Sustaining the ‘Active’ in Activism: Food as a Part of Fitness
Part II: The Low-Down on Protein & Fat
It’s one of the most talked-about nutrients for vegetarians. It’s also one of the most misunderstood. ?Where do you get your protein?? goes the common question, and, “How do you get enough?”
If some of the strongest, largest and most powerful mammals (elephants, rhinos, silverback gorillas and plenty more) can get enough protein from plants, can we? The simple answer is yes.
While protein is an important nutrient for health, we don?t need a lot. Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and World Health Organization recommend no more than 1g per kg of body weight. This works out to about 72g of protein for someone who weighs 160lbs, or 7.6% of about 2,200 calories this person might consume in a day. How much protein is that? Many people would get that much in a single meal.
A vegan can expect about 12-15g of protein in a bowl of cereal with soy milk, 9g in a baked potato, 29g in a Tofurkey soy sausage, 16g in a plate of spaghetti — it all adds up effortlessly, because our average daily calorie intake will include more than this. On average, fruits and vegetables are at least 10% protein, so eat enough calories, and it?s virtually impossible for you to be deficient in protein.
On the flip side, many common health concerns are attributed to the over-consumption of protein, and specifically animal proteins. Osteoporosis is a big one, due to the acid-forming effects of proteins that can leach calcium from our bones. Joints and muscles can become inflamed, and our liver and kidneys are over-taxed from processing proteins.
As a young researcher, T. Colin Campbell sought ways to get people in financially poor countries to eat more animal proteins: milk, flesh, and eggs. Decades later, after what has been called the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted, Campbell concluded that more animal protein does not promote good health.
Dr. Campbell’s “China Study” would receive funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research, and encompassed a 20-year partnership of Cornell and Oxford Universities and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. Unfortunately, the research is partly based on the use of nonhuman animals, but it essentially confirms what many people in vegetarian cultures have long known, and what Dr. Campbell?s studies of human children indeed confirmed: People who ate the most plant-based foods were healthiest. The health implications of consuming either animal or plant-based nutrients, moreover, were remarkably different.
Well-off children with high-protein diets, for example, were the most likely to get liver cancer. And casein, which is 87% of the protein in cow’s milk, promoted all stages of cancer.
What type of protein did not promote cancer — even in large amounts? The safe proteins were from plants, including wheat and soy. In sharp contrast, even modest intakes of animal products were associated with adverse effects.
So plants are a superb source of protein — as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates and anti-oxidants. This was ideal for Carl Lewis, who cites becoming vegan as one of the top factors in his medal-winning performances in the late 90’s. Lewis liked eating, and couldn’t eat as much on a “standard” diet without starting to gain weight. But plants are typically nutrient-dense and low in calories, so Lewis went vegan, and saw a performance boost because of it.
But do we need to “combine” proteins? The 22 known amino acids are protein’s building blocks. Eight are essential; they must be eaten. The other 14 can be made by the body. Ever heard that you need to eat foods such as beans and rice together, to form a “complete” protein, containing all eight essential amino acids?
This concept was popularized by vegetarian author Frances Moore Lappé in 1971, in the well-known book Diet for a Small Planet. But in 1981, Lappe wrote:
“In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein … was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought.
“With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diets very heavily dependent on (1) fruit or on (2) some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on (3) junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.” 1
In short, we need not worry about protein combining. Here again, a total vegetarian with a reasonably varied diet does just fine.
Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the Algae
Along with carbohydrates and protein, the third macro-nutrient we need is fat. It plays many a vital role, from lubricating joints to providing energy to facilitating key neurological functions. But which ones, of the myriad names we hear — saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, trans fats, cholesterol, Omega-6, fatty acids? While all fats should be limited to a relatively small portion of our diets, some are healthful and others can be extremely detrimental.
Cholesterol and fat both belong to the lipid family of chemical compounds. We hear from dieticians about the ‘bad’ cholesterol — lipoprotein particles that carry fatty acid molecules in blood and around the body and c an lead to cardiovascular disease.
Avoiding saturated fat has the healthful effect of lowering blood cholesterol levels. High rates of heart disease are relatively common where the diet is heavy with meat and dairy products containing a lot of saturated fats.2
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Butter and almost all animal fats are saturated, and almost all saturated fats, according to the Department of Agriculture, come from animal products. Unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, remain liquid at room temperature.
A sub-category of saturated fats that has media attention (and should have yours) is the group called trans fats, also known as hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) oils. Typically from plants, they’re processed in a way that allows them to become saturated. They raise cholesterol levels, increasing rates of cardiovascular disease, and creating free radicals in our bodies — molecules which can damage our cells. Governments in Western countries are finally obliging companies to list the amount of trans fats in products, and some are banning them outright. The optimum amount of trans fats in anyone?s diet is zero.
