Why We MUST Have COMPLETE Proteins to Stay Alive and Healthy
Our digestive system breaks down all the proteins we eat (complete and incomplete) into their many individual amino acids (building blocks) so that they can enter the bloodstream, re-assemble into new unique proteins of many complex configurations (including enzymes and other life-essential molecules and go to where they are needed - to repair, maintain and sustain. Cells need more of these during times of physical and emotional stress, illness, injury shock, trauma or surgery.
A protein is a very, very long and complex chain of a collection of very many smaller amino acids - smaller, but still very complex molecules, that, combined with nitrogen, other elemnts and comprise the building blocks of the varied types of proteins we MUST have.
Our bodies are about 20-percent protein by weight and about 60-percent by water. Most of the rest of our body is composed of minerals such as calcium (esp in your bones) and water.
Many people are turning away from a meat based diet because of considerations for the environment and animals’ welfare. Some New Year’s resolutions, some weight loss concepts and diets and many health claims - true or false - elevate and celebrate vegetarianism as the only way to eat right. Some folks expound on how meat / poultry / fish causes cancer and reduces our ability of returning to optimum health. Some claims are bang on and some, in my opinion, make the Ridiculous List. The question should always be - where’s the science - not where’s the emotional, politically correct opinion.
Once on a restricted diet, more attention and creativity has to be paid to obtaining all the basic necessary nutrition, and even more so, the correct and sufficient essential amino acids - and in sufficient amounts. The more restrictive our diet, the more important the care, knowledge and attention to each meal becomes. Where confusion comes in is when an amino acid is in a food (that could be one or two or five amino acids, etc) and then this food is deemed to be containing protein and that is only simplistically correct. Some foods contain some amino acids that are constituent parts of what will become a complete molecule. These are amino acids. A protein is a select number of amino acids - all the essential ones - strung together and made-to-measure. An amino acid is one constituent part only.
There’s simple science to measure each amino acid that is resident in each particular food. We kow all the possible amino acids in fruits and vegetables. Amino acids content of food should not be a politically correct ballpark opinion. It is truly a measurable factoid - useable - so we can plan our health, healing and shopping and meals. If we can put people on the moon, then we can find the amount of exact amino acid content in our meals or in individual items such as broccoli or lettuce or spinach.
So buyer beware - or more often - reader beware - as to how fanatical gurus explain or explain away lack of exact details as vegetarian “uber” claims are made.
Website after website of pro-vegetarian and pro-vegan insights proclaim that there’s enough protein in vegetables and fruits so that we don’t need to worry about protein quantity in our "preferrable" vegetarian diets. But then there are no details to hold up the claims - merely sweeping statements (beside ads?). An example had me gobsmacked recently while watching CNN - I'm naive enough to think they fact check all but the politicians at that channel... However, a very handsome, tanned and toned fireman and his father were interviewed because they were the inspiration to President Clinton's change to a vegan diet. Of course they also have a book to promote (My Beef with Meat)... and crazy claims to help them do this - those dastardly claims again, that people want to hear. Apparently those of us who want to know "Where is the protein?" are a bit lame as vegetables such as spinach apparently have 50% protein - don't you know! This is the worst torquing of the truth I have ever heard! But book sales will be good. Mission Accomplshed.
Spinach is an awesome vegetable - a good choice for a pro-vegan arguement - and the protein in spinach is a complete protein in that it contains all nine essential amino acids in good proportions. In one cup of spinach one finds a lot of water, minerals, vitamins and fiber, few calories, .1 grams of fat, .9 grams of protein and 1.1 grams of carbs. For a sedentary person with a modest protein requirement, only 30 cups of vegetables with a high quality content such as that of spinach would be required per day. For a tall and busy fireman it would be double! Bon Appetit.
Even less likely will be finding a vegetarian focused web site that breaks down the different amino acids in fruits and vegetables so we can actually see where we are hitting and missing. Our body's magic can reconfigure all the amino acids into any kind of required proteins - as long as the merely nine essential amino acids are in well represented in our diets. Eating non-essential amino acids is great - BUT THOSE ESSENTIAL ones MUST be present.
Which vegetables MUST I include daily to get my needs for basic building blocks met? Missing essential (hence the name essential) amino acids - or put differently, missing essential building blocks can only create building blocks as good as their weakest links. Having some of the essential building blocks missing is truely unwise and a physical challenge.
