Diets excessively high in protein, especially of the animal variety, have frequently been linked to almost all conditions of chronic degeneration: heart and kidney diseases, cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Probably because of the high levels of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides in commercial meat and dairy products. When too many calories from protein are being ingested, the consumption of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, and whole grains suffers. Proteins usually come packaged with fats which have twice the calories per gram, crowding out room on the plate for healthy greens.
- Americans consume the most meat per capita in the world — more than 175 pounds of pork, poultry, and beef per year, and evidence suggests this is far too much for optimal health.
- Excessive protein could actually be worse than eating too many carbs. Excessive protein can stimulate two biochemical pathways that accelerate aging and cancer growth.
- People who get 20 percent or more of daily calories from protein have a 400 percent higher cancer rate, and a 75 percent higher risk of mortality, compared to those who get only 10 percent of daily calories from protein.
Symptoms of protein excess are acidosis and dehydration. Acidosis is when your body fluids and tissues contain too much acid. Protein excess can also cause constipation, putrefaction in the gut if stomach acid is low, loss of bone if vitamin D and calcium are low, musculoskeletal issues, kidney dysfunction and ammonia or nitrogen in the blood.
Protein deficiency can cause loss of muscle tone, confusion, slow wound healing, irritability, fluid retention, food cravings, low libido, fatigue, and muscle weakness, thin hair and weak nails, and weight loss.
Large scale animal operations puts an enormous strain on our health and the environment through the intense usage of antibiotics, improper feed, petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the deposit of unfathomable quantities of toxic animal waste. The secret to sustainably raised food from animals is the scale of the operation and consumption. Eat animals that have been raised on food they were designed to eat. An example is: dairy cattle should be eating grass. If you are a meat-eater, purchase meats that were raised on small farms or ranches, preferably local.
Another way to eat sustainably is to eat less animal protein. Compliment your meat proteins with side dishes that include vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes. A diet that contains adequate calories from a wide variety of foods will always have plenty of protein.
Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of our bodies. We are individuals and have different needs and tastes. Some people are ideally suited to eating animal proteins, while others do well without. That said a break from animal proteins is welcome for all bodies. When stress is high, having more protein is very helpful for preventing burnout. Protein levels will vary according to age, activity level and health status. So, choose protein according to the quality, variety, and digestibility, not necessarily the quantity. Don’t overlook plant proteins – especially when you are stressed and your body needs a break!
Plant proteins tend to be limited in one to more amino acids. You have to combine them to make them complete. In order to get their benefits, complementary proteins only need to be eaten in the same day, not necessarily at the same meal. Most people, even vegetarians, don’t need to plan their diets out carefully to get enough complete protein; they get plenty as long as they have a varied diet. All plant proteins can be combined with eggs or dairy to improve their amino acid profile. If you chose to eat soy, due to genetic modifications and pesticide use, soy MUST be organic. Whole soy beans and tofu are a good source of protein. Fermented soy like tempeh, miso, and natto are better. Avoid denatured protein powders from soy and soy milk as the processing depletes the nutrients and the sourcing is not optimal.
Combination possibilities with beans and legumes to create complete amino acids are endless. Some examples are adzuki beans and brown rice, garbanzo beans and quinoa, lentils in salads, sprinkled with sunflower seeds or feta cheese, pinto beans or, a favorite, black beans with corn or corn tortilla or black beans and rice. You can, also, combine nuts and seeds to create complete proteins. Cooked oats with walnuts, sprinkled with flax or chia seeds, brown rice with walnuts or almonds, and basil pesto with peanuts or cilantro pesto with pumpkin seeds over brown rice, brown rice pasta, or tempeh. The lentil and walnut loaf in the Recipes of the Week from May 29th, is an example of a combined vegetable-based protein dish that provides a complete amino acid profile.
Hemp, rice, and pea protein powders are excellent alternatives to dairy or soy-based supplemental protein. These are helpful for people with food sensitivities as they have less allergen potential.
You can get plenty of protein from plants. In addition to the foods listed above, a few other plant-based protein sources are:
- Hemp seeds (hemp hearts): About 33 percent protein, providing 11 grams per 3 tablespoons; also contain all 20 amino acids in an easily digestible form, and are loaded with omega-3 fats.
