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Jun 23, 2011 12:22 PM

Meals with no protein

So...this has started to alternately annoy and confuse me: So often in food writing, I see reference made to "a great meatless meal" or " a perfect substitute for vegetarians" or making something "healthier", but the meal has basically no protein, as in this little sidebar in BA this month...

I don't understand how this writer thinks eating a portabello mushroom soaked in olive oil and spread with pesto is healthier than a 95% lean burger. Doesn't she think a healthy meal has some protein in it? (i realize there are a few grams of incomplete protein in the mushroom, but still) And while olive oil is healthier than cow fat, 1/4 lb. cooked lean burger has 26 grams of protein and 6.5 grams of fat. You get about a teaspoon of pesto for 6.5 fat grams. Add the marinade and a realistic amount of pesto, and that burger is going to be at least 3x the fat.

I realize that lots of Americans eat WAY more meat than they need...but I don't think that's a reason to imply that it's healthier to get too little protein. I see a lot of main course recipes that have no damn protein...not only no egg/dairy/soy component, but as far as I can tell, no significant amount of complementary vegetable proteins.

What do y'all think?

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  1. I don't know the answer to your question. It blows my mind that people with so little knowledge get paid the big bucks to write food articles.

    For example, the fat in a beef steak is almost 50% monounsaturated fats. For some reason that's bad, but olive oil with 70% monounsaturated fats is good?

    Or soy is promoted as the perfect protein, but it's been tied to early puberty in girls, low sperm count in men and thyroid disease. Health agencies in several other countries have issued health warnings about soy, but here in the US, it's in dozens of items as fillers.

    Personally, I don't think you can eat too much fresh meat. That processed stuff is a different story. When the first results of the Framingham Study were finally published in an obscure medical journal, they flew in the face of the idea that saturated fats were causing heart disease and death. There as never been a study that tied CHD to saturated fats. Even back in WWII, medical research showed that young Japanese soldiers had basically the same cholesterol rates as young American soldiers. Yet the Japanese diet consisted of only about 3% fat.

    There's nothing wrong with eating good meat on a regular basis. Heck, I've even started using lard again. At least I know what's in it.

    17 Replies
    1. re: FEF

      a better link to early puberty is tropical fruit. Whatever they eat in South America, they grow early down there.

      If you want to bitch about estrogen, start bitching about hair care products. they POLLUTE! and you drink the water. I don't want to read anything, bar NONE, about soy, unless they're controlling for waterborne estrogen contamination. Birth control pills pollute as well, people!

      1. re: Chowrin

        Tropical fruit is linked to early puberty? Are you being sarcastic or do you have a source for that?

        1. re: Fromageball

          google puberty ages in other countries. and pregnancy rates. this is a longlasting phenomenon, unrelated to other nutrition.

      2. re: FEF

        Evidence that soy consumption results in low sperm count, cancer, and thyroid disease is tenuous at best, largely debunked, and firmly planted in the "better safe than sorry, I guess" realm.

        1. re: Boston_Otter

          You can call it "tenuous" if you want, but there are studies showing it to be true. Here's one. A simple internet search will turn up more:

          "Chavarro’s team found that men who ate the most soy had 41 million fewer sperm per milliliter of semen compared with men who did not eat soy foods. Normal sperm counts range between 80 million and 120 million per milliliter, according to a press release from the journal, a monthly publication of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology."

          More at the link:

        2. re: FEF

          "For example, the fat in a beef steak is almost 50% monounsaturated fats. For some reason that's bad, but olive oil with 70% monounsaturated fats is good?"
          I know it's tangential to this thread, but what are you arguing here? Beef fat is higher in saturated fats than olive oil. Monounsaturated fat is generally good for you, so it makes perfect sense that having a higher percentage of it would make olive oil healthier for you. And there are many studies directly linking olive oil consumption to decreased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease (and possibly even stroke, some cancers, and stomach ulcers), whereas I don't know of any such results for beef fat.

          I'm not trying to demonize beef fat, here. Just saying that olive oil has an excellent track record in recent studies, which is why it is commonly considered a very healthy fat.

          1. re: cowboyardee

            I'm arguing that the monounsaturated fats in beef are just as beneficial as the monounsaturated fats in olive oil. Yet oilve oil is held up as a "healthy" food and beef is demonazied.

            Saturated fats, in general, are not a health risk. Dietary saturated fats do NOT affect your cholesterol or cause an increase in cardiovascular disease. Never has. Never will.

            "CONCLUSIONS: A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.."



            I could post dozens of links showing very clearly that you can eat all the saturted fat you want and it will have little or no effect on your cholesterol levels. You've been brainwashed.


            1. re: FEF

              Saturated fats do have an effect on your calories ingested, for starters (which is not necessarily a problem for everyone, of course). For another, you're breaking down complex fats into constituent parts and talking about them while ignoring the far more compelling evidence - that olive oil (not just it's constituent fats) has been linked repeatedly to lower risk of common diseases whereas beef fat has not shown nearly the same correlation in studies. In a sense that's like saying that jogging and sitting on a barstool must be equally healthy because both engage your core muscles.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                We don't know if that's because the beef fat is from polluted feedlot sources, though, with inflammatory profiles, rather than due to saturation. Most of the fat in beef isn't saturated, anyhow.

