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High on proteins, low on goodness

High on proteins, low on goodness
Whenever anyone realises I am vegan, the first thing they ask me is but how do you get your protein! When I tell them I get more than enough for my needs, they look disbelievingly at me. But it’s true. None of us really need as many proteins as we tend to consume, especially not protein from animal meat.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average, sedentary adult is only 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Even this value has a large margin of safety, and the body’s true need is even lower for most people. Protein needs are increased for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In addition, needs are also higher for very active persons. If we do our math, the quantum of protein we actually need is much lower than we have been led to believe.

Why plant protein? Protein from animal flesh is not only second hand protein (the animal ate the plant which contained the protein and man ate that animal) but animal meat is also high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Adequate protein can be consumed through a variety of plant products that are cholesterol-free and contain only small amounts of fat. Yes, it is perfectly possible to get your protein requirement on a plant based diet. Don’t believe me? Ask Mike Tyson (he lost 100 pounds on a vegan diet). Ask Venus Williams (Venus Williams credits a raw-vegan diet for improving her health after Sjogren-induced chronic fatigue forced her to briefly step back from tennis). Ask Carl Lewis. These are just a few of the more famous athletes who follow a plant based diet and manage to remain on the top of their chosen fields.

These lists of famous athletes prove that plant-based protein can not only build strong muscles, but also keep vegans healthy enough to run, swim, bike, or lift weights. Protein from an animal source is not needed. Why should you avoid animal protein? There are many reasons. Chief amongst them is the fact that a diet that is high in animal protein can actually con­tribute to disease and other health problems. The 1997 report of the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer reported that, based on available evidence, diets high in red meat were considered probable contributors to colorectal cancer risk. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that high animal protein intake is largely responsible for the high prevalence of kidney stones in the United States and other developed countries and recommends protein restriction for the prevention of recurrent kidney stones.

When people eat too much protein, it releases nitrogen into the blood or is digested and metabolized. This places a strain on the kidneys, which must expel the waste through the urine. Harvard researchers reported that high-protein diets were associated with a significant decline in kidney function. As many as one in four adults in the United States may already have reduced kidney function, suggesting that most people who have renal problems are unaware of that fact and do not realize that high-protein diets may put them at risk for further deterioration. The kidney-damaging effect was seen only with animal protein. Plant protein had no harmful effect.

Another fall out of eating animal protein is heart disease (typical meat based high-protein diets are extremely high in dietary cholesterol and saturated fat), osteoporosis (high protein intake is known to encourage urinary calcium losses and has been shown to increase risk of fracture in research studies. According to a study published in the March 2010 British Journal of Nutrition, animal protein is associated with decreased bone health. The study found that animal protein, especially from meat and eggs, was negatively associated with bone mineral density and content.

A big cause of concern in today’s world is the high incidence of cancer. One reason seems to be the high consumption of animal meats. Although fat is the dietary substance most often singled out for increasing one’s risk for cancer, animal pro­tein also plays a role. Specifically, certain proteins present in meat, fish, and poultry, cooked at high temperatures, especially grilling and frying, have been found to produce compounds called heterocyclic amines. These substances have been linked to various cancers including those of the colon and breast.

In addition, high-protein diets are typically low in dietary fiber. Fiber appears to be protective against cancer.

Diabetes risk increases with higher intake of total protein and animal protein, according to a study in January 2010’s issue of Diabetes Care. Researchers found that for every five per cent of calories consumed from protein instead of carbohydrate or fat, the risk of developing diabetes increased 30 per cent. Increased animal protein intake coincided with increased intakes of saturated fat, cholesterol, and heme iron, and with increased body mass index, waist circumference, and blood pressure.

Studies show that the healthiest diet is one that is high in carbohydrate, low in fat, and moderate in protein. Increased intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is recommended for weight control and preventing diseases such as cancer and heart disease. High-carbohydrate, low-fat, moderate-protein diets are also recommended for optimal athletic performance.

I believe that it is virtually impossible to not get enough protein as long as one consumes adequate calories from a nutritious plant based diet. Did you know that one cup of cooked spinach contains seven grams of protein, one cup of beans contain 13 grams of proteins and one cup of boiled peas contains nine grams of protein? One cup of soy milk or even almond milk contains about nine to 10 grams of protein. Four ounces of soya paneer or tofu contains almost nine grams of protein. Non dairy butters like peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter contain great quality protein with no cholesterol or saturated fat in them.

Quinoa contains almost 10 grams of protein per cup of cooked quinoa. The highest content of protein can be found in lentils. One cup of cooked lentils contains almost 20 grams of protein! And one cup of beans like rajma, pinto or black eyed beans provide 15 grams of proteins. And all these items also provide you with the fibre needed to protect your health.
Anuradha Sawhney

Anuradha Sawhney

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