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Vegetarians:
Where Do You Get Your Protein?
by Erowid
Nothing will benefit human health or increase the chances for survival of life on earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
-- Albert Einstein




I really enjoyed reading this well written vegetarian bit. I had some more of my own ideas that I thought I'd share...

> (1) Many vegetarians initially replace the protein content in their food
> with carbohydrates. It is helpful to be aware of this and to maintain a
> diet with sufficient protein for good health.

I agree with this, but would like to say that from my best reading of available materials, the 'sufficient protein' level is difficult to miss. My information is from an informal survey of materials available from about 89-92.

As far as I understand the 'where do you get your protein' question is a mistaken understanding of the issue. It is true that per cafeteria serving, vegetable material tends to have less amino acid content than a cafeteria serving of meat. But on a calorie by calorie basis, vegetables are more than sufficient to supply the necessary amino-acids (protein) for your body.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that adults need 2.5% protein intake and that "many populations have, in fact, lived in excellent health on this amount."

World Health Org sets protein requirements at 4.5% of caloric intake for adults.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Acadamy of Sciences adds 30% to the WHO number for 'safety', recommending 6%.

The National Research Council adds an additional safety factor and reaches the 'recommended daily allowance of 8%'.

The following is data from the Nutrition Value of American Foods in Common Units from USDA Agriculture Handbook No 456.

percentage of calories from protein:

LEGUMES:
 highest:soybean sprouts54%
 lentils29%
 split peas28%
 lowest:garbanzo beans23%
 
VEGETABLES:
 highest:spinach49%
 Broccoli45%
 Mushrooms38%
 Green Pepper22%
 lowest:Sweet Potatoes6%
 
GRAINS:
 highest:Wheat Germ31%
 lowest: Brown Rice8%
 
FRUITS:
 Highest:Lemons16%
 lowest: apple1%
 
NUTS AND SEEDS:
 highest:pumkin seeds21%
 lowest: filberts8%


As you can see, most vegetables are _way_ over the recommended 8% protein. It is virtually impossible to _not_ get enough protein eating vegetables of almost any kind. The only trick is that some amino acids are underrepresented in some types of vegetables. If you vary your diet from french-fries and ketchup, you will most likely have no problem here. But you can survive on french fries alone for quite a long time. (probably slightly less long than fasting :)

Everyone is different and has different needs. Listen to your body and find things that make it feel good. If you feel good after eating redbeans and rice, do that when you feel like it. If you find yourself having trouble feeling good after your meals, change your diet. get a Nutrition Almanac or Laurel's Kitchen and evaluate the foods you've been eating to see if there is one obvious amino acid missing. Don't be fooled by the 'low' numbers compared to meat, you don't need very much of this stuff and, in fact, there are significant clinical and lab studies to show that over-eating proteins is especially toxic to the body... bad bad.

> (2) Vitamin B12 is primarily available from animals products, and you may
> eventually become anemic if it is not made a conscious part of your diet.
> Eating yeast extract and vitamin supplements are possible ways to avoid this.

This is another of the interesting vegetarian debate points. I don't take vitamin supplements regularly nor do I ever think about this. I recommend reading literature on both sides of the issue to see which side sways you on this. B12 is necessary to the body in _extremely_ small amounts. The data on b12 deficiencies is more theoretical (like protein deficiency) than clinical (meaning there are no cases of b12 deficiency, but the possibility for this problem exists). Some believe that all the b12 you need is synthesized by normal bacteria in your digestive system and that no extra b12 is necessary for 99% of the population. Always pay close attention to your body and be aware that you have individual needs that will change every day, seaonally, with illness or impending illness, based on what you ate or smoked or snorted ;) yesterday, etc etc.

B12 can be found in: breakfast cereals, breads, pastas, soy milk, soy meat analogs, textured vegetable protein, fermented soy products, any organic produce that is only washed once (trace amounts in the soil), spirulina, algae...

> (3) A significant choice awaits you: will you eat animal products that do
> not require an animal's death (such as milk and eggs), but that may
> result in less-than-optimal conditions for the animal involved? If so,
> you would tend to call yourself a lacto-ovo vegetarian. If not, then
> you would be more accurately termed a vegan.

