Friday, February 15, 2013

Why I Don't Eat a Protein at Dinner

Rosemary Roast Potatoes
Whenever I read anything about menu planning or nutrition, I invariably read about "a protein." Omnivores usually recommend planning your "protein" for each meal, then deciding which side dishes to serve. There must be "a protein" in the center of the plate.

Quite often Vegans seem just as Protein-focused as the Omnivores are. They will explain that they are adding Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan, Nuts, Seeds or Beans to a dish to ensure that they "get enough protein." And, they add extra-expensive supplements to their smoothies because they're "very high in Protein" (even though that often means that they're only adding one or two grams of Protein for a substantial increase in cost!). And, there was a time when I did the same thing. In fact, I would openly admit that I wasn't as fond of those "protein" foods as I was of other foods, but I felt I had to eat them.

Oddly enough, the last time I went to the grocery store, I didn't see a "Protein Aisle" - I just saw a lot of regular food! When did we start referring to foods this way - and why?

Sweet & Sour Sweet Potatoes
Lately, this objectification & intellectuallization of food has begun to disturb me. Food was Created by God to have a special place in our lives. It is part of our communion with Him and with each other. In fact, Holy Communion comes in the form of food! Not only that, but food provides a fair amount of the beauty in our lives, not to mention fellowship, a creative outlet, comfort, satisfaction - well, you get the idea. But, when we speak of it, we only seem to notice the cold, scientific, intellectualized nutrient content - and only one nutrient at that!  Why this cold, clinical attitude towards something that should be a part of our everyday enjoyment of life?
Homemade Yeast Bread
Confetti Spaghetti
It would certainly be understandable to speak this way about Protein if large numbers Americans were starving or dying of Kwashiorkor (severe protein malnutrition). But, quite the opposite is true. Most of us in the developed world are suffering from illnesses caused by an excess of those foods which are high in Protein. Kidney failure, Heart Failure, Type II Diabetes, Hypertension, etc - have all seen a dramatic rise because of overconsumption of high-Protein foods (which are often also high fat foods - but both excess fat AND excess protein can damage health See The China Study for more information). In fact, amongst those on whole foods diets, Protein malnutrition only occurs in people who also have insufficient calorie intake (which is to say people who are suffering starvation, and severe eating disorders).

But, most of us are worried that unless we plan our meals very carefully, we won't get enough Protein. The more I research, the more I find that it's just NOT TRUE!

Did you know that you can get plenty of protein to thrive even if your ONLY protein source is White Potatoes?! Or Rice?!

I recently read The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall, in which he wrote a remarkably persuasive and well-researched  chapter on Protein. We really can get more than enough from just starches and vegetables! Here is an article that very nicely summarizes why you can get all the protein you need from foods we often call "starches."  (Of course, calling grains and potatoes "starches" is just as misleading and problematic as calling meat and dairy "proteins")

Veggie Sushi
Personally, I find this information to be a huge relief! I don't want to HAVE to put Tofu on my Veggie Pad Thai, or HAVE to put Beans in my Spaghetti, or HAVE to put Tempeh in my Burrito. I certainly don't want to HAVE to eat meat, dairy or eggs.

When I first became vegetarian, the popular wisdom (as popularized in Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe) was that you needed to combine foods to get complete protein. In time, we learned that we could eat different foods hours apart, and our bodies would combine them to "make complete proteins." Now, thanks to the work of Dr. McDougall and others, we find that we don't have to worry about combining at all! God made grains to provide more than enough protein -including all of the amino acids-  for human beings to thrive.

And, God didn't create each food group to provide only a single nutrient - instead, He made every food a beautiful composite of the nutrients our bodies need.

Let me be very clear - I DO eat lots of foods that have protein in them at dinner! And, lots of it! Including: Rice, Potatoes, Beans, Tofu, Noodles, Bread, etc. I just don't call them "a protein" - because they are SO much more than that!

I really shouldn't have been surprised by this information. After all, when God designed staple foods for human consumption ( the original human diet was Vegan - Genesis 1:29) He Knew what He was Doing! He did a perfect job! : )

This is being shared on Healthy Vegan Fridays and What's for Dinner


  1. I couldn't have put it better myself! I totally agree with everything you say. We are obsessed with protein but we need to be more concerned about other nutrients that we are more likely to be deficient in, not just vegans but meat eaters too. People don't realise how much protein is in every day whole foods. I love that you also think the original diet was vegan. I also believe this and have struggled with why God introduced meat later on in the bible. But we're very blessed to be able to access all the healthy foods that a lot of people in the world don't have access to:
    Thank you for sharing this with Healthy Vegan Fridays. Check back on Friday to see if you were one of the Top 3! We hope to see you again this week. You can submit a post from Friday to end of Tuesday:

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Katherine - and thanks for hosting Healthy Vegan Fridays. I really enjoy seeing all the great posts there : )

  2. AMEN! I have just found your blog and am sooooo excited to see another Christian vegan on the earth!
    I love your comments about labelling food by nutrients - agreed - compeletely not needed! :-)

  3. Hi Anna,
    I read this post a couple of nights ago, but didn't have time to comment then.

    So, for a couple of years, I have been trying to figure out how to best feed my particular body, for energy, strength and immune function. Your post intrigued me. Western society is so protein-centric, all "the experts" caution us to eat enough protein or we'll become weak and fatigued. So, your post is interesting. I am trying a few things with our diet, really listening to what my body is hungry for, and hopefully will see a change in our health and energy as a result.

    We do eat some meat, and my husband and kids enjoy dairy, but we've also returned to the way I ate as a single (which was mostly vegan), many days of the week.

    Anyways, thanks for posting this.

    1. Thanks so much, Lili - I'm really delighted that you liked my post : )

      If you want to read more on this topic - "The China Study" by Campbell is outstanding(check my links page) and "The Starch Solution" by McDougall is also good.

    2. Sometimes my body is STARVING for double-stuffed Oreos! ;-) Just sayin'.

    3. This is one of my big concerns, not for myself but for my young children. They don't eat a lot of kale and spinach so where does their calcium come from? And I do worry they don't get enough iron and protein.


    4. Thanks for the question - Sis - great to see you here again!

      Here's a nice article on Calcium for Vegans.

      Also, altho I am unfamiliar with this site, it has a chart I have seen many times - scroll down to the "Bone Health" Subheading, and look at the Chart with the black background.

  4. Excellent post! A few years ago my health insurance required me to jump through some hoops to avoid an increased premium, and one of the hoops I chose was a "nutritional counseling" program that was pretty stupid...but one thing I did learn from it was that my normal mostly-vegetarian diet has plenty of protein and that more of it is coming from beans, nuts, and grains than from dairy, eggs, or fish. Tracking my diet for a week, I was startled by the protein content of even refined grains, and whole grains really have a lot.

    One of my 7 Ways to Eat Less Meat is to stop thinking of "protein" as the main course. I now plan meals around the vegetables and trust that the protein will work out.


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