Thursday, January 31, 2013

Diet for a Second Life: The Best Protein

By Food Blogger Ruth Gantman
As we age, our digestive systems are taxed. It’s best to eat simple and clean. Clinical research and author Dr. Neal Barnard suggests we eat no more than four different foods at any one sitting to reduce stress on the digestive system. We, as Americans, are saturated in offerings of animal protein and, according to Colin Campbell’s 30 year definitive China Study, the best source of protein that matches our own would actually be human flesh. So Jonathan Swift’s 18th century social satire A Modest Proposal not only would solve the economic problems of the Irish lower class, but also has a nutritional base. (Gasp)

 Cannibalism will never be a dietary option for sure but the fact is that we do get the next “best” protein by eating other animals. The proteins of other animals are very similar to our proteins because they mostly have the right amounts of each of the needed amino acids. These proteins can be used very efficiently and therefore are called “high quality.” Among animal foods, the proteins of milk and eggs represent the best amino acid matches for our proteins, and thus are considered the highest quality. While the “lower quality” plant proteins may be lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids, as a group they do contain all of them.

High Quality vs Low Quality Protein

The concept of quality really means the efficiency with which food proteins are used to promote growth. This would be well and good if the greatest efficiency equaled the greatest health, but it doesn’t, and that’s why the terms efficiency and quality are misleading.

In fact, there is a mountain of compelling research showing that “low-quality” plant protein, which allows for slow but steady synthesis of new proteins, is the healthiest type of protein.  Slow but steady wins the race.

New Four Food Groups 

Dr. Neal Barnard recommends that we focus on the New Four Food Groups:

Whole Grains: Whole grain pasta, brown rice, bran cereal, oatmeal, pumpernickel or rye bread, couscous, bulgur wheat, millet, barley, etc. Suggested servings: 8 per day. One serving is 1/2 cup cooked grain (e.g., oatmeal or pasta), 1-ounce dry cereal, or 1 slice bread

Legumes: Beans (black, pinto, or kidney beans; chickpeas; baked beans; soybeans, etc.), peas, split peas, lentils, fat-free soy products (fat-free unsweetened soy milk, fat-free veggie burgers, textured vegetable protein, fat-free tofu), etc. Suggested servings: 3 per day. One serving is 1/2 cup cooked beans, 4 ounces tofu, or 8 ounces soy milk.

Vegetables: Sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, collards, squash, green beans, bok choy, artichokes, etc. Choose those with a low GI. Suggested servings: 4 or more per day. A serving is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables.

Fruits: Apples, bananas, grapes, pears, peaches, oranges, kiwifruit, berries, etc. Choose those with a low GI. Suggested servings: 3 or more per day. One serving is one-piece raw fruit, 1/2 cup chopped fruit, or 1/2 cup cooked fruit or juice.

More Protein: Broccoli or Steak?

Most people would guess steak.  But as you can see below, they would be wrong.  Steak has 6.4 grams of protein per 100 calories while  broccoli has 11.1 grams…twice as much.

Nutrients Present in 100 Calorie Portions of Selected Food

           Broccoli (13 cal)        Steak (212 cal)               Romaine Lettuce (1 cal)                                        
118 g
2 mg
2.2. mg
.8 mg
5.7 mg
46 mg
6 mg
82 mg
507 mg
74 mg
1,453 mg
11 g
12 g
Very high
Very high
Very high
Very high
200 mg
2 mg
800 mg
.29 mg
.06 mg
800 mg
1.0 mg
1.2 mg
1.4 mg
Vitamin C
143 mg
141 mg
2,131 mg
30,739 mg
Vitamin E
4.7 mg
.07 mg
.76 mg
22 mg
Saturated fat
3.1 g
357 g (12.6 oz)
1.0 oz
20.07 oz

Source: Joel Furhman, Eat to Live

As we age, we should limit the amount of animal protein in our diets, and look to grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables to make up the 5% of protein that Colin Campbell suggests we eat in order to prevent disease.  Try this Vegan Chile recipe below for a good source of protein and serve it over brown rice.

