Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Would you like a protein with that?

From Wikipedia.com, this is a 3D representation of "a protein."

Struggling to get caught up on work after a week's vacation, I haven't posted regularly lately. Sorry. But today I had to fire up the blogger to vent about something that really irks me, which is the misuse of the term "protein." It seems that most people's minds are perfectly programmed to regard food in such a way that they need to have a chunk of "protein" at every meal (particularly dinner). For example: "Ok, I have a vegetable and a starch, and now I need a protein." Or, worse (Mother to school-age child): "No, you can't have a banana, I want you to have a PROTEIN now." I see this time and time again as a dietitian and mom: parents flip out if their kid has a meal without a concentrated protein source. I've seen more than one mom force feed their child a McDonald's burger (sans bun) or slab of cheese. Not because the child is enjoying it but because the mothers actually believe that they are doing their children a favor.

For optimal nutrition, humans need approximately 10%-15% of their calories from protein. For an average 2000 calorie diet, this means about 200 calories from protein, or about 50 grams. It would be a challenge to eat even a marginally healthy diet and NOT reach this level. Most Americans eat double, triple, even quadruple this amount -- and we see a concomitant increase in heart disease, kidney disease, and bone disease.

People ask me all the time, "Where do you get your protein?" It is a reasonable question, because Americans have been brainwashed to believe that meat = protein and plants = not protein. But this myth needs some serious shattering.

Keeping in mind that our food should average about 10-15 percent of its calories from protein (a good goal is around 12%; those with higher protein needs, such as athletes should aim higher), consider the following foods and their respective percent protein contents:

broccoli: 43% protein
whole wheat bread: 16% protein
tomatoes: 12% protein
mushrooms: 21% protein
chick peas: 22% protein
lentils: 31% protein
tofu: 43% protein
string beans: 22% protein
bagel (white!): 15%

Source: Nutribase Software, and The Dietitian's Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications, by Virginia Messina, Reed Mangels, and Mark Messina, 2004.

Again, these numbers represent the amount of protein as a percentage of calories, not as a percentage of weight or volume. Since most vegetables have relatively few calories, small servings obviously have little total protein. So you'll need to eat a lot of vegetables to get a lot of protein, but of course no one is recommending that you eat only vegetables. The point is that if you eat enough calories from a variety of plant foods, your protein needs will most likely be met. Remember, you only need 10-15% protein, so eating an appropriate amount of calories from a variety of vegetables and other whole plant foods will supply plenty of protein, and a healthy balance of nutrition.

See, even a vegan can have too much protein! But round these foods out with healthful lower protein foods such as fruits, and you've got a balanced, health-supporting diet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Getting by in a vegan-un-friendly place

Greetings from Cape Cod!

I'm staying with the inlaws in a rather remote area of Cape Cod, land of seafood shacks and ice cream stands. I found a few veg-friendly places but none very close by; we're staying with a houseful of people (most of them under 10) so regular dining out isn't really an option. So, we took a trip to the local supermarket.

The problem with renting a house for a week (when it comes to eating well as a vegan, anyway) is that shopping for ingredients can mean a lot of waste (or, at best, lugging extras home). And it's challenging to cook in an unfamiliar kitchen. So we had to get smart and figure out what to buy that would get us through the week with minimal leftovers.

It's not hard at all, it turns out. We bought bagged salads, dressing, hummus, tabouli, veggie "hot dogs" (a fave of my toddler, of course), oatmeal, soy milk, frozen whole grain vegan waffles, whole grain bread, non-hydrogenated, organic margarine, soy yogurt, soups (I bought a natural soup mix and an onion; homemade bean-barley soup is on the menu tonight), whole grain pasta, jarred organic marinara, beans, organic tortilla chips and salsa, and of course, plenty of fruits and vegetables, sliced up and served fresh.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Web Site of the Week: Vegan Chamber of Commerce

What a great idea. If you want to focus your business efforts on working with like-minded folks, check out the Vegan Chamber of Commerce. According to their site, "Supporting vegans reduces our impact on the environment, prevents global warming, and reduces the suffering of animals..." and, "Our Business Directory lists vegan businesses, professionals, service providers, and vegan supporting organizations anywhere in the world."