If you use oil to prepare foods, it’s best to get plant-based, cold-pressed oils with minimal processing. In regular grocery stores, a good bet for low-temperature cooking, salad dressings and sauces is extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin means it’s derived from the first pressing. Make sure you get organic when possible; it’s better for animals and the environment, and better overall for human health.
In health food stores, you can find other cold-pressed oils, like canola, sunflower and sesame oils. These are all unsaturated fats.
An oil’s “smoke point” indicates how high a heat the oil can take. Never allow oil to smoke; it compromises nutritional value and releases carcinogenic free radicals. High monounsaturate oils, such as canola, can generally take higher heat than polyunsaturates like safflower, sunflower and soybean.
Most cooking oils are processed to produce a neutral taste and to remove naturally occurring particles that would cause the oil to foam, pop or smoke when subjected to heat. Unfortunately, mass-produced oils are further processed to extend shelf life by adding carcinogenic antioxidants such as BHT, BHA and TBHQ. So choose the better oils, such as Spectrum Naturals. (Notably, Spectrum uses no genetically engineered canola.)
Palm oil contains coconut oil. Coconut butter and oil, along with avocado oil, will solidify at room temperature; yet they act differently in our bodies than animal fats. Evidently, our bodies absorb and use these fats much as we do carbohydrates, so they provide almost immediate energy, with very few of the drawbacks of other saturated fats.
When purchasing, make sure that the coconut oil is cold-pressed and non-hydrogenated. Avoid palm kernel oil, which is far richer in saturated fat than palm oil.
Note also that modern awareness of the dangers associated with trans fats in hydrogenated vegetable oil has made palm oil much more popular as an alternative ingredient in packaged products or as a cooking oil. This has put pressure on jungle habitat, home to orang-utans and other animals. Your best bets currently include Fuji Oils and Spectrum Naturals. Fuji supports sustainable palm fruit harvesting. Spectrum purchases its palm oil from DAABON Organic of South America, which claims to be committed to the principles of sustainability and organic production.
Canola is Canada’s most widely used oil. The popularity of canola oil is also rising in the United States, probably because it’s been discovered to be lower in saturated fat (about 6 percent) than any other oil. This compares to the saturated fat content of peanut oil (about 18 percent) and palm oil (a very high 79 percent). Moreover, a good, cold-pressed canola oil contains more cholesterol-balancing monounsaturated fat than any oil except olive oil. It also has the distinction of containing Omega-3 fatty acids, the polyunsaturated fat reputed to not only lower both cholesterol and triglycerides, but to contribute to brain growth and development as well. Canola oil is neutral in taste and suitable both for cooking and for salad dressings.3
A final word about Omega 3s and 6s — the Essential Fatty Acids. Optimum health would mean a ratio of around 4:1 of Omega-6s to Omega-3s in our diets. Most people get too many Omega-6s and too few Omega-3s. One of the best sources of Omega-3s is flax oil. Simply put, Omega-3 fatty acids can be boosted by a teaspoon of flax seed oil per day.
One should not cook with flax oil; instead, add it to salads or smoothies. For beneficial fats, people whose diets rely heavily on raw foods frequently include olives, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts and macadamias. Raw foodists might use ground flax seeds, and flax crisps are very popular in the raw diet.
DHA is a component of Omega-3 that’s touted in fish oils, but not present in most plants. Results showing a benefit of fish oil or fatty fish may not apply to vegetarians, because plant-based diets contain a number of protective factors. Most studies showing positive effects of fish consumption have compared diets high in fish to diets high in animal flesh.4 Some vegetarians opt to use DHA supplements from microalgae as a simple way of insuring adequate intake. Udo’s Choice, for example, now has a vegetarian DHA oil blend — from an algae, from whence all fish derive DHA.
Next issue: Helpful supplements for the active vegan!
A delicious example of a recipe using canola oil: Asparagus Soup
From Friends of Animals’ highly acclaimed cookbook, Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine
Asparagus is a traditional spring vegetable. Leeks and celery complement it gently. To enjoy this soup at its best, serve it at a springtime gathering.
2 tablespoons canola oil (such as Spectrum Organics)
2 1/2 cups chopped asparagus stalks and tips
1 1/2 cups leeks, mostly white parts, well rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 bay leaf
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup soy creamer (available in most health food shops or from grocers with large organic sections)
1 teaspoon salt
Prepare the asparagus by discarding the tough ends.
