The article points out that the old idea about vegetable proteins being incomplete was wrong. This notion was popularized in the 70’s by Frances Moore Lappe in her book Diet for a Small Planet.
The argument about proteins is being made by vegan-oriented doctors to support the notion that completely vegan diets are beneficial for health. According to these advocates, no one has to worry about getting enough protein from vegan diets.
As with many things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle of these arguments; I have found in almost 40 years of natural health counseling and teaching that eating whole and naturally refined grains, and vegetables along with other plant derived foods are very beneficial for health. There is a reason that the healthiest and longest-lived people around the world ate plant-based diets along with a regular, moderate intake of natural animal products.
To understand why, let’s sort out the myths from the truths about proteins and other components in food because understanding the importance of adequate proteins is critical to your health. I have counseled people medically diagnosed with protein deficiencies which led to hospitalization. They cooked up a storm of vegetable and grain based meals every day for years. There was no junk food, yet they became very sick due to protein deficiency.
Truths and Myths about Complete Proteins
Proteins are made up of amino acids. On a daily basis, the science is undeniable that we need 8, or some say 9, amino acids in adequate amounts. The truth is that all vegetarian foods have all the essential 8 amino acids. The truth about protein food combining is that some of the amino acids are in much lower amounts in certain vegetarian foods. Other vegetarian foods have these missing amino acids.
There is a scientific concept known as limiting amino acids. If one food is low in any of the eight essential amino acids, the body will only absorb as much of the other amino acids in that food as the low one. The myth is that we don’t have to take the missing amino acids at the same meal. It will work to take them in the same day.
Overlooked is the fact that due to other nutrient and calorie deficiencies in many types of vegan diets, such as those with lots of raw foods, the metabolism can drop reducing the amount of crucial stomach acid production.
On paper it may look like you are getting adequate protein, but if the stomach acid is low the absorption of protein is low, and one becomes protein deficient. There is evidence that eating extremely low amounts of protein, such as on vegan diets, will reduce stomach acid production that is needed to digest proteins. The result is that one can end up protein deficient and with a variety of other digestive distresses. I have seen people develop stomach ulcers until they stopped limiting their diet so severely. Stomach cancer formed in others who did not change or not soon enough.
The Calorie and Protein Connection
Vegetarian authors and doctors give lip service to the idea that if calories are adequate in one’s diet, and there is a variety of foods, a person’s protein intake is more than adequate. The truth of this is correct. If one eats enough foods - calories, it has a protein saving effect. This means that the body will not use protein as an energy source, but utilize protein as important building blocks for the brain chemicals, white blood cells, organs, bones and other tissues. If one’s diet is low in calories, proteins get used for energy instead of for building blocks resulting in protein deficiencies.
A common myth is that it can be easy to get enough calories on vegan and vegetarian diets. If the diet is composed of large amounts of whole foods as are most diets of these types, the calorie content can be quite low. Most people after 25 will need between 2500-3000 calories to satisfy calorie needs. Those who are younger require more. This is important to understand because low calorie dieting is a multi billion dollar business with profit at its core. This creates great misunderstandings about our dietary needs that often result in eating disorders and an overweight population.
Government agencies and lots of websites say you only need 2000 calories or less. This has been found to be false because of the under reporting of what people eat in surveys and studies. When researched against what people really eat it is found that they under report their calories. When tested, the true calorie amount reflects what the body really needs for energy that will run all the activities of your body and mind.
Calories are like many things about nutrition. What is popularly believed on closer examination is not true. Gwyneth Olwyn wrote an excellent article about the research that confirms our true calorie needs which you can access at this link.
Gwyneth’s website helps people with eating disorders. Eating disorders are much more common than thought. People eating naturally can create eating disorders by overly restricting all the categories of health foods such as proteins, fats, and sugars. For more information about this check out her article.
If we take a look at common vegan whole foods, the calorie content is low unless one eats more fats, sugars and flour products. The trend in this diet is to limit or avoid some of these foods causing a lack of sufficient calories for optimum health.
For example, one cup of cooked brown rice has 150 calories. If one eats 3 cups in one day, that is only 450 calories. 3 cups of vegetable salad, which can be very filling because of fiber, is 30 calories.
If one focuses on vegetables, especially raw vegetables, the calorie intake becomes quite low requiring more protein to satisfy your health needs and avoid protein wasting.
Getting Enough Protein
Vegan and vegetarian advocates point to the animal kingdom to support the argument that all proteins can be gotten from plants. If a cow or large gorilla can build their bodies by eating grass or leaves, why can’t we?
There is a good reason why you are not chomping down on the back lawn. Herbivorous animals such as the cows and gorillas, have large or multiple rumens. These are stomachs that contain bacteria that ferment the fiber in raw plant foods. This fermentation causes all the nutrients to be fully digested.
Human beings don’t have rumens like all truly vegetarian animals. A more accurate examination of our digestive tract reveals our stomach acid levels and colon size are similar to other omnivorous animals. This shows we are designed to eat vegetable and animal foods in varying degrees. People around the world traditionally kept themselves healthy by doing just that.
Check out the book, Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham to understand the science that confirms how humans are designed to eat mostly cooked foods.
While vegetarian foods have complete proteins, the amount of proteins in vegan and some vegetarian diets is very low. Well researched science has proven that people need between 40-60 grams of protein from their diets daily. Remember, this means protein that has been absorbed.
If we look at this strictly mechanically, there is a problem. Whole grains and beans have the highest amounts of proteins of vegetarian foods. Both mostly contain about 10-15 percent proteins when cooked.
A person of my size 6 foot 2 inches would need 60 grams of proteins. To have complete proteins, I would be eating many cups of grains and 3 or more cups of beans per day. Gas and indigestion can be a problem for many who try doing this.
Why This Knowledge Is Important
I worked for 27 years as a teacher and natural health counselor at a school that promoted a vegan diet. I was following this diet for more than 30 years. I saw firsthand, problems that occur when protein and other nutrients from natural animal foods are missing.
If you just look at protein deficiency alone, I saw many people on long term vegan diets who were suffering from mental and emotional problems, bone and joint issues, immune weakness, hormonal issues, diabetes, chronic fatigue, cancer, heart disease and digestive problems. In the east west diagnosis that I developed for my counseling practice, IDX Diagnosis TM, I could see that all these people showed signs of a protein deficiency. B12, calcium, zinc, iron, cholesterol, and fats that are low in vegan style diets would also contribute to this problem.
My sense is that an omnivorous diet that includes a variety of vegetarian and animal source foods is nutritionally ideal for heath. Those who wish to be vegan or vegetarian can read my article at the link below for good guidelines to help avoid developing deficiencies. Diet is a personal choice. I work successfully in improving health and assisting with self-healing using all types of dietary preferences among my clients.
To finish this article off, I want to mention that people will often have their ego and sense of self connected to their diets. I encourage everyone to have an open mind and look carefully at what I presented to stay safe and healthy for themselves, family, friends and loved ones.