PROTEIN FOR THE VEGETARIAN



The Importance of Protein

Protein is essential to human health. Our bodies—hair, muscles, fingernails, and so on—are made up mostly of protein. As suggested by the differences between our muscles and our fingernails, not all proteins are alike. This is because differing combinations of any number of 20 amino acids may constitute a protein. In much the same way that the 26 letters of our alphabet serve to form millions of different words, the 20 amino acids serve to form different proteins.

Amino acids are a fundamental part of our diet. While half of the 20 can be manufactured by the human body, the other 10 cannot.
1 These "essential amino acids" can easily be provided by a balanced vegan diet.

How Much Protein?

As babies, our mothers' milk provided the protein we needed to grow healthy and strong. Once we start eating solid foods, non-animal sources can easily provide us with all the protein we need. Only 10 percent of the total calories consumed by the average human being need be in the form of protein.
2 The Recommended Dietary Daily Allowance for both men and women is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight.3 People with special needs (such as pregnant women) are advised to get a little more.

Vegans should not worry about getting enough protein; if you eat a reasonably varied diet and ingest sufficient calories, you will undoubtedly get enough protein. Protein deficiency, or "kwashiorkor," is very rare in the U.S. and is usually diagnosed in people living in countries suffering from famine.
4

By contrast, eating too much animal protein has been directly linked to the formation of kidney stones and has been associated with cancer of the colon and liver.
5,6 By replacing animal protein with vegetable protein, you can improve your health while enjoying a wide variety of delicious foods.

Other rich sources of non-animal protein include legumes, nuts, seeds, yeast, and freshwater algae. Although food yeasts ("nutritional yeast" and "brewer’s yeast") do not lend themselves to forming the center of one's diet, they are extremely nutritious additions to most menus (in soups, gravies, breads, casseroles, and dips). Most yeasts get about 50 percent of their calories from protein. 
7

Here are some examples of vegetarian foods with high sources of plant protein:
PROTEIN IN LEGUMES: Garbanzo beans, Kidney beans, Lentils, Lima beans, Navy beans, Soybeans, Split peas

PROTEIN IN GRAINS: Barley, Brown rice, Buckwheat, Millet, Oatmeal, Rye, Wheat germ, Wheat, Wild rice

VEGETABLE PROTEIN: Artichokes, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Green peas, Green pepper, Kale, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Mustard green, Onions, Potatoes, Spinach, Tomatoes, Turnip greens, Watercress, Yams, Zucchini

PROTEIN IN FRUITS: Apple, Banana, Cantaloupe, Grape, Grapefruit, Honeydew melon, Orange, Papaya, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Strawberry, Tangerine, Watermelon

PROTEIN IN NUTS AND SEEDS: Almonds, Cashews, Filberts, Hemp Seeds, Peanuts, Pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds, Walnuts (black)

References
1 University of Arizona, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, “Amino Acids Problem Set,” The Biology Project, 25 Aug. 2003.
2 Paula Kurtzweil, “‘Daily Values’ Encourage Healthy Diet,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2003. 
3 Food and Nutrition Board, “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids (Macronutrients),” National Academy of Sciences (2002): 10-1.
4 U.S. National Library and the National Institutes of Health, “Kwashiorkor,” MEDLINEplus Medical Encyclopedia, 11 Jul. 2002.
5 Gary C. Curhan et al., “A Prospective Study of Dietary Calcium and Other Nutrients and the Risk of Symptomatic Kidney Stones,” The New England Journal of Medicine 328 (1993): 833-8.
6 Kathleen M. Stadler, “The Diet and Cancer Connection,” Virginia Tech, Nov. 1997.
7 USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, “Leavening Agents, Yeast, Baker’s, Active Dry,” 16 Jul. 2003.
Partial information reprinted with permission from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta.org).


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