You can also (this is very hard in a city) try to buy your animal foods from conscientious farmers who treat their animals with respect and care. Buy Free-range eggs and friendly-organic-cow milk. You'd be horrified to find out what people do to our feathery and furry friends to get them to produce marketable products :(

In Wisconsin (I'm sure they do it elsewhere), some farmers put concrete dust in the feed for cattle for the last year before slaughter because they are sold by gross weight (this is illegal). It is legal in the US to inject cows with all manner of chemicals and hormones to get them to produce more milk. It's all pretty weird.

> (5) If you decide to avoid all food products that require an animal's
> death, then be aware that gelatin (derived from the structural substances
> of an animal's body) and rennet (enzymes from the stomach of a baby calf
> that curdle milk to produce many cheeses) are not strictly vegetarian.

I found that Trader Joe's in CA has a little pamphlet available that tells which cheeses they sell have animal and/or vegetable rennet in them :) Gelatin is in fucking everything... :( I try to avoid it, but I eat gelatin accidently and intentionally when it comes into my life... many many desserts have gelatin in them and I love dessert.

> (6) If you wear leather or furs, you may want to think about how to

This is an interesting one, for sure... But you can also know that unless you use _a lot_ of leather, these are durable goods that should last a lifetime. As Julia says, this is tough... I don't do synthetics for a number of other unrelated reasons.

> (7) Many people who become vegetarian revert to eating meat after a fairly
> short period of time.

If you decide to eat meat once or twice.. fine.. don't worry about it as a 'failing' but just another step along the path to find your own perfect balance. For me this balance is never 'done' but is always shifting...although for me it no longer shifts towards meat products, what I want to eat and feel good eating seems to always moving around.

> (9) When flying on commercial airlines, it is almost always possible to
> order a special vegetarian meal, especially if you let the airline know
> at least 24 hours in advance.

:) sometimes these special meals are _much_ better than the normal meals and sometimes are _much_ worse. Do your best to avoid cafeteria style entrees... people have a _nasty as hell_ sense of what vegetarian food should be. I often request 'fruit only' on flights because of the gross puke they heat up and dump in your lap otherwise.

> (10) When attending a private dinner party where the host/ess may be
> preparing food for you that is not vegetarian, it is considered polite to
> let them know in advance that you are vegetarian and to offer to bring
> a vegetarian main course.

Another way of handling this, which is what we've done, is to say "just make extra of whatever vegetarian side dishes you might have, I can make a meal of mashed potatoes, beans, rice, salad, whatever. Don't worry about making something special for me because I enjoy simple things very much." This has always worked out fine for me. The only 'problems' I ever have with being a vegetarian is that when there is a vegetarian dish, the meat eaters (omnivores) seem to gravitate towards it and gobble it before eating the meat dishes, leaving nothing for us vegetarians... It's actually kinda weird and seems to be the biggest problem with pizza. Go figure.

> (11) Restaurants present their own challenges, and it is often best to
> ask if you are not sure about a particular dish.

I have found that I can eat almost anywhere, including steak houses, but that when I choose to eat out for my own tastes, I carefully survey their menu and ask questions about what kind of broth they use for sauces and soups, whether they use Nom Pla (fish sauce) in SE asian restaurants, etc. etc. Often times it is useful to say I'm a strict Buddhist to get across the idea in Asian places...

Sometimes it's shocking to find out where they put meat... my most recent 'gross out' was at a catered Christmas dinner where Mince Pie (a suggary, dark dessert pie) was served. I had an odd feeling that this was a problematical dish, so I went to the kitchen and asked what was in it. Suet was one of the main ingredients. When I was young, suet was fat, grissle, tendons, etc. packed together and congealed and sold as _extremely_ low grade lard or (as we used it when I was a kid) as bird food in the dead of winter (to keep song birds nice and fat). I have since learned that the more traditional definition of suet is much nicer and is a high grade fat from around the kidneys and loins of cows, sheep, etc (suet definition). When I brought the news of suet being a primary ingredient back to the table, only three of 10 people were willing to eat the pie and those only because they didn't want to insult the host :)