- Chia seeds: About 14 percent protein, providing about 4 grams per 3 tablespoons; also high in omega-3 fats (but most are ALA).
- Spirulina: 70 percent protein by weight; 6 grams of protein per 10 gram serving; contains 18 of the amino acids and all of the essentials, and is easily assimilated (avoid spirulina if allergic to iodine or seafood).
- Sprouts: The quality of the protein and the fiber content of beans, nuts, seeds, and grains improves when sprouted; sunflower sprouts provide some of the highest quality protein you can eat, along with abundant iron and chlorophyll; kamut, hemp, quinoa, and bean sprouts are also good sources.
Quinoa is one of the world’s most popular health foods.
Quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa also contains all the essential amino acids that you need, making it an excellent protein source for vegetarians and vegans.
It is also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.
Quinoa is a seed which is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain.
There are three main types: white, red and black.
1 cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa:
- Protein: 8 grams.
- Fiber: 5 grams.
- Manganese: 58% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
- Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA.
- Folate: 19% of the RDA.
- Copper: 18% of the RDA.
- Iron: 15% of the RDA.
- Zinc: 13% of the RDA.
- Potassium 9% of the RDA.
- Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6.
- Small amounts of calcium, B3 (niacin) and vitamin E.
Quinoa is non-GMO, gluten-free and usually grown organically. Even though technically not a cereal grain, it still counts as a whole-grain food.
NASA scientists have been looking at it as a suitable crop to be grown in outer space, mostly based on its high nutrient content, ease of use and simplicity of growing it. The United Nations declared 2013 “The International Year of Quinoa,” due to its high nutrient value and potential to contribute to food security worldwide.
Quinoa is higher in fiber than most grains. Quinoa is high in soluble fiber which can help reduce blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, increase fullness and help with weight loss.
Studies have shown that using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free ingredients like refined tapioca, potato, corn and rice flour can dramatically increase the nutrient and antioxidant value of your diet.
One downfall of quinoa is that it also contains a substance called phytic acid, which can bind minerals and reduce their absorption. (See blog from 6/26/2019 about soaking seeds and nuts for more information.) I soak quinoa prior to cooking to reduce the phytic acid content and make minerals more bioavailable. Quinoa is high in antioxidants and sprouting increases their antioxidant levels even further.
Quinoa is also high in oxalates, which reduce the absorption of calcium and can cause problems for certain individuals with recurring kidney stones.
How to Buy
You can buy quinoa in most health food stores and many supermarkets. it is usually available in bulk or in bags on the shelves.
How to Store
Do not store in the plastic bag if you have used one to carry it home from the co-op. Transfer the quinoa to a glass jar.
For cooked quinoa, keep it in an airtight container and store it in the fridge for it to last for about a week. Do NOT leave cooked quinoa under the sun or at room temperature for more than two hours. The bacteria will easily enter the quinoa and develop quickly.
How to Cook
Soak quinoa for a couple of hours prior to cooking to diminish the phytic acid. Rinse a couple of times get rid of the saponins, which are found on the outer layer and can have a bitter flavor.
Quinoa can be ready to eat in as little as 15–20 minutes:
- Put 2 cups of water in a pot, turn up the heat.
- Add 1 cup of raw quinoa, with a dash of salt.
- Boil for 15–20 minutes.
It should now have absorbed most of the water and gotten a fluffy look. Quinoa should have a mild, nutty flavor and a satisfying crunch.
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Apricot Lime Vinaigrette
Terry Winters, Clean Food Cookbook
3/4 cup quinoa, soaked and rinsed
1 1/4 cups water
pinch of sea salt
3 cups cooked black beans
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 mango, peeled, pitted and diced
1 cup peeled and diced jicama – If you cannot find jicama you can substitute it with Asian Pear or radish and cucumber.
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T lime juice
1/4 cup apricot nectar or juice
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Most of this salad can be made in advance but hold off on adding the tomatoes, seeds or dressing until you are ready to serve.
Bring the water to a boil and add the quinoa and salt. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until all water is absorbed – about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside too cool.
Place beans, onion, mango and jicama in a large bowl. Fluff cooled quinoa with a fork, add to a bowl and gently fold to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Fold in tomatoes, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds just before serving.