Enough Protein?

I was re-reading (a recent edition of) 'Diet for a Small Planet' by Frances Moore Lappe last night. I couldn't sleep because of pain, as often happens these days, unfortunately.

For a while, I have suspected that pain increases the body's need for protein because of the way I feel when eating lots of protein contrasted to the way I feel when eating not-so-much protein.

Yes, pain does increase the need for protein. It can increase the body's need for protein as much as 30%. Wound-healing also increases the need for protein, as do pregnancy and nursing. Growing children also need higher amounts of protein.

Not only that, there's at least some evidence that (specifically) soy protein can lessen pain under certain conditions.


OK, why am I mentioning it?

Those of us who eat a low-meat diet know that recently the perceived wisdom is that a *varied* diet of *whole*, *natural* foods (note the emphasis) will give us enough protein. And so at least some of us have been very relaxed about whether or not we're getting enough protein.

The Standard American Diet is so meat-heavy that many Americans do have plenty of protein (too much, probably, which can present its own problems). But this doesn't apply to a lot of us. For example, I'm not a vegetarian at present, but I eat very little meat - I eat chicken about once a week, beef even less often, and I refuse to eat pork because of the way it's raised in the USA. Of course, there are many vegetarians too (I've been vegetarian at various times in my life). Even being a vegan is no longer unusual. Eating low on the food chain will become even more important as fossil fuels become more and more expensive and in short supply.

I suggest that maybe a bit of cautious attention should be paid to protein requirements. I'm going to pay more attention to it in the future.

Eating lots of protein without getting too many calories and too much fat and cholesterol can be tricky. Eating more meat is often not the best answer because of its fat, calorie, and cholesterol content. And, of course, some of us don't eat meat at all. So it's a good idea to use complementary proteins when you can. Here's a really good brief explanation of complementary proteins:


This isn't difficult, really, most ethnic food is based on complementary proteins (beans plus grains, for instance). Examples are tortillas and beans, falafel on pita, veggie and tofu stir-fry with brown rice, etc. You don't need to get the complementary proteins in the same meal, only within several hours of each other (maybe within a day), but I think it's much easier and much simpler just to become accustomed to complementing within a meal.

Major complementary protein combinations include:

* Grains (including cereal and pasta) + legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
* Grains + dairy products
* Seeds (sunflower, sesame) + legumes

Other complementary proteins are:

* Grains + seeds
* Dairy products + seeds
* Dairy products + legumes

The grains, of course, must be whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta or noodles, etc.) for maximum protein plus several other health benefits.

If a dinner is shy on protein, it's a good idea to have a high protein dessert such as custard or one of the low-fat cheesecakes or Banana Cheese Pie (recipe is at the bottom of this post). Another good tactic: eat some protein, some healthy (that is, unrefined or whole) carbohydrate and some fruits or veggies at every meal. In other words, if you have three meals a day, make them three balanced meals. This also helps keep your blood sugar stable and in a healthy range. I thought all adults had been taught to do this or had read enough to know that it was wise. But this isn't the case. To my surprise, I have recently found that some adults do not know this.

You can also add dry skim milk to many baked goods, or to a banana or other smoothie, to raise the protein content. If you make homemade yogurt, you probably already add dry skim milk to make it thicker and more creamy - this also adds to the protein content, of course. Yogurt-making directions:


My muesli - served with homemade yogurt made from 1% milk plus a lot of added dry skim milk - has protein complements flying all over the place, and is a very healthy start to the day. Recipe:


Cottage cheese, although relatively expensive, is a good low-calorie source of protein. Tofu is another good protein source, as is tempeh.

Soybeans, by themselves, are a complete protein and are the *only* vegetable food that is a complete protein (so far as I know, anyway). The result of this is that soy can both stand alone as a protein and complement anything else (grains, dairy foods, seeds). Soy grits (soy beans that have been chopped into little pieces) can be added to brown rice - put 2 tablespoons of soy grits in a one-cup measure, then fill it up with brown rice, and cook as you normally would cook one cup of brown rice. The soy grits are not noticeable when you eat the rice, they have almost no taste.

Soy grits:

http://www.barryfarm.com/nutri_info/Brans/soygrits.html .

They are also available at natural food stores.

Soy flour can be used in baked goods too, to replace a little of the other flour. (I haven't bothered to do this in many years. However, I might start again.) There's no effect on the taste or texture of the baked goods if you use about 2 tablespoons of soy flour in a cup of whole wheat flour: except that you won't want to lick the bowl! Soy flour has a nasty taste when raw. This taste disappears when the item is baked.

Soy flour:


Or you can cook 1/3 cup of lentils with 2/3 cup of brown rice. This is a very nice combination too - add some steamed or sauteed veggies and some curry powder, top with plain yogurt - and voila! A complete, healthy, ridiculously easy, and very, very cheap dinner. If you are a bit more ambitious, it's even nicer if you stir-fry the veggies, then add the curry powder to them, and stir-fry that for a minute or two.

Lentils can also be added to bulgur or other grains. Green or yellow split peas can similarly be cooked together with brown rice.

You can also add extra egg whites to baked goods - either egg whites themselves or (if you don't want to waste the yolk and don't have a dog) you can use egg white powder. I buy and use 'Just Whites' - this is sold at regular, normal supermarkets, so it's very convenient. (It whips up beautifully into lovely meringues, by the way, and eliminates worry about raw egg white and salmonella because it's pasteurized.)

Just Whites: http://www.shopnatural.com/html/5618.htm

Barry Farm also sells dried egg whites: http://www.barryfarm.com/nutri_info/milk/eggwhitepowder.html

I hesitate to recommend soy protein supplements because I believe that eating whole, natural food is better. But sometimes protein supplements may be the only way to get enough protein - I'm thinking especially of frail, elderly people who often don't want to eat very much; or of very ill people (possibly on chemotherapy).

OK, here's that Banana Cheese Pie recipe. This is from the original 'Laurel's Kitchen' and they dropped it in the second edition - I cannot imagine why. It's a nice, easy recipe and a very light dessert. Even my (fussy) husband likes this! It's also a good way to use up bananas that are getting overripe.

I use my food processor to make this but if you don't have a food processor, you can use a blender. In that case, you'll probably need to mix the ingredients in a bowl first, then blend them in two or three batches. A stick blender could also be used.


* 2 medium-sized ripe bananas
* 1 cup non-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
* 1 cup plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt
* 2 eggs
* Juice of lemon (1 tablespoon of lemon juice)
* 3 tablespoons honey
* 1/4 cup flour
* 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch pie pan lightly with cooking spray or oil the pan.
Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until very, very smooth, turning off the processor and scraping down the sides occasionally.
Pour mixture into the pie pan and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then refrigerate at least several hours, or overnight.

26 December 2006

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