How do you get your protein?

The first question most people ask when they discover that we eat a plant based diet is “why”? I covered our reasons on my home page: “You don’t Eat No Meat?!” The second question they ask is – “How do you get your protein without eating meat or dairy?” I remember asking my vegan friends the very same question.

The simple answer is – plants supply all the protein I need for a balanced diet. We get protein from the same place other herbivores do – plants! Those eating a vegan diet can get plenty of protein from grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, leafy greens and small amounts of healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocado. Here is a video posted by Dr. Michael Greger (NutritionFacts.org) that talks about plant-based proteins being better for long-term health than meat & dairy (Published on Oct 26, 2011).

According to Medical News Today.com, these are the top 15 sources of plant-based protein:

Tofu in curry sauce
  1. Tofu, tempeh, and edamame
    1. Firm tofu (soybean curds) contains about 10 g of protein per ½ cup.
    2. Edamame beans (immature soybeans) contain 8.5 g of protein per ½ cup.
    3. Tempeh contains about 15 g of protein per ½ cup.
  2. Lentils  
    1. Red or green lentils contain plenty of protein, fiber, and key. nutrients, including iron and potassium. Cooked lentils contain 8.84 g of protein per ½ cup.
  3. Chickpeas
    1. Cooked chickpeas are high in protein, containing around 7.25 g per ½ cup.
  4. Peanut Butter
    1. Peanuts are protein-rich, full of healthful fats, and may improve heart health. They contain around 20.5 g of protein per ½ cup.
    2. Peanut butter is also rich in protein, with 8 g per tablespoon, making peanut butter sandwiches a healthful complete protein snack.
  5. Almonds
    1. Almonds offer 16.5 g of protein per ½ cup. They also provide a good amount of vitamin E, which is great for the skin and eyes.
  6. Spirulina:
    1. Spirulina is blue or green algae that contain around 8 g of protein per 2 tablespoons. It is also rich in nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins (although not vitamin B-12) and manganese.
  7. Quinoa
    1. Quinoa is a grain with a high-protein content, and is a complete protein. Cooked quinoa contains 8 g of protein per cup.
  8. Mycoprotein
    1. Mycoprotein is a fungus-based protein. Mycoprotein products contain around 13 g of protein per ½ cup serving.
  9. Chia seeds
    1. Chia and hemp seeds are complete sources of protein that can be used to make smoothies, yogurts, and puddings.
    2. Seeds are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are a complete source of protein that contain 2 g of protein per tablespoon.
  10. Hemp seeds
    1. Similarly to chia seeds, hemp seeds are a complete protein. Hemp seeds offer 5 g of protein per tablespoon. 
  11. Beans with rice
    1. Separately, rice and beans are incomplete protein sources. Eaten together, this classic meal can provide 7 g of protein per cup.
  12. Potatoes
    1. A large baked potato offers 8 g of protein per serving. Potatoes are also high in other nutrients, such as potassium and vitamin C.
  13. Protein-rich vegetables
    1. Many dark-colored, leafy greens and vegetables contain protein.
    2. A single, medium stalk of broccoli contains about 4 g of protein
    3. Kale offers 2 g of protein per cup.
    4. 5 medium mushrooms offer 3 g of protein
  14. Seitan
    1. Seitan is a complete protein made from mixing wheat gluten with various spices. The high-wheat content means that it should be avoided by people with celiac or gluten intolerance. For others, it can be a protein-rich healthful meat substitute.
    2. When cooked in soy sauce, which is rich in the amino acid lysine, seitan becomes a complete protein source offering 21 g per 1/3 cup.
  15. Ezekiel bread
    1. Ezekiel bread is a nutrient-dense alternative to traditional bread. It is made from barley, wheat, lentils, millet, and spelt.
    2. Ezekiel bread offers 4 g of protein per slice. Get even more protein by toasting Ezekiel bread and spreading it with peanut or almond butter.

I also found a more extensive list that can be printed out at a website called OrdinaryVegan.com.

Do I have to eat all this stuff??

To be honest, I have not tried every food item on the list above. In fact some I have never even heard of (Spirulina). I just wanted to share this list so you can see that you don’t have to eat tofu every day just to get the daily recommended amount of protein. There are many options and most of them are actually cheaper to purchase than meat or cheese. I would say that most of our daily protein comes from beans, nuts, dark green vegetables and quinoa. We add tofu or tempeh to an occasional recipe but usually only once every 2 or 3 weeks.

Do you get the ‘Meat Shakes’??

