Hung-up on protein? Americans seem to be obsessed with protein. You ask John and Jane Doe where they get their protein, and they respond, "chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, milk, greek yogurt, salmon, tuna, cheese....." You might even hear nuts or beans if they've paid any attention to information on the USDA food pyramids/ MyPlate diagrams. However, as I am learning from Marion Nestle, politics have had a great influence on educating Americans about what to eat..... Have AMERICANS have been BRAINWASHED to believe that protein= animals!?
American's obsession with animal protein has lead to some pretty destructive environmental, health, and inhumane production systems (or perhaps it was industry that has influenced this obsession?) Rapid production of animal-based foods to meet the demand of the consumer come with public health and environmental costs that are not reflected in the price at grocery store (antibiotic resistance anybody?, meat safety?, environmental concerns?, water footprint?) If you haven't seen where your Factory Farmed animal products are coming from, check-out Rolling Stone's article, "The Price We Pay for Cheap Meat"... worthy of reading! Be an educated consumer.
Meat, Plants, Protein, and Health.
In many parts of the world, animal products play a very small part in the human diet. In fact, many of the oldest groups of people in the world eat primarily a plant-based diet ( Tedtalk on the Blue Zones). These centenarians eat beans, soy, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lots of fruits and vegetables! They obviously haven't dropped dead yet from a lack of animal protein.... and they aren't having chronic health problems like majority of Americans.
Furthermore, research has been continually developing on the human gut (gastrointestinal track, GI track, Small and Large Intestine.. some names you might be familiar with) and its relationship with chronic disease and obesity. The gut bacteria (yes! There are microorganisms living in your gut!) may play a large part in shaping human health. In a recent study, a diet heavy in meat/dairy was compared to a whole, plant-based diet, and there was rapid change in gut flora. While the researchers utilized a rather drastic comparison of dietary intake, the results are still fascinating! In TIME magazine's 2013 year in review, there was also a clip on the health consequences of meat. Perhaps the link between meat consumption and chronic disease lies in the gut!? The article discussed choline and TMAO production and the increased risk for heart disease. I look forward to more research developing in this area in 2014.
While science continues to discover more about the gut bacteria, it doesn't hurt for you to start exploring more plant-based protein options! You'll be doing your body, your planet, and your wallet a service. All plant proteins contain fiber, rich sources of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. I found this article by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD from the Vegetarian Resource Group to be a very well written explanation of how you can obtain optimal protein needs on an entire plant-based diet. Dr. Mangels shows the recommended protein intake (0.9-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight) for individuals consuming an entirely plant-based diet, as well as provides examples of how easy it is for you to obtain your daily protein needs. A list of foods are provided with their grams of protein per serving. It's a great place to start if you are new to plant-based eating! The list of plant-protein sources is by far NOT complete! It's missing foods like split peas (16 grams of protein/ 1 cup cooked) pumpkin seeds (5 grams of protein/ ounce) kale (3 grams/ 1 cup chopped), chia (3 grams/ 1 tbsp) , hemp seeds (11 grams/ 3 tbsp), nutritional yeast (7 grams/ 2 tbsp).... but it gives you the general picture that beans, whole grains, seeds, nuts, AND EVEN VEGETABLES are packed with protein.
The real cost of protein: My experiment.
Over the weekend, I did a little browsing at Costco and Whole Foods. If I wasn't swamped with grad school finals, I would have liked to spend more time pricing out more food options. I chose to look ONLY at the USDA organic meat and eggs at Costco. There wasn't a lot of variety for organic meat/ animal-based food options. The price for the organic animal foods was very expensive compared to the plant-based protein options. I could buy one package of chicken (3.5 pounds with 6-9 chicken breasts) for $20-21. OR I could buy a bag of organic Quinoa (42 servings) for $12.49 and a bag of Lentils (60 servings) for $5.99. Incase you aren't a math expert... that's 12.49+ 5.99= $18.48, which leaves some room for that 2 bunches of organic Kale for $4 at Whole Foods. I could feed my whole neighborhood quinoa, lentils, and kale for $22.48! Plus that's a heck of a lot of nutrition. A serving of quinoa, kale, and lentils together would provide 22 grams of protein (about the same as 3 ounces of chicken), 13 grams of fiber (chicken has none...), and 30% of the recommended dietary intake (RDA) for iron (chicken only has 3%).
Here's a list of my food cost, protein and iron analysis for plant-proteins vs. organic animal-based foods.
Maybe it'd be a good time to start giving your wallet, the planet, and your gut a break... and incorporate more plant-based protein options into your lifestyle!
In good health,
Need more reasons to consider adopting a plant-based lifestyle, check out my blog "Sustainable Food for a Sustainable Vision"
"Whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves."
- Chief Seattle
Photo credit: NCinDC