Vegetarians and Protein

I never knew how much people cared about my protein intake until I became vegetarian. I have had people ask me if I am getting enough protein, and had people blame my hunger due to lack of grains on lack of protein, despite my massive intake of protein.

But this is one thing that people don’t seem to understand; plants DO have enough protein to sustain you. Granted, I am a lacto-vegetarian, so a significant amount of my protein comes from milk and cheese (mostly cheese, saying that I switched to soymilk), but most of my protein comes from plant-based sources. For instance, protein per serving of foods that I eat:

  • Split peas – 10 grams
  • Sweet peas – 3 grams
  • Lentils – 8 grams
  • Soymilk – 7 grams
  • Kale – 3 grams
  • Spinach – 1 gram
  • Broccoli – 3 grams
  • Whole Wheat Bread – 4 grams
  • Tofu – 10 grams

This and much, much more. I eat a lot of black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and the like. I don’t think I even sacrifice taste either, in fact, since I no longer drizzle my foods in sauces and spices, I am more able to appreciate my foods as they naturally come. The main issue does seem to be that of protein though.

Protein requirements are calculated by 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound, so the smaller you are, the less you have to worry about protein intake. I am 205 pounds, so my recommended protein intake is 74 grams of protein a day. Eating foods like Bean Burritos from Taco Bell (14 grams of protein) or Veggie Burgers from Burger King (21 grams of protein) can keep me within that protein range even if I am eating out.

Now if a vegetarian were to eat foods like modern Americans do, and eat white breads, and potato chips, and the like all the time, you can make the conclusion that a vegetarian might not be getting the right amount of protein. But most vegetarians replace typical foods with higher protein and fiber foods, which is good.

Remember, there are plants out there that contain more protein than a Hot Dog (5 grams) an egg (6 grams) or a serving of Beef Jerky (7 grams), such as kidney beans, black beans, and Soy Milk which all have at least 7 grams per serving. A store-bought veggie burger can have almost as much protein as a typical beef patty.(10 grams vs 16 grams), so nobody should be too worried about protein content in a vegetarian diet.

Medicinal Mythology: Milk Is As Dangerous For You As Smoking?

I was working the other day, when a man walked in. He ordered some food and due to the food choices he made I asked if he was a vegetarian. He said yes and we started talking. I knew he wanted to talk my ear off, as he was a “vegetarian for 35 years,” and he did do a lot of talking. While I am always happy to hear some information from a fellow vegetarian, I have to state that this claim he made irked me a bit. He said that “drinking milk and eating cheese, especially in quantities like pizza, is more cancer causing than smoking” among other claims I won’t try to debunk all at once.

Now I am not going to state that milk is GOOD for you, because milk is a calorie laden beverage with almost no significant benefits for your health. But worse than smoking, and “by a long-shot?” I am not too sure about THAT. But since I am an amatuer journalist who has spent the better of the last 10 years researching scientific claims such as this one, I decided to look it up for myself.

The claim is “Cancer mortality was higher for high-protein [eaters] compared to current smokers.”, which was published on… you guessed it… FoxNews. It was also published on a lot of other sources that I don’t find all that reputable, and completely ignored by scientific magazines and more reputable news sources, like the NYTimes.

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That said, I had to spend forever just trying to find the source of this claim, in which, like always, no newspaper seems to provide a link to this study, because god forbid anyone check the sources. But I finally found it, the study is “Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population

The information does seem to pan out though, as “animal protein” is seen to cause a higher rate of mortality as compared to the consumption of plant-based proteins. However, this study doesn’t go into any detail on which “animal proteins” they are talking about, so we just have to assume that they are talking about all of them. Which is good as a minor study, but it’d be wonderful to know if milk is worse than beef, or chicken, or eggs, for instance.

There was another study published in Canada which showed a correlation between artery plaque buildup and egg yolk consumption. There are also studies that did not find a correlation between animal protein intake and all cause mortality, but did find that having a diet higher in plan protein was really beneficial in postmenopausal women, but the last studies already made a link that showed that animal proteins after the age of 65 were NOT associated with any increased death risk.

That said, more research needs to be done to find clear links, and to determine if all animal proteins are created equal. For instance, we know that red meat is associated with a higher risk of Colon Cancer, but chicken is not. So it would be best to see if this cause of death by cancer, heart disease, etc, is associated with all forms of animal protein intake, or whether it is only connected to specific forms of protein intake. And none of the studies I linked to seemed to associate milk or other dairy products as its own group, so I can’t come to the conclusion of if milk and cheese really ARE as bad as smoking. There is no evidence to connect those accusations.

Although I do agree that one thing is clear, we SHOULD reduce our intake of animal-based proteins, as vegetarians are indeed known to live longer and be in better health. However, there does not seem to be a significant difference in all-cause mortality between the types of vegetarian, and Pesco-vegetarian (vegetarian that eats fish) are more likely to live longer than strict vegans, but compared to the meat-eating population, the difference is so minor to borderline on ‘not that important’.