Heat the oil in a 4-quart pot, and add the asparagus, leeks, celery, garlic, bay leaf. Sauté over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add the vegetable broth; simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes over medium-low heat.
Let cool slightly; then purée mixture in a blender in batches. Return the purée to the pot, season with salt, and pepper to taste. Add soy creamer, and heat thoroughly.
- 1. Diet for a Small Planet (1981), at 162; emphasis in original (as reprinted at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ).
- 2. New York State Office for the Aging, “Cholesterol and Fat: Sorting It Out” (citing the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration).
- 3. Sharon Tyler Herbst , The Food Lover’s Companion (as quoted by the Santa Cruz Public Libraries’ Home Page).
- 4. Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, ‘Nutrition Hotline’ – Vegetarian Journal (Issue 1, 2005).
Hemp. The word may remind you of West Coast living and Cheech & Chong, but today, hemp products are demanding serious consideration and an impressive market presence.
“It will be a huge year for hemp: hemp milk, cheese and oil? wrote Andy Bourdain in the New York Times.? All these products are being imported from Canada now, and there is a huge opportunity because so many people don’t like the taste of soy or have allergies to it, and people need a new alternative that is vegan.”
Hemp contains insignificant amounts of THC, the active component in marijuana. It’s an eco-friendly and hearty plant, requiring relatively little maintenance and care. Hemp is drought-resistant, does well without the use of pesticides, and a hemp grower produces nearly four times as much raw material as a tree plantation of the same size. Hemp is now a legal crop in Canada, providing both the healthful seeds and fibers for commercial use.
Hemp clothing is taking over Canadian cites. Casual wear to full suits are now available, as are hats, wallets, belts, handbags and shoes.
It’s also sold as a nutrient. Remove the hull to get the ?heart? of hemp — a little seed, resembling sesame seed in both looks and texture, but with a nuttier taste. It’s packed full of nutrients, including a significant amount of protein and much-desired Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. Health food stores are your best bet for finding these products.
Hemp hearts are tasty on their own, or sprinkled on other foods as a topping. Hemp oil is also popular, similar in nutrition to flax oil, with a greenish hue. It’s great on salads.
Today, Popeye might choose hemp protein powder over spinach, for it contains all eight essential amino acids. They?re the building blocks of protein, and we need to consume eight of the known 22 in order to remain healthy. The seeds are ground into a whole-food protein powder, which, as the New York Times pointed out, is a boon for those with sensitivities to soy.
Hemp is also being included in more conventional foods that can easily be spotted in today’s health food aisles. It can be found ground to use as flour for baking, and there is even a hemp soda! Hemp is starring in cereals, waffles, energy bars, cookies, brownies and even pretzels. It’s being used to make hemp milk, hemp cheese, hemp butter (similar to peanut butter), and a new ice cream — although we?re still recommending a popular soy varieties until we find the perfect hemp dessert.
Finally, hemp oil can be found in body care products. Dr. Bronner’s wonderful hemp and peppermint soap has been a pioneer in the field. Today, there are excellent shampoos, hand creams and lotions, and lip balms. Look for the Merry Hempsters brand, which includes several vegan varieties. In Britain, the Yaoh brand of vegan lip balms are available in natural food shops, and highly recommended. Both are available with sunblock factors.
So look out: Hemp is on its way!
Think of soybeans and you’ll probably think of tofu, plant-based milk, or one of the latest dairy-free ice creams. But did you know that the soybean is rising in popularity as one of the new, environmentally friendly fabrics? Yes, taking its place beside organic cotton, along with bamboo trousers and shirts made of corn sugar, and even sustainable fashions in seaweed, soybeans are appearing in stylish boutiques.1
There are now hundreds of “ecodesigners” worldwide. Most of the customers who wander into Greenloop, a boutique devoted to sustainable fashion in West Linn, Ore., are attracted by a window display. Some are surprised at the prices. Using organic rather than regular cotton can cost a designer up to 30 percent more. Thus, the 100% organic cotton chinos cost $159 at the online store (www.thegreenloop.com), although people who shop and order by computer are deliberately searching for ecofashion.
Why are they willing to pay extra? Because d espite cotton’s natural and pure image, conventional cotton farming takes a heavy toll on the earth, air, water and people who live in cotton growing areas. According to the Organic Consumers Association, a third of a pound of agricultural chemicals are typically used in the production of a single cotton T-shirt.
At least half of the work by Brooklyn designer Nina Valenti of Nature vs. Future is constructed from sustainable fabrics including bamboo, soy, and recycled soda bottles. The Christian Science Monitor recently highlighted one of Valenti’s shirt-dresses, styled in the manner of a form-fitting trenchcoat and made from cotton and ingeo, a fabric derived from corn sugar. 2As the Monitor predicted, “For those constantly on the lookout for the new black, green may be it.” And last May, Elle devoted an entire issue — printed on recycled paper — to green fashion.
