Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Complete Protein


When I was a senior in high school I attended a school conference at which we ate in a cafeteria for the week of the conference. One of the girls in my group was a vegan. I was as suspicious and incredulous as an overconfident 17-year old who knows everything can possibly be and felt that her dietary restrictions were pretty ridiculous. When she became ill during the week because she ate only rice I felt that my opinions were unreservedly validated and sallied forth with a fairly confident and ignorant view of veganism for the next decade and a half. My opinion began to change, however, as I learned more about diet, both vegan and omnivorous, and I reconsidered my views.

One hears a great deal of complete proteins, particularly when she makes it known that she is paring down the amount of dietary meat she consumes. This is a legitimate concern but I have found that it is generally not problematic to achieve complete protein consumption without touching meat. My acquaintance's problem at the conference was that she did not pair her grains with enough other legumes, seeds, and nuts. She was missing some of the amino acids that her body could not produce, but which she needed to make the proteins that would keep her body going.  

It is fascinating that many traditional food combinations in cultures throughout the world feature these vegetable, grain, and legume pairings. This is particularly relevant when one considers the dramatic increase over the course of the last several decades in the amount of meat generally consumed by our society. Certainly it is shortsighted if not almost ludicrous to assume that thousand-year-old culinary traditions are lacking in essential nutrients simply because they did not rely on meat as the source of complete protein.

So, the gist of this is that one can eat a more vegetable-oriented diet very healthfully without unduly worrying about the lack of protein. True vegans (those who do not consume any animal product, including eggs or dairy products) do need to do some vitamin supplementation to replace the B12 they miss; but, so far as I have discovered, this is the extent of critical supplementation.

Just remember to vary your diet and consume grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts in concert and obtaining essential amino acids should not be a problem.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, June 2012

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