By Roberta Schiff
The new Millennium is moving ahead and the debate about
whether the Millennium began on the first day of January
2000 or 2001 is almost as quaint as a September 10th newspaper.
But one old chestnut that will not go away is where do you get
your protein? This is the question vegetarians are asked
I will try to answer this question so the vegetarians
among us will be armed with concise answers Ė and emerging vegetarians
will see that they neednít be concerned about not getting
enough protein from a vegetarian/vegan diet.
So where do we get our protein? Letís
first look at the three food elements - protein,
carbohydrates, and fat and see which foods
contain the most of these three elements.
We know that animal products contain protein and fat. They also
donít have any carbohydrates, thus no fiber - which is important
in helping us eliminate metabolic wastes from the body.
Donít be afraid of
carbohydrates. The human body is designed to get
its energy from carbohydrates ó the kind that you find
in whole foods (like beans, grains and fresh
vegetables and fruit), not refined carbohydrates such
as cookies, donuts, cereals with names like desserts,
fruit "drinks," all products made from refined white
flour.). Most cuts of meat contain 40-50% fat,
and sometimes even more. Of
course it is possible to cut off the fat from the edge
of the meat; but even if you do this, fat remains on the inside, the
bulk of the meat. Cheeses have protein
too, but along with it a fat content of 75% or higher.
2%-milk is 34% fat by calorie count;
the 2% refers to weight added by all the water.
Many people donít know this, but vegetables also contain protein
and very little fat (less than 10%, with most ranging from only 1-
4% of fat). Moreover, the fat that
vegetables do have is not the artery-clogging,
saturated kind. Of course it is possible to
process vegetable food so that it contains large
amounts of fat. Youíve seen bags of potato chips that
proclaim, "No Cholesterol" in large letters.
This is a ploy to make consumers think they are buying a
healthful product. In fact, very high amounts of vegetable fats (as
in potato chips) are also unhealthful. Some of the vegetable oils
sold in supermarkets, such as Wesson and Crisco, are processed
with electricity and chemicals and should be avoided. This
form of processing changes
the shape of the fat molecules into a form that our
digestive system does not recognize. Hence the
fat molecules are less likely to be digested, ending
up in the blood where they clog arteries.
The refining process also makes these fats
chemically similar to ones that are rancid, thus
promoting free radical damage. Olive
oil in small amounts is the preferred cooking oil.
Consider using cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil in moderate
Beans are extremely high in protein, low in fat, and high in
fiber. If you are not used to eating beans,
start by eating only small amounts at a time to get
your body acclimated to this food. Our
bodies need time to accommodate to new foods. To
avoid the flatulence that can accompany eating beans, soak them
for several hours before cooking. Then
rinse and cook the beans with a piece of Kombu (a sea
vegetable) that you can find in any health food store.
Kombu makes beans creamier, adds minerals,
and reduces gas formation.
Whole grains such as brown rice, barley, millet, buckwheat (good
in winter) and polenta are also excellent sources of protein as
well as the healthy kind of unrefined carbohydrate that our bodies
need for energy. The grain quinoa, which
you can usually find in most health food stores, aside
from being fast-cooking and tasty, is very high in
Hereís another fact to dispel the protein myths: too much
protein is actually unhealthy. Over
consumption of protein is hard on the liver and
kidneys, and leaches calcium out of the body.
So (another myth-breaker) ó milk mustaches are not a sign of
good health. In fact, milk ads are in
some ways similar to tobacco ads ó designed to lure
adults and children into continuing an unhealthy
So where do we get our protein? Plan
your meals around the "New Four Food Groups" as
advocated by Neal Barnard, M.D. of the Physicians
Committee For Responsible Medicine. These
foods are BEANS, GRAINS, FRUITS and VEGETABLES.
You will get enough protein, and in addition get less fat and
more fiber than people who consume the Standard American
Diet (SAD). Protein deficiencies are
found only in starving people or those with severe
eating disorders. To make sure your
vegetarian diet is a healthful one, reduce the junk food and increase
the whole food.