A trend to watch will involve a new invention involving a familiar bean. So far, it’s mainly available in thread form, so take note, all you spinners. According to one company in North Carolina, it “truly resembles silk in appearance and handling” and can be dyed with natural dyes, resulting in bright and strong hues.3 It can be spun on its own (commercially available threads are sometimes, but not always, mixed with wool). It can also be used unspun to make paper or beautiful felted fabric.
The thread is marketed as Soysilk ®due to its smooth, velvety appearance and texture; and in the fashion industry it’s considered a substitute for silk or for cashmere wool.
Why should we be concerned with finding alternatives to silk? Sericulture, the cultivation of the caterpillar (often the Bombyx mori — cultivated over many centuries and no longer living anywhere in a free state) involves killing these beings before they become moths — usually by immersion in boiling water, steaming or drying in an oven. According to the Vegan Society, it takes hundreds of tiny lives to produce just one silk scarf or tie. As with other types of animal farming industries, biotechnology is well established. Interestingly, the Society notes that threads from the pineapple may be made into fabrics as strong and lustrous as any silk.
Why should we be concerned about cashmere wool? Like all types of wool, cashmere wool means animals themselves are treated as items of commerce. The popularity of this particularly soft wool has meant the use of many a C ashmere goat in Asia and elsewhere. Cashmere wool’s warmth was meant to protect goats from the cold of their mountain habitats. Not only do businesses confine and use goats for wool; those animals whose coats are deemed substandard are sold to the meat market or sometimes treated as substitutes for chemicals in the Australian weed control market.4
So the introduction of soy-based thread is welcome news indeed for advocates of free-living animals.
Remarkably, it’s made from by-products of the tofu-making process.
In 1999, Chinese scientist Li Guanqi developed the soy-based thread, resulting in a prize-winning patent. Thus emerged the innovative ShangHai Winshow Soybean Fibre Industry Company, which today exports this material to the United States and Europe.5
To order Phoenix 100% Soysilk ® yarn, visit www.soysilk.com and look for retailers internationally, or check auction sites such as E-Bay. Also stocking ribbon-style knitting yarn in worsted weight is Warm Threads of Utah at 1-801-699-2487. Note: There are soy-wool mixes, so to obtain pure soy, you’ll need to look for the 100% content.
- 1. Teresa Méndez, “Soy Replaces Silk in the World of Sustainable Fashion” – Christian Science Monitor (18 Aug. 2006).
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. To order, see North Carolina’s Earth Guild company; available at http://www.earthguild.com/products/spinning/spsoycor.htm or by telephone at 1-800-327-8448.
- 4. Lloyd Davies and Geof Murray, “The Economics of a Commercial Cashmere Goat Enterprise” – Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation Research Paper Series (Jan. 1997); Kris McGuire, Capricorn Cashmere, “Cashmere Characteristics” (undated).
- 5. The home company is located at Zhongshan West Road, Shanghai; find out more at www.soybeanfibre.com.
A Brand New Horizons:
Downtown Philadelphia's Signature Vegan Dining Experience
With perfect timing, Horizons Cafe made the move last year to downtown Philadelphia. After spending thirteen years hidden in a suburban mall, this unique eatery was ready for the big city.
And Philadelphia is ready for Horizons. (The city recently lost Sunwishes, the vegan restaurant profiled in our Spring 2005 issue.)
Horizons has changed since its recent re-opening. Co-owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby dropped the more casual “Cafe” part of the name, and they stopped naming dishes after common menu items, so instead of “Seitan Wings,” the restaurant straightforwardly announces “Jamaican BBQ Seitan” — a popular starter consisting of bite-sized pieces of wheat gluten slathered in a dark, sweet sauce, and served with cool cucumber dip.
But before we sit down to eat, let's take a tour of Horizons.
The new location offers two floors, but manages to keep an intimate feel. The ground floor is the lounge, where friends meet for drinks around a fireplace and can enjoy the full menu. Upstairs, the dining area has a studio feel, with polished wood and a vibrant collection of art. Wooden ceiling fans spin in the summer, drawing attention to the spacious, barn-like roof. The lighting is subtle, and a candle glows on each of the ten tables.
Reservations are a necessity, especially for weekends when long-time vegans and people looking to try something new fill the restaurant to capacity. For word has spread fast about this restaurant. Says Kate Jacoby: “Since our move to Center City Philadelphia, we have seen a huge surge of New York City and District of Columbia customers — lots of folks from all over the country, really.”