                1. re: mcf

                  You're missing my point. I'm not really speaking to the healthfulness of beef fat. There's moderately strong evidence that a diet high in olive oil is GOOD for you - that it is associated with low levels of heart disease and cancer. The same cannot be said about beef fat, or most other fats really. The evidence on other fats (trans fat aside) is generally more mixed.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    I didn't miss your point, I disagree with it. I wasn't merely saying saturated fat is harmless, it also has healthful properties. But if what's tested comes from unwholesome sources it gets wrongly maligned.

                    1. re: mcf

                      So are you disagreeing with the findings of existing studies on these fats (so far)? Or are you disagreeing with my characterization of said studies?

                      If it's the former, that's fine - but does your objection amount to anything beyond conjecture? If it is the latter, I suggest you look into the studies further.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        I've been reading an awful lot of metabolic/endocrine/cardiology and other science for over a decade. I'm not in disagreement with good science, I'm in disagreement with the unfounded conclusions often extrapolated and promoted from it. And I'm completely opposed to epidemiology used to formulate clinical reccos rather than just as a direction for new clinical research questions.

                        1. re: mcf

                          Ah. Then our thinking might not be quite so far apart as I thought. When I get time, maybe I'll type a longer post about epidemiology with respect to nutrition. I don't think it's useless. But it has often been applied poorly and used to make recommendations that good science doesn't support - usually by acting as though epidemiological studies are capable of isolating variables when they really don't.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            I didn't say epidemiology was useless, just misused. Big Diff. :-)

                            Save your long post on epidemiology in a Word file; it's going to get deleted on CH by the mods, who want you to post about yummy food, not what it does or doesn't do to your arteries. Seriously. I care about this stuff a lot and I'm an information geek. I get deleted a LOT.

          2. re: FEF

            OT, but "get paid big bucks"?! Rest assured very few writers are getting paid big bucks these days—they're lucky to get paid at all.

            Otherwise I agree with you. Well, I don't about "I don't think you can eat too much fresh meat." You can eat too much anything. But I'm all for good, lean, clean protein.

            1. re: FEF

              Folks, we understand that nutrition and eating are inextricably linked, but we've removed a number of posts from this thread that are getting into personal medical details and advice. That's too far afield for our site.


            2. I don't understand how this writer thinks eating a portabello mushroom soaked in olive oil and spread with pesto is healthier than a 95% lean burger.
              based on the "savings" numbers provided, it appears she's equating "healthier" with fewer calories and less saturated surprise there - she's an old school RD who obviously still adheres to the same tired, outdated advice the American Dietetic Association has been pushing for the last 60 years.

              1. Vegetarian replacements are the wrong way to go for healthy food. You just can't replace things like gooey cheese, rendered fat and the like. All they make you want to do is have the real deal. Entrees with limited proteins, such as risotto and noodles, are great because they're not substitutes for anything, but are dishes that honor/feature another ingredient.

                On the article, I didn't think it was so much about taking the protein out, but reducing the calorie count (and done in a dumb way). I say, eat and enjoy a fattening burger, but skip the fries (and get a diet soda) and opt for the side salad. And, go easy with what you have for the rest of the day.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ediblover

                  Maybe you don't find veggie proteins satisfying, but I'd much rather have a meal centred on beans (including but not limited to soy) or eggs than a starch-heavy dish as my main. It really annoys me that most restaurants make pasta or risotto their only veg option.

                  1. re: piccola

                    I didn't mean it in that they're always inferior, but inferior when used as a substitute for meat dishes. That goes vice-versa; taking a dish that tries to feature a particular vegetable and subbing in meat won't work because the entire dish was planned for a particular component/star.

                    I like simple bean salads and soups, because they feature the bean instead of trying to do something with it that it wasn't meant to do.

                    1. re: ediblover

                      Fair enough. I'm not a big fan of meat substitutes, but I do love my tofu and tempeh.

                2. I don't see any problem with suggesting a non-meat alternative that does not include saturated fat. As you said, almost all of us get enough protein and although I could certainly lose a few pounds my cholesterol levels are great because most of my oil is olive. If the whole meal was just fruits, vegetables and olive oil that would be fine with me. To each his own.

                  1. Why do you believe that Americans eat way more meat than they need? I have not seen any evidence of it. Americans do in fact eat way too much but most of what they eat is not meat.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: redfish62

                      Actually, there are numerous studies that show Americans consume 2 to 3 times more protein than we need. There is certainly no need to eat meat at every (or most) meals. Beans and whole grains, with the occasional meat, if you like, provide all the protein anyone needs. No need for weird meat analogs.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        You want to show me some of those studies? Because I don't believe that they exist.

                        1. re: redfish62

                          First off, I said people get enough protein. Second, I think it is better if people eat less meat from a humane perspective; you don't have to agree with that, it is my opinion. As to studies will one from the CDC do?


                        2. re: pikawicca

                          If you find such studies that are NOT paid for by the Soy industry or animal rights groups (PCRM, PETA, HSUS, etc.) I'd like to see them.

                          But Dr. Van S. Hubbard, director of the NIH Division of Nutrition Research Coordination says "There is insufficient data to say that a person can eat too much protein.” He says there is evidence to suggest that people with certain diseases and conditions should limit their intake. For people with kidney disease, for instance, a reduced-protein diet may help delay the progression towards kidney failure."


                          1. re: FEF

                            I don't think anyone meant "too much" as in "so much it is harmful." I think they meant as "more than is required."

                        3. re: redfish62

                          Well, that's a good question. It's just one of those things I've read a number of times.

                          I, personally, have to work at getting enough protein if I'm eating out because it's hard to get low-fat protein if you don't cook it yourself (and even then you're stuck w/ a lot of egg white and chicken breast). So...I could well be wrong about that.