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Jul 14, 2001 04:11 AM

Protein in the diet (from International)

  • p

First of all, I do hope everyone considers this the right board for this topic. I considered "Not About Food," but protein in the diet would seem to be about food. The thread was about the need for protein in a vegetarian diet, and it was a tangent from a thread started by a vegetarian who's visiting Budapest.

Anyway, I'm no expert and welcome correction, but my understanding is that human beings need a supply of not merely protein but _complete_ protein in their diet every day. Complete proteins contain all amino acids necessary for human bodily functions. All animal meats (red, poultry, fish, seafood) and eggs provide complete protein, as do corn and beans in combination. I do not believe that any milk products (other than human breast milk, I suppose) provide complete protein, but I may be wrong. I'm pretty sure that no vegetable or fruit or grain product provides complete protein by itself, and that includes beans and bean products such as tofu. OK, experts, please correct me and fill in the blanks, as some of your fellow chowhounds need to know this information.

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  1. Milk does provide complete protein, and it can be used to complement vegetable protein sources. All the vegetable sources are missing some of the eight essential amino acids, which other vegetable proteins can supply. So you can do very well on a vegan diet if you're really determined. Including some animal proteins in your diet makes it much easier to get enough.

    A very good book on the subject is Frances Moore Lappe's "Diet for a Small Planet". She explains the whole matter and several related ones, and includes detailed protein complementarity charts.

    One of Lappe's main points is that we don't need anything like the amount of protein that the average American consumes. If all the grain and soy that goes into feeding livestock went to humans instead, many more people could be adequately fed.

    They're saying now that you don't really need to complement your proteins at every meal, as long as you get enough of all the amino acids in the course of a day or two.

    3 Replies
    1. re: C. Fox

      I recently pulled out my copy of Diet for a Small Planet, and paged through it. I found that while the protein content (as listed) of many of the dishes was impressive, a lot of the recipes had portion sizes that were enormous (800+ calories per serving). If you adjust down to a normal portion size, there's still a fair amount of protein in them, just not stupendous.

      Also, a lot of the recipes are very heavily dairy, with lots of cheese as a major ingredient. Which is not as useful to vegans, who are probably more in need of a book like this.

      It's true that if the grain and soy that feeds the livestock that Americans eat became available to the undernourished people of the world, hunger would be much less common. Unfortunately, hunger is a problem of distribution and poverty, not of short supply. If everyone in America stopped eating meat, growers would not ship their surplus abroad to poor countries whose citizens cannot afford to pay for it. A glut on the local market and resulting reduced farm prices would cause some to go out of business, accelerating the current trend, and others to switch to more profitable crops.

      1. re: ironmom

        You must have the old edition of the book. The new one has a lot of revised information regarding protein, dairy consumption, etc.

        1. re: MU

          The recipes in the new edition have been modified to be much lower in fat. There are also more vegan options.

          ironmom, I agree with you regarding the politics of food distribution. I believe Lappe is trying to get us to think globally. Unfortunately, reducing meat consumption in this country won't automatically deliver more food to people in another; there are a few more steps between here and that ideal. When the original edition came out in the 1970s, she was just trying to acquaint Americans with the notion that there are alternatives, that we can't blame world hunger on a lack of resources.

          (Meet me on Not About Food if you want to continue along these lines!)

    2. As I understand it (my wife being a vegetarian and tried to raise our daughter as one) vegetable sources are not complete. Milk isn't either.

      To get a complete protein you need
      a) dairy
      b) rice/grain
      c) bean/pulse

      hence tortilla bean cheese combination

      rice daal yoghurt combination

      I'm not sure how chinese accomplish with tofu and rice but if you notice most chinese veg dishes have a little meat.

      1 Reply
      1. re: zim
        Caitlin McGrath

        You do not need all three to make a complete protein. Grains and legumes together are complete, as are grains and dairy.