|Protein Myth 4|
Western culture is obsessed with protein. Protein is confused with hunger, energy needs, health, diet, and weight loss. How much does one really need and can one have too much?
Eating animal-based protein is convenient for people. Choose a cow, pig, sheep, chicken or a fish and a person can fulfill their protein needs easily. Convenient for people in the short term, but convenience has a huge price that is not reflected in the cost of the commodity that is purchased in the supermarket. The cost is reflected in loss of land, inefficient production of protein, loss of water supply, pollution, and climate change. And one of the biggest costs to us all is world hunger through the concentration of protein resources in the west and lack thereof in the rest of the world.
Our culture remains fixated on animal based protein as the basis for the diet and thus is found stuffed in almost everything we eat. Choosing a diet without animal protein is challenging at first because of the overwhelming preponderance of meat, dairy and egg parts found in almost every processed food choice.
Because protein myths are so engrained into the culture, we are all prisoners of these myths as if a new religion has taken hold. People want protein to fix everything from fatigue to strength.
Next we’ll take a closer look at some the prevailing cultural myths about protein and attempt to shed some light on the misunderstandings.
Myth 1. Humans need to eat animal products to get protein.
Nearly every unprocessed food contains some amount of protein – from blueberries to walnuts. The building blocks of protein are amino acids and our bodies produce all but eight of them from fats and carbohydrates. The rest we must obtain from protein rich sources.
In the mid-seventies, it became clear to western nutritionists that indeed plants did have enough protein to sustain life. They discovered that certain plants were rich in some of the essential amino acids but not all of them were as rich the combination in animal products. So, the concept of food combining was born. It was quickly determined that if one ate from multiple sources of plant proteins at each meal, they would get all the amino acids.
Fast forward twenty years. Food scientists discovered that the body stores all its unused essential amino acids for about 48 hours. This means that one does not need to food combine in the same meal. Having rice one day and beans the next has the same richness of protein intake as if one ate them at the same time. And the protein quality is not much different than eating a steak.
So what are the best foods for a plant based diet? First bear in mind that all plants contain protein. All the big mammals – from cows to elephants and horses to hippos – all eat a plant based diet. Seeds of plants have a greater concentration of protein than the rest of the plant. Seeds come in the form of grains, beans and legumes, seeds, and nuts. There are hundreds of varieties of these edible seeds and each provides a different mix of nutritional benefit. So the next time someone mentions that a plant based diet is boring, consider that they many not have looked beyond the first few options in this protein rich field of options.
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