Being vegetarian, or even Semi-vegetarian, is a healthier diet, but like I said, I can’t find any data to show that milk or dairy products in specific causes a high increase in mortality, and lacto-ovo-vegetarians do not have a significantly higher rate of mortality than strict vegans, so I will wait for more data before coming to any conclusion.

Eating Vegetarian at: Sheetz

Most of you have probably never heard of Sheetz, mainly because:

us states

 

Yeah, it is almost exclusive to only a few states in the northwest US.  Also, this is the only eating place that is not even a restaurant. It’s a grab-n-go and refueling station that also has made-to-order food. And while I am not sure if every Sheets sells the same food, I will just go based off of their printable menu, and based off of what food I buy whenever I get something to eat there after work.


sheetz (1)Eating vegetarian here really limits you if you want to find a decent protein-sensible food. Each food item can be made meat free, but that usually means protein-free, as there is very few protein substitutes here. The only thing they have is a cheese sub, and that is about as rich in protein as this store goes. You can’t order extra of any toppings, as that option just isn’t in the menu, you can only request extra of certain toppings they allow you to order extra of.

I generally buy Mac-n-Cheese with olives and other vegetables in it, but you can order other foods as well, such as:

  • Cheese Sandwich/Sub/Wrap
  • Veggie Sandwich/Sub/Wrap
  • Cheese/Veggie Pizza
  • Onion Rings
  • Tater Tots
  • French Fries
  • there are salads you can make-to-order without meat
  • Mozzarella Sticks
  • Vegetarian Burrito
  • Apple Slices
  • Coleslaw
  • Mac and Cheese

And that is not including desserts, drinks, or breakfast items. Or anything else you can buy from the store, such as fruit, potato chips, bread, and the like.

If we add in the items that are Specifically Vegan, we have:

  • French Fries
  • Totz
  • Vegetarian Burrito
  • Vegetarian sub/sandwich/Wrap

I do not know if the Pizza crust or even the tortilla wrap is fully vegan, and I am not sure if you can order the pizza without cheese.

The main issue I would have is that there is not a way to really substitute the protein in anything. You can’t replace the meat with beans, or cheese, or anything, you only have the choices that are given to you. And if you have the option to add extra cheese (which you usually do in the case of subs and sandwiches) it generally costs a fair amount more to include, granted, the meat-less options are usually cheaper. But they do have some higher protein options if you are a lacto-vegetarian. The Vegetarian burrito also comes with beans, so that is good.

Eating Vegetarian At: Burger King

Screenshot_1Burger King is not a bad place to go to in order to eat a good vegetarian dinner. It could be better, but in terms of customer base, it is trying, so I have to commend them for that. Most of the customers at burger King are definitely not vegetarian, so as long as they have some options available, it’s OK with me. Eating at burger places will probably be hard for vegetarians anyways, because burger restaurants specialize in burgers. Shocker.

I go to Burger King every now and then for their Veggie Burger and lately I have been getting a lot of their side salads, which is mainly just lettuce and cheese, but I digress. But what else does Burger King have that is edible for Vegetarians? Well:

  • Apple Slices
  • Side Salad
  • Onion Rings
  • Fries
  • and the Veggie Burger

They also have deserts: like soft serve ice cream, cakes, cinnamon rolls, apple pie, cookies, etc. And for breakfast they have the Egg and Cheese croissant, french toast sticks, pancakes, hashbrowns, and oatmeal (even a type with fruit on top). So although it is not a huge selection, there is a decent sized selection. And I believe you can substitute the meat patty on any of the other burgers with the veggie patty, although I will be transparent to the fact that I never tried to do that.

The veggie patty is pretty decent, I would not say it is the best veggie burger I have tasted, but it is not bad. It’s from Morning Star, and I believe it is the same Morning Star Garden patty that I buy from the grocery store. Still, it is a lot more than they have at McDonalds, which is a fast food store I laid into for their lack of vegetarian options.

Eating Vegetarian At: McDonalds!

vegetarian

Ahhh, Mcdonalds! Otherwise known as a Brick Wall for vegetarians. McDonalds is known for meat. Meat, meat, meat, meat, meat! Filet of Fish, McDouble, McRib, BLT, Grilled Chicken, Etc. And that by itself is fine, if a food company sells meat, that’s OK in my opinion, but it would do better on their bottom line if they opened their menu up for more options.

Here is a list of all of the vegetarian options at McDonalds:

  • Cinnamon Melts
  • Hashbrowns
  • Hotcakes
  • Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
  • Side Salad
  • Asian/Southwest Salad (no meat (or protein))
  • Apple Slices
  • Fries

That is not including deserts like Yogurt, Fruit and Yogurt Parfait, cookies, and the apple pie. The ones I crossed out I did so for the fact that they are breakfast-only items, which are things I rarely take into account. So all you have left is the salads, apple slices, and fries. Period. The salads do have a small amount of beans and other vegetables on them, at 160 calories per salad you’d be hardpressed to feel full. The best you can do is combine that with a several hundred calorie medium fry. And to be honest, I’d rather not. So all you can eat when you go to Mcdonalds as a vegetarian is fries and salad. The main issue I have with McDonalds, is that it would not hurt to add a vegeburger to its menu like Burger King has done, but I digress.