The directory needs to be beefed up (so to speak) -- so if you're vegan and you provide services, please sign up today! It's free to post your business, and $100/year to become a sponsor. I'd love to see this site grow to the level it deserves to be.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Adding Music to the Mix

While hiking this morning in Mills Reservation (check out the photos!), stomping to the beat of "Push" by Matchbox 20, I got to thinking about how much better I feel when I exercise with music. And clearly, I'm not alone: check out all the ipods and MP3s donning the ears of all the folks at your gym or jogging down the street! Something about music inspires us to move, sweat, and keep going. I wondered if anyone's ever looked into this phenomenon using a scientific approach, and lo and behold, a study was done in 2005 suggesting that exercisers moving to music lose more weight than music-shunning exercisers, and helped with consistency as well as compliance.

And music boosts mood, to boot!

What kind of music? That's up to you. If you have an ipod, you can create a playlist that corresponds to your exercise; for example, if you like a slow warmup, choose an easy listening song you enjoy as the first tune. Then, if you like to gradually build speed, for example, choose tunes with beats that match your workout. If you complete your workout with a stretching routine, bottom out your playlist with Enya or something.

Need ideas? Dowload workout playlists from FITNESS magazine's web site! Cool stuff.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Recipe: Sneaky Slaw

Ok, this photo is not going into the Food Styling Hall of Fame. The truth is that I started eating my dinner before I thought to take a picture, so what you see is my meal after a few bites. The ravioli came from the Whole Foods Deli (I'd love to tell you the ingredients of their "Vegan Ravioli" but the label said nothing more than "Vegetable Feature #1").

The slaw, though, I made myself. Now, if you have time and don't make a major mess in your kitchen when you try to deal with a head of cabbage, go ahead and buy a whole cabbage and chop up the sucker (or feed it to your food processor). I took advantage of the Lazy Food at Whole Foods -- this time, an actual plastic container (which I recycled) of chopped red cabbage.

Why cabbage? Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli. It is overflowing with beneficial phytochemicals that have been linked to cancer prevention, heart health, thyroid health, and ulcer prevention. It is protective against several types of cancer, but what I find most interesting is its effect on breast cancer prevention. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound in cabbage, appears to play a role in hormone regulation: it seems to decrease harmful estrogens while increasing good estrogens.

Yet another reason to eat your veggies, and more of them.

Here's the recipe, more or less. Everyone loved it.
  • 4 cups or so of shredded red/purple cabbage
  • 1 green onion, sliced thinly
  • a handful of fresh parsley, rinsed well and chopped
  • apple cider vinegar
  • canola oil
  • agave nectar

Toss the veggies. In a separate bowl, add a little of this and a little of that until you get a yummy balance of oil, vinegar, and sweet. You might want to add a bit of water too.

As always, this recipe is adaptable. Throw in some shredded zucchini, finely chopped celery, shredded carrots, chunks of apples, whatever! Had my nut-allergic son not been joining us, I would have added in a handful of sliced almonds too.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Web Site of the Week: Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe

There's no shortage of vegan shopping sites on the Web, but I recently enjoyed a particularly nice browsing experience on Cosmos. They understand what vegans really want-- they actually have a separate shopping category for "vegan cheesy foods."

I love shopping on vegan web sites because first, I don't have to scrutinize every label for hidden animal products; second, I like supporting vegan companies; and third, I can shop for items I may otherwise have never encountered elsewhere.

Other highlights -- a huge selection of supplements, a gluten free area, vegan gift ideas, a books area, and clothing/accessories areas. They also feature a top 10 best seller list on the homepage, so you can see what is popular on any given day.