Where do you get your protein?

I’m not shy about being vegan. I proudly wear my “Vegan is Peace” T-shirt everywhere I go and am more than thrilled to respond when asked what it’s like to live a vegan lifestyle. Invariably though, the question that most often comes up in conversation is “Where do you get your protein?”

Protein, Protein, Protein. The buzzword of nutritional obligation, the building blocks of a healthy body — more protein, more strength. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. (www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html) Most of us are consuming approximately 20 to 30 percent of our calories from protein, which comes out to 90 to 135 grams of protein per day. This is two to three times more than is recommended. Excess protein taxes the kidneys, contributes to gout and is associated with an increased risk for many chronic diseases. (http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?catId=7&pageId=4753)

Most of this excess protein in the Standard American Diet comes from animal sources. We hear the word protein, and most of us think of meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy. These are all animal-sourced proteins that we learn early on to be vital in our everyday diet. So we eat protein at just about every meal, don’t we? Eggs, bacon, sausage for breakfast; chicken breast, turkey breast, salmon or hamburger for lunch; steak, chicken or lamb chops for dinner. What we do not realize is that getting enough protein isn’t the real problem, the real problem is that we may be getting too much — and from the wrong sources.

The word protein refers to a type of molecule in food that can be broken down into amino acids. The body needs 20 amino acids. As a wondrous and biological machine, our body can make 11 of these itself. However, there are nine, called “essential amino acids,” that the body cannot create and must obtain through the consumption of food. These are tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, valine and histidine. When we eat, the body breaks down the protein in food in order to create the amino acids it needs.

According to a statement posted by John McDougall, M.D., on the American Heart Association website, “Many people are afraid to follow healthful, pure vegetarian (vegan) diets — they worry about ‘incomplete proteins’ from plant sources. A vegetarian diet based on any single one or combination of these unprocessed starches (eg, rice, corn, potatoes, beans) with the addition of vegetables and fruits, supplies all the protein, amino acids, essential fats, minerals and vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12) necessary for excellent health. To wrongly suggest that people need to eat animal protein for nutrients will encourage them to add foods that are known to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many forms of cancer, to name just a few common problems.” (http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/105/25/e197.full)

The bestselling book about the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted is called TheChina Study, written by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Dr. Thomas M. Campbell II. The knowledge gained from this 20-year partnership of Cornell University,Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine showed that avoiding all animal proteins and reducing intake of processed foods “will escape, reduce or even reverse the development of numerous diseases.” (www.richroll.com/podcast/rrp-79-t-colin-campbell-china-study-critics-plant-based-nutrition-prevent-reverse-disease)

It has also been revealed that disease began to increase in China after they brought more “westernized” ways of eating, which included more beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and milk.

So, how do vegans get enough protein if they are not eating all these animal products? First of all, it is important to eat a varied diet throughout the day. Since I have been living a healthy vegan lifestyle, cooking and eating have taken on a new and enhanced joy. Knowing I am preparing creative, healthful, interesting meals, at the same time leaving a gentle footprint on the earth and living out my values of loving all animals, has been one of the spiritual turning points in my life.

Beans, grains, fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, tofu, peanut butter, soy and nut milks, whole wheat bread, tempeh (love tempeh “bacon,”) avocados, vegan ice creams, quinoa, cashews, hummus and kale are just a few of the nutritious ways to get enough protein. The list goes on and on.

Here is a recipe for a great-tasting kale salad I make a couple of times a week. It is so delicious that anyone who comes over for lunch says it is the best salad they’ve had in a long time.

Kale Salad Supreme

Ingredients:

Several large leaves of curly kale torn into bite-size pieces

2 splashes of lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

Generous pinch of sea salt

1 can organic black beans (BPA-free can)

1 cup of cooked quinoa

1 ripe avocado

Cook the quinoa according to the package directions. It usually is 1 cup of dry quinoa to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and in about 10-15 minutes it should be done.

Rinse and dry the kale and break it into pieces in a bowl. Put in the lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. With your hands, massage the kale until it starts to soften (I count to 30) and set aside.

In a large single serving bowl, put some of the cooked quinoa on the bottom of the bowl. Then pour on the kale mixture.

On top of the kale, scoop on the beans (about a half can per salad)

Cut up the avocado and place around the sides of the bowl.

Voila, Kale Salad Supreme.

Sometimes I substitute homemade hummus for the black beans. It’s just as good, I promise!

This salad will provide you with approximately 18-20 grams of protein for your day. Now you know where vegans get their protein. Enjoy.