Vegan Chile Recipe

Serves 6 Makes 12 ladles of chili at 135 calories per ladle 

    1 can Kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    1 can Black beans, drained and rinsed
    1 can Pinto beans, drained and rinsed
    1 cup frozen corn
    1 red bell pepper, diced
    1 green bell pepper, diced
    1 red onion, diced
    1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
    1 cup vegetable broth
    5 garlic cloves, minced
    1 heaping tbsp chili powder
    1 tsp cumin
    1 tbsp minced garlic (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
    1 chopped onion
    1/4 tsp (or a bit less) cayenne pepper
    A couple splashes of soy sauce
    1/2 tsp salt (if needed)
    Black pepper and turmeric to taste

Step 1: Chop the garlic, onion, and bell peppers. Sauté lightly over medium high heat in 1-2 tsp olive oil. Meanwhile, wash the beans until all of the canning liquid is gone
Step 2: Once the veggies have sautéed for about 5 minutes, add everything else into the pot (tomatoes, beans, spices, etc.). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 min or longer as needed.

Ruth Gantman is a holistic health coach and writes about food and health at Nurtured By Nature.


  1. I agree with you and would live on this type of food. However I find that men are not so keen. My husband still likes meat although we now only have it occasionally preferring fish.

    1. In the profile we did on Ruth Hantman in August, she confesses her husband ran down to the taco truck the first time she served quinoa. My husband prefers meat too where I could eat brown rice and a vegetable or fish. I just wish I was better at cooking fish and had a good fish market close by!

    2. Feeding men who feel they are not fed unless the item on their plate had a life of its own before they stick a fork in it is a probelm. I agree. I confess, that I prepare and eat more animal meals than I would on my own, if we were not together. It's a slow process, but he has made concessions. He eats much more fish than ever. But cheddar is his thing. If you go back to my original interview, I shared my story with Mary Lou. When I prepared a lovely Bok Choy and shrimp dish, my husband asked, "What's that? A guppy on greens?" And then looked out the window to see if he could stand on line at the Taco Take Out Truck! He actually ran out the door!

  2. Also best to avoid processed foods or eat those who have been transformed and fresh from local farms. The quality of the food is DIRECTLY related to how it has been produced and/or raised, by what means, by who and where. Really, but it is hardly ever mentioned. Consumers must insist on labeling that verifies the production status of food.
    Had to toot for the farmers and that/this way of life, which have and has become increasingly endangered by corporate and intensive farming methods…not to mention what it has done to the health of humans eating it. :/

    1. Agree but not even local farms are organic, which is what I usually look for. We should insist on more of that too and maybe that would bring the price down. Thanks.

  3. This is very helpful. It's good to see the chart, which lays everything out clearly. Eating this way also helps the environment by reducing demand for meat. Meat production consumes large amounts of energy and pollutes both our water and our air.

    I do have one caveat to the chile recipe, it's much better to cook your own beans than to use canned ones, as the can linings contain toxins.

    I'm going to share this post with my husband. Thank you!

    1. Reducing the demand for meat from corporate farming helps the environment, buying meat from small farms helps the environment MORE! Please read and become informed:

    2. Once you are aware of the protein content in legumes, grains and green leafy vegetables, a whole new way of looking at the world opens up. We have been programed to eat animal protein at every meal. That needs to be adjusted. If you want more help, there are recipes on my

  4. If I ate the correct amount of servings of all those items I know I wouldn't be hungry for all the BAD items I reach for!

  5. I love the comparison chart; it really puts the protein discussion in a new light for me.

    My cholesterol rose 30 points last year; I'm looking down the gun now. Do you have any suggestions for me? I could eat mostly vegetarian, but I have a husband who is a pure carnivore, which means I have to prep meat anyway (sigh).

  6. Good advice for any age. Wish I'd been a healthier eater younger...

  7. Very interesting - the chili looks good too! I wonder if I could get my meat and potatoes husband to eat it without grumbling .... I may be trying very soon.

    1. This seems to be a common problem. (See first comment and my reply.) Maybe if we start by whittling down on the size of the meat serving until it just disappears on the plate!!

  8. Fabulous post. A lot of terrific information. I still need my "animal proteins" (grass fed beef, for iron and B12), and I enjoy them. But I love some of the other foods mentioned here and eat them regularly. Need to work on the legumes though...

  9. I lost 50 pounds at age 55 by increasing my protein intake greatly and cutting way back on starches. I LOVE protein bars! They fill me up well with legume protein and less than 200 calories. As we age protein is the key to maintaining a healthy weight!

    1. Good for you! That was not easy. You should write about your experience and inspire others.

  10. Your protein foods are brain foods. Be smart and healthy too!!

  11. I have found that a really great source of high protein, low fat meals are recipes in the magazine Real Simple. They sell the magazine at the checkout counter of my local grocery store, Stop and Shop, and when I put it on the conveyor belt, it makes me think twice about not also putting donuts and such, nearby!