Roasted boar in Tuscany, Italy

A friend of mine once asked me if I experienced any meat withdrawal symptoms when I stopped eating meat (he called it the “meat shakes”). Although I occasionally crave Chick-Fil-A or some good BBQ pulled pork – I am actually fine not eating meat and dairy. My taste buds have changed to actually want to eat more veggies and fruit. To be honest, I actually feel relieved to not have to deal with slimy chicken breasts and bloody red meat. It used to make me hate cooking – for real! I will say that I still have a weakness for ice-cream or anything chocolate (which is not good for my sugars – see blood tests below). We found a really good coconut based ice-cream called “So Delicious” which is true to it’s name.

I also wanted to share my most recent blood work (below) which was taken just a couple weeks ago. You will see that the protein in my blood has not gone down much at all since I began eating vegan in June of 2017. The good news is that my cholesterol still remains low – compared to 2015 and 2016 (when it was inching up to 200).

The only nutrients that are not found in a vegan diet are B12 and Omega 3 fatty acids. We take a multi-vitamin that provides the B12 and other B vitamins and I also use nutritional yeast a few times a week (has the same nutrients). I’ve recently found a plant based source for Omega 3 called Ahiflower Oil (it can be found on Amazon at a reasonable price). Flaxseed oil is another possible source.

I hope this information helps you understand how easy it is to get protein on a healthy plant-based diet. If anyone asks you about protein, just tell them that broccoli has more protein, per calorie than steak! If you would like to learn more about eating a healthier plant-based diet make sure to sign up for or follow my blog.

Show your heart some love!

I thought Valentine’s Day would be the perfect time to talk about something very near and dear to each of us. In fact, none of us could live without it! It is your heart!

On this day we see hearts everywhere, but we rarely think about our own heart and how important it is to us (or to those we love). You may already know this, but Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. and also the leading cause of death worldwide.* That’s right – not cancer, not drugs, not suicide – but something that in most cases is preventable.

My Dad’s list of 12 medications

This hits close to home for many of us with aging parents. It was just a year ago this week that my family gathered to mourn the death of my father. He died of a massive stroke at the age of 85 after having surgery to restore circulation to his foot (which had a bad ulcer). He had high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and was taking 12 medications just to stay alive (I found this list in his personal calendar). Like many men his age, he was overweight, rarely ever exercised and had a love for food (which I do as well). He was a veteran of the Korean War, faithfully loved his wife for 64 years, provided for us 4 kids – but he didn’t make his health a priority. Now my Mom is living alone in an assisted living facility and dealing with dementia.

As we get older, we look at our parents to see what we could become (both good and bad). Some of us have the genetics hardwired toward certain diseases and we just accept the fact that we will probably have to deal with the same illnesses. When I stated in this blog, I mentioned how genetic testing showed that I have a higher chance of getting several diseases that my parents and grandparents dealt with (and are still dealing with). There is good news, though! Science is starting to show the impact of healthy lifestyle choices in preventing and even reversing many of these same diseases!

One of the websites that lead to my husband and I cutting out meat, fish and dairy from our diet was NutritionFacts.org. Michael Greger M.D. FACLM also had seen firsthand what heart disease did to his own family and it lead to his becoming a medical doctor. Today many doctors ignore diet as a means to prevent or treat disease and instead just prescribe more medicine with terrible side affects. Even as far back as the ancient Greeks, the physician, Hippocrates knew the importance of good nutrition to counteract disease. He is quoted as saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

OK – I’ll get off my soapbox for now and give you a heart-healthy recipe to cook up for your favorite Valentine. But remember, the biggest gift you can give any of your loved ones is a healthy heart. Lord willing, you will be sticking around for them as long as possible!

Black bean and sweet potato chili

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

This is one of our favorite soups for cold nights. I love the colors, flavors and textures – and it has been a hit with company who come to visit and are not into the vegan thing. Another bonus is the ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find at your local Aldi or grocery store. I found this recipe in One Dish Vegan by Robin Robertson. It serves 4 – 6 and takes about 1 hour to prepare (depending on help with chopping).

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil or 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 large onion, chopped (I like sweet yellow onions)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (1 1/2 tsp.)
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (optional: we leave this out because it’s too spicy for us wimps)
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, plus more if needed (I use low sodium if available)
  • 1 1/2 – 3 Tbsp chili powder (according to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups cooked black beans or 2 (15.5 oz) cans black beans, rinsed drained
  1. Heat the oil or water in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until softened (about 10 minutes).
  2. Add the sweet potatoes, chipotles (if using), diced tomatoes with their juices, crushed tomatoes, broth, chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, salt, and beans. Stir to combine, then bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender (about 45 minutes).
  3. Add more broth if the chili is too thick for your taste. If you prefer a thicker chili, cook uncovered for 15 minutes to thicken. Serve hot. We like to serve this with vegan cornbread muffins.

