Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The question most vegans are asked is, "How do you get your protein?" Not only will I answer that, I"ll tell you the questions that are more likely to impress your vegan friends with your worldly knowledge.

Protein is not hard to get and it surprises people to learn that vegetables contain . The recommended amount of protein is smaller than what most North American's consume. the World Health Organization recommends a range of 10-20% of a person's diet be made up of protein calories. This is roughly 40-64 grams of protein each day for medium sized adults who are not professional athletes. Vegetarians, especially new vegetarians might rely on dairy but that is often a fat laden source and not an option for vegans. Beans, pulses, legumes, lentils: these are terms you may be familiar with. They come dried and need soaking and cooking, or canned which need rinsing and it is optional to heat them up or use them cold because they are already cooked. There are many different flavours, colours, sizes and uses for these tasty protein sources. Although we think of peanuts as a nut, they are actually a legume, and peanut butter is a good source of protein. Actual nuts and seeds also contain protein. Almonds, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds are good sources.
My protein intake on a given day might look like this, which is just over 64 grams.
1 cup aduki (also called adzuki) beans = 17.3 grams of protein
2 tbsp peanut butter = 8 grams of protein
2 pieces of whole wheat toast = 12 grams of protein
3/4 cup tofu = 20 grams of protein
1 cup broccoli = 2.6 grams of protein
1 cup millet = 4.2 grams of protein

Interesting Facts:

* All animals get their protein from plants. Meat eaters are just getting it second hand.
*Beans, peas and lentils help the body retain calcium in the bones.

As you saw in my sample daily protein intake, some of the protein comes from grains.

The time has come to bust the myth of protein complementation. It was once believed that grains and legumes must be eaten together in the same meal to make a complete protein. I remember learning in Home Economics class that a meal of rice and peas or whole grain bread and peanut butter would make a complete protein. while those combinations are classic, I could, if I chose to, eat a spoonful of peanut butter at breakfast and a piece of whole grain bread with my dinner and it would all work out to my benefit. I am not the scientist personally busting this, just your humble reporter. The World Health Organization asserts that a variety of foods eaten over the course of the day will all add to the protein total and meet the needs of children and adults.

I haven' t even touched on the meat analogs or fake meat because I think it is kind of disgusting. Along with the fat and sodium that is typically excessive in processed foods, these products can also provide a source of protein. A couple of times a year I might it a tofu dog (they don't roast on the fire so I fry them) and I've eaten Yves veggie burgers when desperate for something to take to a bbq. Dietitians say they are acceptable in moderate proportions. I say, if you don't eat a real chicken why would you eat a fake one. Still, they help some people make the transition from meat eater to vegetarian. Eventually you can learn to make your own blends that resemble ground beef or hamburgers ad are much tastier and healthier than the store bought versions.

Okay, as I promised, its time to ask the really serious questions. While a vegan who lives on french fries an apples might not be getting enough protein, a person with a healthy variety in her diet will have no difficulty with protein sources.

How do vegans get calcium if they don't drink milk?

The answer is that most vegans use soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk or some other non dairy drink which is fortified and this is likely to be the regular source. Aha! you say. That proves that a vegan diet isn't natural. That is another blog. Carrying on, I briefly mention that omnivores also rely on fortified foods such as cereals, vitamin D in dairy products and bottles of multi-vitamins promising radiant skin and hair or increased virility.

According to dietitians, calcium is better absorbed when consumed in small doses throughout the day.

My favourite sources of calcium are kale, broccoli, edamame, figs and almonds. Other greens, such as spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens also contain calcium but it is more difficult to absorb due to the presence of oxalates. Current research is suggestion that cooking (such as steaming) these greens destroys the oxalates but leaves the calcium. I will keep on top of that research.

Interesting Facts:

*Too much protein can rob the body of calcium.
*So can too much sodium, which is particularly found in processed foods.

Green leafy vegetables are usually good choices for calcium,especially the Chinese greens.
Legumes and tofu that is calcium set are also good choices. White beans and soybeans are very high in calcium. Almonds,and figs are good snacks. Blackstrap molasses and fortified orange juice are other foods that sneak calcium into your diet.

How do vegans get iron? Doesn't that come from red meat?

Every morning before my daily yoga I lick the cast iron frying pan. NO! JUST KIDDING! Although I have heard that cooking something acidic such as tomatoes in a cast iron pan will cause iron to leach into the food. This is considered a good thing, as opposed to teflon leaching into your food.

For pre-menopausal women, 32.4 mg of iron are recommended. For women over fifty and adult males, 1 mg is the recommendation. (Health Canada)

There are two types of iron to remember, heme iron and non-heme iron. Iron from cows, fish and fowls is both types. Vegetarian sources of iron are non-heme, which can be affected by accompanying food. Black tea, coffee, cocoa and some herb teas inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron. On the other hand, vitamin C rich beverages help you to absorb the iron. Drinking orange juice or eating and orange or grapefruit with breakfast helps with the absorption of the iron added to most breakfast cereals. If you have greens in your lasagna, the tomato sauce helps you absorb the iron in the greens. Legumes are high in iron; add leafy greens, peppers or cruciferous vegetables ( broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower). Already I'm thinking about a salad of mixed greens with chopped walnuts and dried cranberries tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and a serving of my favourite beans-garbanzos. Mmmmm....garbanzos would be good with an orange vinaigrette and served with couscous.....

Okay, iron is covered. If you want to sound really in the know, challenge a vegan to explain how she gets her vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 helps red blood cells form and grow. It is an essential vitamin for brain, spinal cord and nerve health. This vitamin is made by bacteria and was readily available to humans in the dirt on plants, bacteria in water supplies as well as the meat of animals who ate and drank from these sources. We have sanitized our drinking water to get rid of bacteria we don't want and scrub our vegetables free of dirt. There are many good reasons for this. Always wash your fruits and vegetables to avoid contaminants that can make you quite ill, such as salmonella. Meat eaters get B12 from the flesh of the animals who took the risks of eating dirt with their grass. Only a small amount of B12 is needed each day and vegans have a few options for supplementing their diet. Vitamin B12 pills are available wherever other vitamins are sold. Milk alternatives and meat analogs are usually fortified with B12 (check the labels) and so are fortified cereals. Red Star brand nutritional yeast is a B12 fortified food as well.

Adzuki Beans and Zesty Sauce

2 cups cooked adzuki beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp Braggs Liquid Soy (taste test)
1 tbsp water
1 tsp tumeric
black pepper to taste
2 tbsp Red Star nutritional yeast

Combine the sauce ingredients with the beans and warm up on low heat. Serve with greens and a whole grain of your choice.

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