Rediscovering protein

 My chili peppers. Summer 2015.

My chili peppers. Summer 2015.

I believe it is a fair time for all of us to open our eyes and really see the food for what it actually is without the mythology created around it. To tune in with our bodies and feel what we need, not what we were told that we need. It feels good to pay attention to how our bodies feel after a nourishing and nutritious meal. Just notice. I need to do it more often myself :)

To me it feels very important to dial back and find original research written on nutrition. There are so many, we only don't hear about them. I wonder why?

This particular paper that I want to share with you was written by Donald S. McLaren and published by Nutrition Research Laboratory, School of Medicine, American University of Beirut, Lebanon in 1974. Dr. McLaren tells us that the big hype about protein was originated around 1939-45 when United Nations recognized a big danger in children's malnutrition in Gold Coast in Africa. In 1959 a new term got introduced that is still in common use - "protein-calorie malnutrition". Once the emphasis has been placed on protein deficiency, animal protein had been prescribed as a cure. At that time the dairy industry (backed up by the US government) got to dispose their by-product, that is dry skim milk, by means of exporting it (aka"helping") to developing countries instead of burying it here on the US land. How cleaver! These series of events then paved the path for the animal agriculture industries to gain their enormous power that they have today. Powerful ideas have been solidly planted into our minds since. People were told that the more protein the better (emphasis on animal proteins) and they believed it.

The truth is: WE ARE NOT PROTEIN DEFICIENT IN THIS COUNTRY. We are just not! In fact, people in the United States consume way more protein than they should (recommended daily amount is 42 grams of protein a day). Even vegetarians and vegans get 70% more protein than they need every day.

What we really should focus on despite of our dietary choices is a very vital nutrient - fiber. 97% or Americans are fiber deficient! Less than 3% of Americans get a minimum adequate intake of fiber. (Data from This is just shocking!! How come no one advertises the importance of sweet potatoes and collard greens in our diet. Well, there is no money to be made in sweet potatoes...

Remember that a minimum amount of fiber that our bodies need is 31.5 grams a day. An average American barely gets 15 grams a day. I think most people don't even know that non of the animal products contain fiber. It is not possible by definition. Eggs and bacon for breakfast, chicken sandwich for lunch, and steak with green beans just won't make it for you. Sorry meateaters. The only source of fiber that exists on this planet is PLANTS.

 My garden. Summer 2015.

My garden. Summer 2015.

Well, the good news is we are in charge of our own health, not the FDA and not the big advertisers. By having this important information available to us and being mindful we can make our own choices. Choices for a healthy and long life. Who doesn't want that? :)

The cool thing about eating veggies is a lot of them are packed with proteins, or should I rather say amino acids (there are 9 vital ones that our bodies need), as well as lots of vitamins and minerals, all in a single vegetable. A complete package :) Some, additionally, even have healthy fats (like nuts and seeds). On the other hand, animal proteins come with a baggage - a huge amount of bad fats and cholesterol. The choice is obvious.

Lets explore a few of my favorite examples of protein rich plant based foods. I love them for the taste and the nutritional content.

Here is my top 10 selection of plant based proteins.

  1. Quinoa - 9 g/cup + whole bunch of Iron.I love it topped with roasted veggies and pesto. It is also fun to mix red and white quinoa.
  2. Mung bean sprouts - 9 g/3 tbsp.I love these guys mixed into a salad or used to top off a rice noodles dish.
  3. Nuts - cashews - 21g/cup, almonds - 30g/cup, walnuts - 18g/cup.Just on their own! 😊And of course nut milks, and nut cheeses. My favorites to make are almond milk, walnut Parmesan, and cashew cheese.
  4. Hemp seeds - 16 g/3 table spoons.I enjoy these seeds the most in a nut milk form or just on their own sprinkled on a salad or a bowl of fruit - papaya especially.
  5. Broccoli - 4 g/cup + a ton of vitamin C!I love oven roasted broccoli or sautéed with garlic and olive oil.
  6. Asparagus - 3 g/cup + vitamin A, C and Iron.Cast iron grilled. So good!
  7. Crimini mushrooms - 2 g/cup + copper, selenium, vitamin B2 and even vitamin B12.Love these little guys! Sautéed or in a soup. 👍
  8. Nutritional yeast - 9 g/3 tbsp + vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 and folic acid. Wow!In nut cheeses or over kale chips.
  9. Seitan - 21 g/1 oz.Sautéed with onions and peppers. I absolutely love seitan tacos. I have a great recipe here: BBQ Seitan tacos with mango salsa.
  10. Spirulina - 4 g/1tbsp + loads of Iron.In a green smoothie or just mixed into water or juice.

And, of course, the list is endless. Because the focus is not on the amount of protein in a particular food, but rather on the complexity and diversity on our plates. And what I love about eating plant based foods is that by putting 3 vegetables together we can create that diversity. It actually is pretty easy! Let's experiment! Let's explore. We are designed to explore!

*Stay tuned for more diverse and nutritious recipes. Until then!*