Straight Talk On Protein

November 2nd, 2009

vegetable protein strongman

There seems to be a lot of chatter lately about the nutritional value of meatless meals. While some agree limiting meat is a healthy choice, others worry that plant-based fare won’t provide adequate protein. Truth is, by having a Meatless Monday, you not only are nourishing your body with sufficient and diverse protein sources, you’re taking strides toward better health.

During a recent USDA press conference, a reporter asked the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack how he felt about Meatless Monday in Baltimore City Public Schools:

Mr. Secretary, I was wondering if it bothered you’ that school districts like Baltimore, Maryland institute Meatless Mondays’ not letting the children have protein in the diet by doing that?

Secretary Vilsack was not bothered. The reporter’s question, though, points to the fact there’s a common misconception that meat is the only source of protein. In truth, protein can be adequately obtained from beans, nuts, whole grains and vegetables. In most parts of the world meat isn’t the primary source of protein in the average diet. Indeed, globally, only 30% of protein is derived from animal sources!

Dr. Marion Nestle, a nationally renowned food expert and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, agrees that a proper nutritional balance can be easily obtained through plant-based meals:

All proteins are made up of the same amino acids. ALL. No exceptions. The difference between animal and vegetable proteins is in the content of certain amino acids. If vegetable proteins are mixed, the differences get made up. Even if they aren’t mixed, all you need to do to get the right amount of low amino acids is to eat more of that food. There is no "need’ for animal proteins at all.

Melissa Mahoney, the dietician responsible for the nutrition of the Baltimore City Public Schools, selected Meatless Monday as a positive way to introduce healthy options to the students she serves. Each Meatless Monday meal provides more protein than the USDA requires. The menu consists of beans, milk, grains and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, ensuring that the students "don’t lose out on a single gram.”

Further, the children who attend Baltimore City Public Schools are learning the value of a varied diet firsthand. Not only do they enjoy a multitude of options in the cafeteria, they discuss nutrition in their science and health classes. According to The Atlantic, "’in the elementary and middle school grades, teachers are talking about Meatless Monday in relation to the food pyramid.’ The diverse program developed there ensures the student body will be capable of making nutritionally sound choices as they move into adulthood.

You too can explore the limitless possibilities of plant-based protein! Here is just a short list of protein sources you can enjoy this Meatless Monday, complete with a recipe to get you started:

Peanut Butter– 4 grams per tbsp
Peanut Banana Pudding

Broccoli– 4 grams in 1 cup
Eastern Vegetable Noodle Soup

Soymilk– 7 grams in 1 cup
Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Tofu– 11 grams in 5 oz
Spinach Tofu Curry

Lentils– 18 grams in 1 cup
Lentil Shepherd’s Pie