Anyone who purposefully avoids the products of animal agribusiness will hear the question: “Where do you get your protein?”
Do you know plants offer all the protein we need?
New York Times columnist Mark Bittman (who also authored How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) wrote a column that appeared in January 2008 under the title “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler.” Here’s a brief excerpt:
We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources.
John McDougall, a noted physician who promotes a low-fat, plant-based diet, agrees. In fact, Dr. McDougall shows that plant sources alone will cover all of our protein needs just fine. “The final tally, based on solid scientific research, is: Your total daily need for protein is about 20 to 30 grams,” writes McDougall, who warns that an overabundance of protein can be harmful.
Dr. Stephen Walsh, a research scientist and long-time nutritional consultant to the Vegan Society who authored Plant Based Nutrition and Health, recommends a slightly higher amount: between 49 grams and 60, which matches the recommendations of the American Dietetic Association and the federal recommendations Mark Bittman cites. As Bittman observes, vegetarians need not worry that they lack sufficient protein; people eating a typical omnivore’s diet are likely eating too much — several times over.
Myths abound about the nutrition value in the kind of protein one consumes, too. Don’t let anyone tell you plant protein is inferior. As the American Dietetic Association’s Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets (pdf) shows us in detail, the nutritional science is clear: Plant protein meets all of our requirements.
And meeting our requirements doesn’t require excessive attention. Let me give you an example.
For breakfast, I usually have a regular-sized bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh berries, and a glass of orange juice. For lunch, I might enjoy a bowl of lentil soup and a spinach salad with avocado and carrot, sprinkled with almonds and pumpkin seeds. For dinner, I might make cauliflower risotto and braised Brussels sprouts with lemon, along with mashed butternut squash and sweet corn bread, all from the Second Edition of Friends of Animals’ premiere cookbook Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine. I’ll finish this off with a light fruit parfait. Without counting snacks, or adding any protein powders — actually, without even thinking about it — I have enjoyed a daily menu comprising approximately 54 grams of protein, matching the recommended daily range for an adult. Don’t obsess. It’s not rocket science.
Oatmeal with soy milk (8 g)
Fresh strawberries and blueberries (1 g)
Orange juice (2 g)
Total: 11 g
Lentil soup (8 g)
Spinach salad with avocado, carrots and nuts (17 g)
Total: 25 g
Cauliflower risotto (7 g)
Brussels sprouts (4 g)
Mashed butternut squash (2 g)
Sweet corn bread (4 g)
Fruit parfait (1 g)
Total: 18 g
Grand total: About 54 grams of protein.
And now, without further ado, a recipe for the above-mentioned cauliflower risotto. This version serves a table of four.
1 head cauliflower
1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vegan margarine
1 cup Arborio risotto rice
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 or more tablespoons toasted bread crumbs (make your own, see below)
Separate the cauliflower florets from stalks. Chop florets into pieces one inch or less. Finely chop stalks. Keep stalks and florets separate. In a large saucepan, sauté onion and garlic together with finely chopped cauliflower stalks in oil and margarine (mixed) for 5 minutes until softened. Add the one cup of uncooked rice, stir and fry for 2 minutes, until opaque. Add the 1/2 cup white wine.
In another saucepan, bring broth to gentle boil and add the very small cauliflower florets. Ladle just the broth — if possible avoiding the florets — onto the rice, one ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition. Wait until each ladle of broth is almost fully absorbed before adding more both. After about 10 minutes, when the rice is half done, add the cauliflower florets to the rice mixture and gently squash each floret into the rice as it is added. After about 20 minutes in total, when all broth is absorbed, take the rice off the heat and let it sit without stirring for a minute.
Serve on plates and top with toasted bread crumbs made from whole grain bread that has been toasted in the toaster oven. (Tip: Look for simple breads without eggs or a long, hard-to-decipher ingredient list; most grocery stores and bakeries offer breads made from flour , yeast, water, and salt or herbs.)