I find this website very handy: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2626/2 It shows the ratios between fats, carbs and proteins of any food so you can keep track of those aspects (even commercial junk) - they always add upto 100%. It shows the protein content itself by giving it a score to indicate the essential amino acid components and then what a cup of that vegetable actually contains - in terms of grams of protein. And the site pretty well has analysed every food for every molecule.
I love the comparisons some puritanical vegetarians make to replace data by relating to the strength of cows and giraffes (both herbivores). This leaves me wondering about the lions and the tigers who wouldn’t be caught dead with leafy greens in their jaws. Neither would the hyena, nipping at the heals of the vegetarian, foraging zebra. It seems mother nature creates all varieties of digestive systems - so beware of food gurus who pick the examples that suit their persuasive needs! (And of course, follow the money!
General Requirements for Everyone
The minimum amount of protein required for an average adult (neither a full-out construction worker nor bedridden person) who is moderately active is 1/3 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. We can coast a bit on reserves, but not for long. A toddler needs twice as much and a new born babe even more. So a 150 pound person needs 50 grams of protein per average day.
A can of tuna contains about 30 grams of protein, just to give an example. A glass of milk or an egg contain about 8 grams of protein. A slice of average commercial bread may contain 2 grams of protein. A cup of raw spinach has less than one gram - and by that we are calling a protein as having the full range of ESSENTIAL amino acids. Quinoa (9 grams per cup of cooked quinoa) contains all the essential amino acids.
Most animal sources (meat, dairy, eggs, seafood, etc.) provide what's called these "complete proteins" in that they contain all our essential amino acids together.
Vegetable sources, except for a few exceptions such as spinach, are missing some or a few of the essential amino acids or all of them. For example, rice and beans are all high in most of the essential ones but not all of them. So even if you included enormous amounts of these in your diet each and every day as your main protein source, your body would be hampered in creating the proper building blocks it needs because still a few of the essential ones are in deficit.
These are the essential amino acids that together make up a complete protein: tryptophan, lysine, methionine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, phenylalanine, histidine.
The following foods contain all of the above essential amino acids: meat and poultry, fish and shell fish, dairy, eggs, dried spirulina, seaweed and most nuts. There are small amounts in oats, seeds, lentils, grains (such as wheat and quinoa) and most beans. There is a smidgen (1% to 5%) in avocado, real chocolate, coconuts, potatoes, spinach, pineapple, bananas and dates.
Below are the Up-close and Specifics for Each Essential Amino Acid (essential in the true sense of the word).
The 8 or 9 essential amino acids are: tryptophan, lysine, methionine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, phenylalanine, histidine
Spirulina and chlorella (broken cell) have all the essential amino acids and 1 cup gives you 65 grams of complete protein. This would be a staple in my diet if I were a raw vegan - daily - and I wouldn’t skimp on quality!
That’s a lot of green drinks to consume - but it can sustain you on a hyper-restricted diet!
So a raw meal of broccoli (1 cup offers 2 grams), cauliflower (1 cup offers 2 grams ), spinach (1 cup offers .9 grams), sprouted lentils (1 cup offers 7 gms but is missing tryptophan), sprouted beans (1/2 cup offers 3.5 grams), a handful of Brazil nuts (8 grams and some lysine missing) and 2 Tbsp of sesame paste made into a dipping sauce with water, salt, lemon and garlic would be almost 6 gms, would be a somewhat complete meal.
There’s a belief that: “if you keep at least 80 percent of your calories coming from complex carbohydrates - 10 percent from protein - and no more than 10 percent from fat, you'll pretty much automatically end up eating whole raw fruits, vegetables and a limited quantity of fats and fulfill the requirement for fighting cancer”.
10% of your calories from fats and 80% of your calories from carbs would mean that you would have to eat a very peculiar diet. It would represent the approach at the Gerson Clinic for the first three weeks of their initial cancer program from past methods - a diet that consisted of about 22 lbs of a few fruits and many vegetables - and with a very sedentary person in mind (completely bedridden). This massive amount of food - in the above ratio - could only be consumed through juicing.
Happy shopping, eating, cooking and combining. And wishing you a healthy, vibrant body in 2013.
Merrie Bakker, Pacific Holistic, Kerrisdale, Vancouver, BC, 604-261-7742
Live Blood Analysis,
Sessions: $150 - 3 hours; Review: $75 - 1 1/2 hour.