Meatless Monday – That Old Chestnut

Question is: do chestnuts have good quality protein?

Getting enough protein from plant sources is a somewhat contentious topic. Vehement support for animal protein clashes with staunch support for plant protein. Those of the former mindset insist animal protein is a high quality source of easily absorbable mega protein while those who support the latter proclaim loudly that it’s easy to get sufficient protein from plants.

Doing my own research into meatless protein I realize that getting the recommended 25g of this macronutrient per meal is a challenge. It requires a lot of food! Exercising regularly and being very active is needed to offset the caloric intake needed to meet the daily protein requirement from plants. Sedentary vegans are in trouble. Further to that, there’s a lot of planning that must go into creating well-balanced meals. For the sake of meeting protein requirements, this meatless thing is not so straightforward.

  • Travel and availability of high quality and healthy vegan fare is a challenge. Living in large North American centres and having a reasonable income gives one lots of choice in the foods to eat. Travelling to other countries and/or having limited funds restricts one to a limited choice of good plant protein sources.
  • The carb haters keep on hating. Carbs are meant to comprise approximately 55% of your daily caloric intake while protein sits around 15%. When your carbs form a significant part of your protein source (yes legumes have carbs and seitan ie wheat meat and a good source of plant protein, is a big blob of gluten from grains) then the balance is thrown off. The carb haters rally cry is that too many carbs are bad for you. Meatless diets are full of carbs and can easily go overboard with carb content.
  • Combine, combine, combine grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and veggies at every meal all the time and consume sources of complete plant protein: soy, quinoa, amaranth.

Ideas: neat balls made with veggies, nuts and seeds; quinoa (pasta, cooked berries or crust made with the flour) with veggies, nuts/seeds and beans; tofu/tempeh, veggies and rice with a nut butter sauce (e.g. peanut, tahini, cashew). Also consider adding a high quality source of easily digestible protein powder to baked goods.

  • The tofu haters be hatin’. Many cite that soy has got problems: Does it cause cancer or help prevent it? It’s considered indigestible, tasteless and unhealthy. Soy is also not recommended for people with a thyroid condition.

Soy contains phytoestrogens and is therefore contraindicated for those prone to estrogen dependent cancer. Some studies say it’s the xenoestrogens from plastics that are the real problem and that the phytoestrogens in soy have a weak effect even possibly helping to keep the level of estrogen in the body in balance.

Processed, GMO and non organic soy is indeed indigestible and unhealthy. If consuming soy, always opt for organic, fermented and, if you can find it, sprouted products. Miso, soy sauce and tempeh are fermented soybean products and have been eaten traditionally for some time in a culture where studies have shown health benefits. Herbs, spices and sauces help give soy some flavour.

I have a thyroid condition and I eat soy anyways. I was never a big fan of the stuff and started off my soy eating career by using soy milk in baking. I don’t believe soy milk on its own should count as a significant serving of protein. There is a wider variety of non-dairy milks available now so I’m not stuck with just soy. And after a couple of cooking courses in taming the tofu beast, I have come to appreciate the occasional inclusion of soy and soy products in my diet. I do try to eat thyroid supporting foods, though, like seaweed, in conjunction with the consumption of any soy/tofu.
Despite opinions on and conflicting research about soy, it does contain all essential amino acids and a substantial amount of protein per serving. Do your own research, read up on soy and then decide if it’s right for you.

  • Supplement. While not ideal supplements are sometimes necessary. This is especially true when travelling. Real food is preferred but when good health is the goal, supplementation can be the lesser of two evils, kwashiorkor* or astronaut food (or a third ‘evil’, eating meat).

*Kwashiorkor is a condition caused by protein deficiency.

With all that being said, protein requirements can be met on a meatless diet. Education, balance and access to a variety of foods are key to achieving this.

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2 thoughts on “Meatless Monday – That Old Chestnut

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