Have a seat, and warm foccacia arrives at the table, along with menus pasted on thin pieces of wood. Over time, guests notice an ever-changing array of starters. Innovative and original, they showcase the hosts' talent for bringing unusual ingredients together in artistic presentations. The Stuffed Piquillo Pepper combines a salad of hearts of palm, papaya, avocado and yellow tomatoes. Then there's the Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and served in a large wine glass.
Jacoby and Landau have searched South America and Europe for authentic tastes so that Philadelphia diners can enjoy main courses with French, Caribbean, Central American, and Asian highlights. The Pacific Rim Tofu is glazed with kochujang, a Korean hot pepper paste, and served with broccolini florets with a Japanese sauce, and fluffy edamame mashed potatoes. The sweetly curried Caribbean Tempeh is joined by a calabaza jambalaya made with West Indian squash. Also highly recommended is the Grilled Seitan, served with creamy horseradish potatoes and a generous portion of grilled spinach.
Horizons shines most brilliantly at dessert. A serious pastry chef, Kate Jacoby works wonders with tofu, coconut milk, berries and rum. Try the Guyaba Cheesecake, topped with pineapple and coffee-roasted macadamia nuts, and accompanied by a coconut soda float fizzing in a shot glass. The Mojito Perfecto combines coconut rum Tres Leches (“three milks” — but this one's plant-based), a delightful lime sorbet, and a minty version of traditional Mexican cajeta, or caramel. The Saffron Crème Brûlée is making culinary history. Subtly sweet, it's made with coconut milk and agave nectar (a sweetener derived from the Century plant), and topped with a glistening shell of carmelized sugar that one must crack with a spoon before eating.
Indeed, Jacoby and Landau seemed to have cracked the surface of a brand new market. Before Horizons, Philadelphians had nowhere to go for gourmet vegan food. They need wait no longer; and — judging from the full dining room at Horizons — they don't.
611 S. 7 th Street ,
Philadelphia , Pennsylvania 19147
Hours: 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday through Saturday
Popular and often filled to capacity until late; reservations needed for a party of any size.
Bob Orabona works for Friends of Animals, an international animal rights advocacy organization, headquartered in Darien, Connecticut. He has been a vegan for over 35 years.
Q. First, what is veganism?
A. Not using animals -– any part of them — as food, clothing or medicine, in experimentation or entertainment, not using them in any way for human benefit.
Q. What do you eat then?
A. Mostly good home-cooked food, with the occasional restaurant meal – all made only from plants. It’s often a challenge to eat vegan in a non-vegetarian restaurant. Sometimes the wait staff does not understand that milk and cheese, or even chicken and fish are not vegetables.
Q. Are vegans morally superior to meat-eaters?
A. Arguably, vegans are, in this one but far-reaching aspect of their lives, morally superior to meat-eaters. But, moral calculus can be bypassed, and judgment deferred, by seeing veganism as a simple existential choice, that is, each one of us can either choose to live in a world where animals suffer and die needlessly to meet our needs and whims, or choose to create and live in a world where they do not.
Q. So, what’s your beef?
A. None, of course, but my concern is that meat-eaters have virtual monopolistic control over all of society’s structures — such as the media, politics and lawmaking, education, science, and religion. Just how do meat-eaters give fair consideration to the principles of veganism and still feel comfortable about their consumption of dead animals? They can’t. The only right choice then is that they forgo comfort, not fairness, to address the issues of veganism and animal rights.
The threat of an avian flu epidemic has the potential to kill millions of humans. Yet this danger largely exists only because of the production of birds for human consumption. Animal agriculture has now been identified as a significant contributor to global warming. Where is the outcry in the media from politicians, scientists and others to halt the production of animals for food?
Q. But, the media does cover stories about veganism and animal rights —
A. Most of those stories portray vegans and animal rights activists as crazies, weirdoes or thugs, running naked down the street, shouting foolish rhetoric. This type of coverage makes it easier for meat-eaters to dismiss or not even address the valid arguments in support of veganism.
Q. What are the valid arguments?
A. For me, the main one is an end to the needless suffering and death of sentient beings. Some others are the benefits to the environment and personal health – resulting in the added benefits of lower taxes, gas prices, and health care costs. For example, growing plants to feed animals, and then eating those animals, produces far more waste than just growing plants and eating them. Imagine a carmaker that builds cars by crushing and shredding new cars, and then uses the scrap to build new cars.
Q. What then about the use of violence that some have tried to use to promote and advance animal rights and veganism?
A. Violence is antithetical to a movement that seeks to live in peace with all creatures.