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and can either be synthesized by our body or ingested from the food we eat. Our body can make 11 amino acids but none of them are the essential amino acids. We must obtain the remaining 9 essential amino acids from food. At one time, it was believed that certain plant foods had to be eaten in the right combination with other plant foods in order to obtain their full protein value. We now know that this concept of protein combining or protein complementing is not necessary. We can easily obtain all of the protein we need by consuming a diet full of whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.
As Americans, we consume way too much protein to begin with and most of this protein comes from animal sources which are high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. The average American consumes double the amount of protein needed by his/her body in any given day. To figure out how much protein you require simply take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36. This requirement is a little higher if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or really active.
What is wrong with a high protein diet?
A diet high in animal protein contributes to disease and health problems. These health problems include, but are not limited to: osteoporosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, impaired kidney function, kidney stones, and multiple cancers.
-Osteoporosis. A diet high in animal protein increases the acidity of our body. Our body uses calcium (a strong base) to neutralize this acidity. The calcium is pulled from our bones and excreted in our urine. The United States has one of the highest rates of hip fractures related to osteoporosis in the world (New Zealand and Australia have higher rates). We consume more cow's milk and its products per person than most populations in the world, with the exception of New Zealand and Australia. You do the math.
-Heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. The key components of heart disease are inflammation and plaque. Plaque is a greasy layer of proteins, fats, and immune system cells that accumulate along the walls of our arteries. Risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and tobacco use. Multiple studies have shown that eating a diet high in animal protein increases total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.
For a more in depth look at how our diet impacts our health, I recommend reading The China Study by T. Collin Campbell. here This is definitely a book that you need to read more than once. There is a lot of information and some of it is very scientific and complex--but not too complex to understand. Some of the information will piss you off because you have been (we all have been) so brain washed by our government and the meat and dairy industries into believing that animal sources of protein are healthy and necessary for us. Use this anger to empower a healthy change in your diet--a diet void of all animal protein. Your body and the animals will thank you!
So, where do I get my protein? I eat a well balanced diet of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes on a daily basis. I am a very active person and I have never found my performance lacking because of insufficient protein.
Here are some great sources of protein.
4 oz seitan 24.0 grams
1/2 cup firm tofu 19.9 grams
1/2 cup tempeh 15.7 grams
1 cup lentils 17.9 grams
1 cup black beans 15.2 grams
1 cup chickpeas 14.5 grams
1 cup cooked quinoa 11.0 grams
2 T peanut butter 8.0 grams
1 cup spinach 5.4 grams
1 cup broccoli 4.6 grams
1 slice wheat bread 2.7 grams
Another special thank you to Courtney for the wonderful rundown on protein! Now for an excellent meal packed full of protein from tofu, rice, and veggies: Red Thai Tofu, Bhutanese Pineapple Rice and Green Beans with Thai Basil. Yum! I just made this today and it is hands down my new favorite recipe from Appetite for Reduction. The rice has a great texture. I had never had red thai Bhutanese rice before, but it's a must have! I love the texture and the flavors all meld together so wonderfully in this recipe. You must use the thai basil as well. Just go to your nearest asian grocery store and they'll have some. I had actually never been to one of these groceries before, but the basil was surprisinly easy to find. Just avert your eyes from the weird assortment of meats that may be accompanying the veggies in the refrigerated section.
Red Thai Tofu
Gluten free if using tamari in place of soy sauce (I always use tamari)
1 block extra-firm tofu (about 14 oz) cubed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
1/2 cup sliced shallots
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste*
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon light agave nectar
15 leaves fresh Thai basil
*Make sure to check the label to make sure the paste you get is vegan. Thai Kitchen's red curry paste is vegan and is stocked at most grocery stores.
Preheat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray it with a little nonstick cooking spray. Add the tofu and cook for about 10 minutes, fkipping it with a thin spatula once in a while, until it is browned on most sides. The thin spatula is important, because you should be able to slip it underneath the tofu and flip it easily, keeping the tofu intact. (Press the tofu beforehand, and this will ensure the pieces don't fall apart when cooking.) About midway through, drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the soy sauce and toss to coat.
Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside. Saute the red pepper, shallots, garlic and ginger in the oil, using a little cooking spray if needed. Cook for about 5 more minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the curry paste, water, remaining soy sauce, and agave. Add the tofu back to the pan along with the curry paste mixture. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the Thai basil and toss to wilt. Serve!
Calories: 110, Calories from fat: 45, Total fat: 5g, Saturated fat: 1g, Trans fat: 0g, Total carb: 10g, Fiber: 2g, Sugars: 4g, Protein: 10g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 780mg, Vitamin A: 25%,
Vitamin C: 70%, Calcium: 25%, Iron: 15%
Bhutanese Pineapple Rice
Gluten free if using tamari
1 cup Bhutanese red rice, prepared per package directions
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small red onion, dice small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 1/2 cups dice pineapple (about 1/2 inch dice)
Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic, and ginger in the oil with a pinch of salt for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the curry paste, water, soy sauce and agave.
Add the cilantro to the skillet an saute just until wilted, about a minute. Add the cooked rice and drizzle in the curry paste mixture. Toss to coat completely and cook for about 3 more minutes. Add the pineapple and cook just until heated through. Serve garnished with extra cilantro.
Per serving: Calories: 230, Calories from fat: 15, Total fat: 2g, Saturated fat: 0g, Trans fat: 0g, Total Carb: 49g, Fiber: 3g, Sugars: 8g, Protein: 5g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 430mg, Vitamin A: 8%, Vitamin C: 50%, Calcium: 6%, Iron: 8%
Green Beans with Thai Basil
Gluten free if using tamari
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallot
2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound green beans, ends removed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
About 15 leaves fresh Thai basil
Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute the shallot in the oil for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for about 30 seconds more. Add the green beans and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the red pepper flakes, soy sauce, agave and lime juice. Cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring often. The green beans should stil have some crunch. Stir in the basil, turn off heat, and let the basil wilt. Serve!
Per serving: Calories: 60, Calories from fat: 10, Total fat: 1.5g, Saturated fat: 0g, Trans fat: 0g, Total carb: 13g, Fiber: 4g, Sugars: 2g, Protein: 3g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium 260mg, Vitamin A: 20%, Vitamin C: 40%, Calcium: 8%, Iron: 10%