Plant-Based Myths: Protein Concerns

The Hubby and I have changed the course of our lives many times in our 10 years together. We’ve taken on extra commitments by adding dogs and children to the mix. We’ve taken on added financial commitments buy a house before we were married. We focused and became debt free, even when it meant saying “no” to toys, vacations, and dinners out. And most recently, we’ve adopted a plant-based lifestyle for ourselves and our children. Through most of our life changes, we’ve encountered a fair amount of resistance, but none so much as this most recent one!

As a parent, there is nothing worse, in my opinion, that someone insinuating that you are doing a bad job, or don’t have your child’s best interests at heart. People haven’t commented about the nutrition concerns in terms of me and the Hubby (which is funny because we actually need much more than the kids do) but only in regards to the health and growth of my children.

I am not here to defend our lifestyle. I am here to educate. 

Protein

Protein is required by the body for the growth, maintenance and repair of all cells. In terms of muscle growth, when you work a certain muscle, you break down the muscle during the workout, then repair it with protein, gradually growing them. It’s why athletes and bodybuilders are all hot-to-trot for protein powders. They are constantly breaking down their muscles and needing to repair them quickly so they can go at it again! Protein is a major component of all muscles, tissues and organs and is vital for practically every process that occurs within the body such as metabolism, digestion and the transportation of nutrients and oxygen in the blood. (source: HelpWithCooking.com)

Types of Protein

Our bodies need 20 amino-acids. Those amino-acids link together to form peptides. Those peptides link together to form proteins. Our bodies naturally make 11 of them, so the other 9 are called “essential amino-acids”, meaning it is essential that you ingest them to make your body run properly (source: No Meat Athlete).

Animal proteins are considered “complete proteins” because they provide all of the essential amino-acids.

Plant-based proteins are “incomplete proteins”, because they are low in one or more of the essential amino-acids. However, what one lacks, another has in abundance. These would be called “complementary proteins”. Eating the two together results in all of your essential amino-acids.

If you think of rice and beans as “going together”, you’d be right! Rice and beans are wonderful complementary proteins. (source: CDC.gov)

One caveat:  you have to opt for the best of the best. No more Minute Rice and refried beans. I always opt for brown rice (which freezes beautifully and doesn’t take much longer to cook a whole bunch of it than it would to make one serving) and whole beans, not refried. Refried beans have TONS of fat in them!

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The comments I’ve gotten about the amount of protein in a plant-based diet started to get at me. I started to question if I was giving my children what they needed. It doesn’t help that my Little is 14 months old and barely standing independently, and definitely not walking. Was it because I didn’t give her what she’s been needing to grow the muscles in her legs?

So I Googled it.

I went to a trusted source (cdc.gov) to find the following numbers:

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein Grams of protein needed each day

Children ages 1 – 3: 13 grams

Children ages 4 – 8: 19 grams

Children ages 9 – 13: 34 grams

Girls ages 14 – 18: 46 grams

Boys ages 14 – 18: 52 grams

Women ages 19 – 70+: 46 grams

Men ages 19 – 70+: 56 grams

I nearly cried tears of joy when I read that. Our typical breakfast is a whole grain (bagel, toast, English muffin, oatmeal, Cheerios, etc.), a fruit (bananas, grapes, apples, or a fruit smoothie), and soy yogurt with homemade granola (with peanut butter, seeds, nuts, and dried fruit in it).

This morning, my girls each had 1 piece of Whole Wheat toast (6 grams/slice) with 2 tbsp peanut butter (7 grams) and a 1/2 cup soy yogurt (4.5 grams) with granola (~ 4 grams).

At breakfast, my kids each ate about 21.5 grams of protein. And we still have snacks, lunch, and dinner to eat! My worry moved to “am I giving them too much protein??”

Thankfully, there is an answer for that too:

Most people eat more protein than they need without harmful effects. However, protein contributes to calorie intake, so if you eat more protein than you need, your overall calorie intake could be greater than your calorie needs and contribute to weight gain.

Besides that, animal sources of protein can be sources of saturated fat which has been linked to elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.

In addition, for people with certain kidney diseases, a lower-protein diet may be recommended to help prevent an impairment in kidney function. (source)

Soy Protein

In Forks Over Knives, we are educated, via The China Study, that animal-based proteins actually encouraged the growth of cancer cells, but a plant-based diet discourages their growth. A good source of protein, that is readily available in many different forms, is soy. However, it’s been shown that an excessive amount of soy protein actually works in the body to increase IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor) levels, effectively negating the positive effects of a plant-based diet.

High levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF- 1) are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer, whereas increased levels of some of its binding proteins (IGFBPs) seem to be protective. High intakes of dietary protein, especially animal and soy protein, appear to increase IGF-1. (source: Ornish Soy Study).

But did you know that a study done of Asian women with higher levels of soy intake show a significant decrease in breast cancer, whereas the same study done on American women didn’t show a correlation? (source: Cancer.org). This is mainly because Asian women eat large amounts of soy for their whole lives, and possibly because they did not eat cancer-encouraging foods in their adolescence. Interesting, right?

Soy acts like estrogen in the body. Estrogen promotes wound healing. Because cancer cells are made by our bodies, we are “wounded” from the inside out, therefore, the estrogen in our bodies can help repair that! So.Cool.

However, you need a certain amount of soy in your body to “make it work”. If you eat too little, it’s like it doesn’t count. If you eat too much, you grow cancer cells.

Grrrr…

No wonder people are all confused as to the health benefits of soy!

I found this very quick and easy to understand 90 second video that sums up how much soy is ok.

As for my family, we eat tofu very rarely (I don’t like the texture, but I am open to cooking it in different ways to see if that changes), enjoy a serving of soy yogurt once a day, and add edemame to things like quinoa salad. We use rice milk in general for cooking and smoothies, and I still have 1 gallon of cows milk for Big’s dinner drink (though I’m trying to phase it out), and for kids Cheerios, but only because I haven’t found a replacement that we are all happy with.

Plant-Based Proteins

One of my favorite sites EVER in this new journey of ours is The Vegetarian Resource Group, so I totally wasn’t surprised that they had a beautifully designed table of Vegan Proteins. Keep in mind, it’s not a complete list, by any stretch, but it’s a good start!

Table 2: Protein Content of Selected Vegan Foods
FOOD AMOUNT PROTEIN(gm) PROTEIN(gm/100 cal)
Tempeh 1 cup 41 9.3
Seitan 3 ounces 31 22.1
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 29 9.6
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 18 7.8
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 15 6.7
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 13 6.4
Veggie burger 1 patty 13 13.0
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 12 4.2
Veggie baked beans 1 cup 12 5.0
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 12 5.7
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 11 6.2
Tofu, firm 4 ounces 11 11.7
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 10 5.7
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 9 3.5
Tofu, regular 4 ounces 9 10.6
Bagel 1 med.
(3 oz)
9 3.9
Peas, cooked 1 cup 9 6.4
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), cooked 1/2 cup 8 8.4
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp 8 4.3
Veggie dog 1 link 8 13.3
Spaghetti, cooked 1 cup 8 3.7
Almonds 1/4 cup 8 3.7
Soy milk, commercial, plain 1 cup 7 7.0
Soy yogurt, plain 6 ounces 6 4.0
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 6 3.7
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 6 3.3
Whole wheat bread 2 slices 5 3.9
Cashews 1/4 cup 5 2.7
Almond butter 2 Tbsp 5 2.4
Brown rice, cooked 1 cup 5 2.1
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 5 13.0
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 4 6.8
Potato 1 med.
(6 oz)
4 2.7
Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18, 2005 and manufacturers’ information.

Do you still have questions? Looking for more details? Comment below!

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6 thoughts on “Plant-Based Myths: Protein Concerns

  1. The other night I watched a program on TV called “Fat, Sick and nearly Dead”.
    It is about someone with specific health issues who sets out to change his life by changing his diet. I found it inspirational and immediately thought of your and your family’s change to a plant based diet. This guy decides to travel across America while on a 60 day juice fast while having nothing but vegetable and fruit juice and water. As he travels he spreads the word and in the later part of the show he is contacted by a trucker asking for his help. The show then follows the truckers story. Again inspirational and leaves you feeling good.
    Whereas the juice fast is extreme and different to the plant based diet you are following it does show that we can live healthily while making big changes in our diets. If anyone has had any doubts this should help expel them.
    If you wanted to watch the short film I have posted a link where it can be downloaded (here I’m imagining you can fit it into your busy day).

    http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/fat_sick_and_nearly_dead_2010/

    All the very best to you and yours

      • We buy raw almonds from Costco, a large bag lasts us almost a month for our cooking and drinking needs. I believe a bag is $10 and change. All you do is soak a 1/2 cup of almonds over night and then blend them in your blender the next morning and then pour through a nut bag. We save the almond pulp for extra protein in smoothies and bread. We also make our own chocolate (for hot chocolate) and chocolate bars, very cost effective. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Plant-Based Myths: Protein Concerns | My Daily Bread Crumbs | Amino Acids

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