*According to the article, “The top 10 leading causes of death in the United States” posted by Medical News Today. Last updated 23 February 2017 By Hannah NicholsReviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP

You don’t eat no meat?

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How many of you remember that hilarious line from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? And then her immediate reply – “That’s OK – I’ll make lamb.”  My husband and I have had that same question posed to us – maybe not as dramatically. In fact, I have asked many other vegetarian and vegan friends. Why would you want to cut meat out of your diet – and dairy too? That is just too extreme!

My reply may surprise most people. We just don’t want to die . . . prematurely that is. In June of 2017 my Physical Therapist husband said he wanted to share a video with me – that was sent as a link by his Physical Therapy Association. It was the introductory video by Dr. Greger on “How Not to Die” – showing studies of how diet can affect and even prevent certain diseases.

“How Not to Die” – written by Dr. Michael Greger, MD, FACLM 

A Wake Up Call

This was a wake-up call for both of us, because both sets of our parents had passed or where in the processes of dying from one of 4 major killers: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and Alzheimers disease. I had just had my DNA tested and it showed that I was at higher risk for two of these diseases! We were in our mid to late 50’s and ready to take action to slow down or maybe even prevent some of these diseases.

Where do we start?

The next question most people ask us is “Isn’t it hard to find and cook food that has no meat or dairy in it?” At first I would have said, yes! It took us a few months to get used to the new plant-based diet. In fact the first night we were “all in” we went out to celebrate our 25th anniversary with a dinner out. The waiter was nice enough to describe the special for the day: Prime Rib!! After such wonderful, mouth watering description we had to confess that we were vegan (which was not easy). Neither was finding vegan entrees as we traveled for a weekend get-away to a quaint little town in southern Indiana.

That same night we decided to check out Whole Foods and pick up a list of foods I had never heard of – taken from a newly purchased vegan cookbook for beginners (“But I Could Never Go Vegan!”). They nearly jumped up and down when we told them we were going vegan – and were more than happy to show us where to find the tofu, plant-based milk, miso, tahini and coconut oil (half of the stuff I rarely if ever used). I tried my best to prepare several of the entrees from the cookbook – but it was very difficult. Some of the stuff I had never heard of – and some of it was downright unappetizing.

I was determined not to give up, however. That Christmas I was given several vegan cookbooks and settled into using one more than any other, “The One Dish Vegan” by Robin Robertson. The ingredients were easy to find, they were not expensive and most dishes took only 30 – 40 minutes to cook. Every time we tried a new recipe we would rate it with 1 – 5 stars and then take a photo of it to reference later (her book did not have photos in it). This process made cooking so much easier and satisfying. In fact, my husband volunteered to do the cutting up of the veggies and I did the actual cooking – which made dinner prep so much more fun. We actually started to enjoy cooking together – which is a big deal for someone who used to hate cooking with a passion (me!).

One Dish Vegan by Robin Robertson

Changes for the Better

Within weeks were feeling more energy than we had felt in years, were more regular then we had ever been and had several other unexpected side affects including less gas and constipation, less tarter on our teeth, improved eye-site (my prescription changed), far fewer hot-flashes for me, and we spent less on our food budget!  The most encouraging news, however, was that my bad cholesterol (LDL) numbers went down 28 points (from 106 to 78), and my total cholesterol dropped by 38 points (198 to 160)! I also lost about 5 pounds – but I am still working on increasing my physical activity (exercising 3 – 5 times a week). My husband actually lost 7 – 10 pounds too (is at the same weight he was in high school)!

That is why I decided to write this blog. I want to encourage others out there who are committed to improving their health and preventing disease through a healthier lifestyle including eating a plant-based diet. If your partner or family is not on board yet – I encourage you to start with just one vegan meal a week and don’t make a big deal about the meatless thing. Your family may be surprised by how delicious and satisfying these meals are.

I called this blog the “Practical Vegan” because I am very practical and I want meals that don’t take hours to cook, cost a lot, or include hard-to-find ingredients. I also may include a non-vegan ingredient occasionally like feta or greek yogurt – but those can be easily be substituted. I will only post recipes that I have actually made and will include photos. If you have questions or want me to try out a new recipe – please let me know. I would love to hear from you!

Let food be thy Medicine and medicine by thy food. – Hippocrates, 460 B.C.

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