When someone goes vegan they are often on the receiving end of the question ‘Where are you going to get your protein?’
This diet can certainly go too far in the carb direction but including plant sources of protein with each meal (pulses – soy – nuts and seeds) – along with vegetables and whole grains can restore balance.
• Avoiding certain foods or food groups isn’t always a choice – sometimes it’s a necessity. Food allergies and celiac disease are hallmark examples.
Either way when you avoid entire food groups it’s crucial to know how you will replace essential nutrients you would otherwise get from those foods.
An apple is naturally gluten-free and healthier than a gluten-free cookie.
When you have a milk allergy – or severe lactose intolerance – you still need calcium and protein.
Most plant-based milks are fortified with calcium – but almond milk does not provide you with the same amount of protein as dairy milk – soy milk does.
Most of the protein we consume comes from animals: Americans eat roughly 270 pounds of meat a year.
For years many people thought that without animal flesh our bodies don’t get all of the essential amino acids they need.
(Meat is considered a ‘complete’ protein because it contains all of the acids.)
Zaraska traces some of this misunderstanding back to ironically Frances Moore Lappé author of Diet for a Small Planet.
In her seminal 1971 manual for embracing a low-impact life Lappé suggested that vegetarians should chart the amino acids in their plant foods and eat the foods together at the right times to make sure they could ‘complete’ their plant-based proteins through the right combinations of amino acids from different sources – a task that required laborious planning and analysis.
True plant foods can lack enough essential amino acids; beans for instance are low in methionine.
(Grains are high in methionine hence the advice to enjoy rice and beans together.)
But since the 1970s we’ve learned that the body actually completes proteins—fills in the missing elements —on its own.
‘Now we know that the liver can store amino acids so we don’t have to combine [the acids] in one meal’ states the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
In the 20th-anniversary edition of her book Lappé acknowledged that when it came to amino acids she had ‘reinforced another myth’.
Not only does the body complete proteins – there are several plant foods that have all of the essential amino acids that a person needs writes Zaraska – such as buckwheat quinoa soy and potatoes.
Think of protein and what comes to mind – a thick steak – a poached egg?
How about some puy lentils or cannellini bean mash instead?
Besides being a healthy food for humans their lighter carbon and water footprint means they’re good for the planet – and to drive this point home the UN has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.
If we got more of our protein from lentil dahl and less from beef vindaloo for instance we’d save a lot of water – it takes roughly 7000 litres of water to produce about half a kilo of beef compared to around 162 litres to produce the same amount of lentils.*
‘Pulses tick a lot of environmental boxes.
Unlike most forms of protein – pulses – or legumes – don’t need refrigeration in transport and they’re a crop that doesn’t need a lot of chemicals.
They draw their own nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil so they don’t need fertiliser’ says chef Simon Bryant, who knows a thing or two about turning lentils and beans into star turns on the dinner table.