Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where do vegans and vegetarians get their protein?

Examiner.com - Tuesday, August 25, 2009

By Lindsay Nixon, Manhattan Vegan Examiner

The most common question any vegan or vegetarian receives is "but where do you get your protein?" The terms "protein" and "carbohydrate" became buzz words roughly a decade ago when Atkins, a popular fad diet centered around eating an abundance of protein and few carbohydrates, became popular. Prior to the popularity of Atkins, most dieters or individuals did not pay much attention to their protein or carbohydrate consumption. Now, dietary protein and carbohydrates are the forethought on every mind, particularly when it comes to vegetarian diets.

What is protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient needed by the body in order to function properly. Protein's primary function is to build and repair muscles but it also keeps the immune system functioning properly and is involved with the synthesis of hormones and enzymes. Protein may also be used as an energy source when there has been insufficient carbohydrate consumption. This occurs during the Atkins diet. Since the Atkins diet is deficient in carbohydrates, the body is forced to use protein for energy.

Protein is made up of 20 building blocks, known as amino acids. Amino acids are classified as essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are not created in the body and therefore must be consumed through dietary protein.

How much protein do we need?

There are two ways to calculate total protein needs. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.4g of protein for every pound of healthy weight (or approximately 0.8g per every kilogram of weight). For example, a man who weighs 150 pounds needs approximately 60g of protein per day (150 x. 0.4 = 60).

Alternatively, protein can be calculated based on total caloric intake. Generally, 15 percent of total caloric consumption must come from protein. For example, on a 2,000 calorie diet, 300 calories must come from protein. To determine the number of grams needed, divide the resulting number of calories by 4. Thus, on a 2,000 calorie diet, 75 grams of protein must be consumed.

As seen from these figures, the body actually needs very little protein to function properly.

What are protein sources?

Protein is commonly associated with meat, eggs and dairy products but these foods are not the only sources of protein nor are they necessarily the best sources for protein. Protein is found in every food. Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes all contain protein. It is impossible to become protein deficient eating a well-balanced vegan diet, largely due to the fact the body needs very little protein to perform. For example, one cup of black beans contains 15.2 grams of protein (roughly 30.5% of the daily value for protein), plus approximately 74.8% of the daily value for fiber. The total calories for a cup of black beans is only 227 calories and there is virtually no fat. Similarly, 100 calories of spinach contains more protein than 100 calories of steak. Like black beans, spinach also delivers a boost of fiber, anti-cancerous properties and iron for only a small amount of calories and no fat. Steak on the other hand, which not only provides less protein and no fiber, it also contains fat and harmful cholesterol.

Another powerhouse protein food is quinoa, a grain. Quinoa is not only high in protein, but it is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. Vegans and vegetarians concerned with protein intake should incorporate this healthy grain into their meals. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorous and is well-endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair.

Cooked soybeans also rank 10th on the World's Healthiest Foods Containing Protein List beating out eggs including egg whites, all dairy and most meats. In the nutritional community, soybeans are regarded as equal in protein quality to animal foods. One cup of soybean provides approximately 57.2% of the daily value for protein for less than 300 calories and with only 2.2 grams of saturated fats. Studies have also shown that soy helps reduce cholesterol levels while consumption of animal proteins makes cholesterol levels rise. Soy is also rich in iron, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Soy can also be found in a variety of forms such as soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy ice cream, tempeh, meat substitutes, miso, soy protein powder and tofu. Mustard greens, artichokes, corn, lentils, nuts, seeds, meat substitutes, hot cereals and other beans are also excellent sources of dietary protein.

Can athletes be vegan?

Another myth is that athletes and body builders cannot be vegan. This is simply untrue. Consider the following current professional vegan and vegetarian athletes: Prince Fielder (MLB), Tony Gonzalez (NFL), Mac Danzig (Martial Arts), Pat Neshek (MLB), Scott Jurek (Ultra marathoner), Brendan Brazier (Iron man), Kenneth Williams (Body Builder), Christine Vardaros (Cyclist). Other vegan and vegetarian athletes include: Peter Brock, Carl Lewis, Salim Stoudamire, Ricky Williams, Ed Templeton, Bill Pearl (former Mr. Universe) and many more Olympians, world record holders and top athletes.

Brendan Brazier also developed Vega, a fitness and supplement line committed to sustainability and wellness through a vegan diet. Vegan athletes can also supplement with soy, brown rice and hemp protein powders.

Is too much protein harmful?

According to U.S. RDA calculations, the average person in America consumes 100 to 120 grams of protein per day with the majority of it coming from animal sources. Considering an individual on a 2,000 calorie diet only needs 75 grams of protein, the average American is consuming an excess of 25 to 45 grams of protein per day.

An excess of protein, particularly animal protein, is exceptionally harmful to the body. The China Study examined the relationship between the consumption of animal products and diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, obesity and other degenerative diseases. The authors of the study concluded that based on long-term scientific studies, diets high in animal proteins from both meat and dairy are strongly linked to heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. The authors recommended a whole food, vegan diet as a means to minimize and/or reverse the development of chronic diseases.

Excess protein, especially coupled with America's sedentary lifestyle, is also taxing on the kidneys. Animal proteins are inherently stressful on the kidney's, but overages will cause kidney's to underperfom. When the kidney's are not operating optimally, the risk for premature aging or developing kidney stones sharply increases. Bone health is also effected by excessive protein consumption. Excess protein consumption causes calcium to be leached from the bones which may cause osteoporosis, acid reflux, obesity, plaque build-up in the arteries, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, arthritis and/or bad breath.

Get it Local: Elm Health has a wide assortment of dry grains, beans and lentils including hard-to-find varieties such as raw groats, buckwheat and millet.

For more info: visit happyherbivore.com for healthy and delicious protein-packed vegan recipes.

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