Protein is just one of the three macronutrients (in addition to carbs and fat) but, like the other two….it gets complicated really quickly. How much do you need now? What if you’re an athlete? What if you’re pregnant? What if you have a medical condition? Yup. The needs change. Most of us get more than enough protein but what form is best? Do you have to eat meat or do beans count? Is soy good for you or bad for you? Most importantly…does it give men “man boobs”? I’m here to clear all things “protein” up this month on the Champagne Nutrition blog and across my social media channels. I’m discussing the ins and out of what you need to know about protein now.
Meatless Burgers and the Future of Lab Grown Meat
The most interesting conversations going on in protein today to me is something I interview about all the time. In fact, I was just in my first ever Wall Street Journal article this week: Meatless Burgers Stoke Sales and Questions About Nutrition chatting about what all these Impossible® and Beyond Meat® burgers are all about. As meat substitute burgers sales soar in the grocery store and in restaurants (I literally had one on the top of a ski slope in Sun Valley last spring!), so do consumer questions and curiosity.
I was at the Portland, Oregon airport the other day and we found a brewery to chill in. On the menu, I saw that I could sub any regular burger with a Beyond® burger. I did so, though it was more expensive (that’s one of the arguments against meat subs right now – they’re still more pricey). It was awesome – flavorful, juicy, savory, delicious. The folks next to us on the rail had some questions for the server: “what IS it?” “Is it good?” “do you guys put anything fake or weird in it?”
And these are legit questions. What I’m seeing now is a lot of suspicion and distrust in these products. That’s too bad. I believe this is the future of “meat”.
Current arguments (and arguments abound) are all about whether or not these meat subs are too “processed” because meat, by nature is an unprocessed food and now we’re introducing pea protein and soy protein and other additives in these plant-based burgers. Also, they say they’re more ‘sustainable’ than beef but what about the pesticides and GMOs and packaging? Finally, does it taste good.
Interestingly, these companies aren’t marketing to vegans and veggies. They’re making a plant-based burger that tastes like meat. That’s pretty challenging so of COURSE there’s a list of ingredients in these foods. They have to add fat – coconut oil- and they have to add flavor – “natural flavoring” – and they have to add some sort of color (beet juice). Otherwise it would just be peas. Or soy. It wouldn’t taste like meat. The current ingredient list is longer than “beef” because it has to be.
As far as the sustainability, yes, there’s issues here. However, stats range from these plant-based foods using 93-95% less land, 74-99% less water, and producing 87-90% less greenhouse gasses than raising beef. That’s insane. So, they’re not perfect but they’re certainly a (large) improvement in a number of ways. The bottom line for me, and something that I’m not hearing a lot of people care about yet, is that these burgers literally save lives. They help save the lives of the millions of cows that are slaughtered. I don’t like to forget, in all these arguments that we’re having, that there are actual LIVES on the line here. Lives….for a burger.
Plant-based Protein and MYTH BUSTING
Time to bust some plant-based protein myths! In the quest for what you need to know about protein now, one thing to understand is that soy is not toxic (it’s a healthy food!) and you absolutely DO NOT need to combine plant-based proteins to make them “complete”.
Both of these protein myths come from old research or advice/opinion. The soy piece comes from mice and rat studies about 30 years ago because those animals metabolize soy so differently than humans. We’ve since learned that having up to three servings per day of whole-food soy (soy milk, edamame, tempeh, tofu, miso) is beneficial for your heart health, bone health and its anti-cancer. Anti-cancer even for my breast cancer survivors. Plus it tastes fabulous. Need recipes? Tofu Cranberry Protein Bowl, Sheet Pan Teriyaki Tofu with Pineapple and Veggies, Tofu Fresh Rolls with Spicy Noodles, Vegan Chocolate Mousse. Enjoy!
Protein combining comes from the concept – not the research – that since some plant-foods are very low in a given amino acid or two, that you need to combine plant foods at each meal to get a “complete” protein. That’s actually never been the case. The body knows what to do and your liver actually stores amino acids for a long time and then puts them together when it needs to. Eat a variety of plant foods and you’ll meet your needs without any calculating or combining necessary. Myth Busted!
I do a lot of interviews about protein so here are some of my favorite and most recent:
Wall Street Journal – Meatless Burgers Stoke Sales and Questions About Nutrition
- Today’s Dietitian Magazine – Soymilk’s Reign
Self– How Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat Convinced Meat Lovers to Eat Plant-Burgers
Food & Nutrition Magazine – The Future of Lab Grown Meat
- Food Network – 10 Meat Alternatives Nutritionists Swear By
Today’s Dietitian Magazine – Protein Myths and Facts
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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