Mcdonalds was asked about vegetarian options a few years ago, and McDonalds responded with “Many of our menu items can be customized without meat.” Which that is true, to me that comes with two issues:

1. Even if you remove the meat, you are still paying full price of the food, making it economically unfair to pay the same amount for less food.

2. Not being able to substitute the protein just eliminates the protein altogether. Not only is protein an issue that many vegetarians have to account for anyways, but removing protein instead of substituting it makes people feel hungry, sooner, after eating. That feeling of fullness might not even exist after a meal in the absence of protein, so just eating a cucumber and ranch wrap, or two slices of bread with no patty, is just a recipe for a customer finding other places to eat.

Again, not that it is McDonalds job to cater to the 1-4% of people who identify as Vegetarian, but I am just saying, it’d be nice. It’d also be nice if they did not spout BS when confronted about the lack of vegetarian options.

I can’t give McDonalds a good score, because ever since I became a vegetarian I have not been able to eat there.

EDIT: Well, what do you know, the fries actually are not vegan either. They contain beef flavoring.

Eating Vegetarian At: Taco Bell

taco-bell-logoWhen you are a vegetarian, it is best to find places where you can eat without sacrificing vital nutrients that help you feel full, and the most important one when eating out is Protein. There are many places where you are able to eat out that has some other form of protein that you can substitute for the meat if you want a conventional item, or they simply have vegetarian options on the Menu.

Taco Bell has to be one of the best when it comes to vegetarian options. If you don’t want meat on a Chalupa, or a taco, etc, you can easily exchange them for beans (you can change the meat for rice too, but beans have more protein). You have the choice of either having regular refried beans, or black beans. This will come at no extra cost to the customer for the substitution.

You also have a wide variety of options from the menu itself to choose from as well. There is:

And that is not including deserts, such as the Apple Pie, Cinnamon Twists, and Cinnabon Delights. So in terms of vegetarian options, Taco Bell has you set!

Taco Bell even has many Vegan options as well. In fact, for most vegetarian items, all you have to do to make them Vegan is to order them Fresco Style. Doing so takes off the cheese and sour cream and replaces it with Pico De Gallo, which is just tomatoes, onions, and Cilantro mixed with dressing. Chips and Guac and Black Beans and Rice are Vegan as-is.

I eat there all of the time, and I really enjoy it because of all of the options. I do, however, have to stress about calories. Nacho Cheese and a small bag of chips alone comes with 320 calories, and a Cheese Quesadilla comes with a whopping 460 calories, so if you buy them together with water or diet soda to drink the total caloric content for this one meal is 780 calories! There is 430 calories in a 7 layer, but it comes with lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and 3 different sources of protein, including plant-based. Even less if you get a bean burrito Fresco Style.

What I am saying is that Taco Bell has wonderful options, but try not to overindulge.

The Decaffination Process Is Not Poison

First of all, let me dispel a myth right now, Decaf coffee has LESS caffeine, not NO caffeine. Decaffinated coffee, for instance, must have most caffeine removed, but it can still hold a lot of caffeine if you drink it in bulk.  So while drinking decaf tea or coffee might be a wonderful choice for someone suffering from Insomnia or Acid Reflux, it is not a cure-all or a wellness drink.

Many people have been worried that decaf products are bad for you, simply due to one of the methods in which caffeine is extracted from the beans. Of the four methods, using methylene chloride, ethyl acetate, carbon dioxide or water, the methylene chloride method has been mostly criticized because inhaling this chemical as a vapor has been known to cause cancer in rats if inhaled. However, drinking this chemical has yet to find a single harmful effect, and the amount of residue in the bean after the decaffeination process is so negligible that any fears are not rooted in reality.

Since we know that substance toxicity is cause by concentration, not mere exposure, it is important to point out that “exposure of children to methylene chloride in drinking water should not exceed 10 milligrams/liter (mg/L) for 1 day or 2 mg/L for 10 days” which is the same for decaf coffee, which must not exceed 10 Parts Per Million, or in other words 9.8 milligrams/liter. So unless you drink a more than a liter of decaf coffee a day (4 cups a day), you should be OK.

Coffee is known to have health benefits, and a lot of them are connected to the anti-oxidants found in coffee. While decaf coffee has less of these, it is still OK to drink. I will not say that decaf is a health drink, but like I said before, people suffering from insomnia or acid reflux would do well to steer clear from caffeine, and decaf is a way for them to enjoy the taste coffee or tea without having to worry about caffeine messing with them.

But in conclusion, no, the decaf process is not a poisonous process that causes cancer, like some health bloggers may suggest.