hurting animals, our health, and the planet

meat This book is by John Robbins (as in Baskin & Robbins) who decided not to sell ice cream because it is bad for people. Instead he's been studying the foods we eat and how they affect us. "Diet for a New America" is interesting reading and covers a complex subject well. The following is from the section on protein:
... we still do not need meat, eggs or dairy products in order to get adequate protein? Could it be that the whole issue of "getting enough protein" is actually just a figment of our collective imaginations, with nothing behind it except for the propaganda of the meat, dairy and egg industries?

That, remarkably, seems to be the case. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, hardly a bastion of nutritional radicalism, spoke of people who consume no dairy products, meats, or eggs:

"Pure vegetarians from many populations of the world have maintained... excellent health."
A team of Harvard researchers, investigating the effects of a strictly plant food diet, found:
"It is difficult to obtain a mixed vegetable diet which will produce an appreciable loss of body protein without resorting to high levels of sugar, jams and jellies, and other essentially protein-free foods."
A clinical study reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association compared the intake of the essential amino acids for meat-eaters, lacto-ovo vegetarians (those consuming dairy products and eggs), and pure vegetarians (no eggs or dairy products). This study raised the protein requirements for each amino acid to a height that would cover even the needs of pregnant women and growing adolescents. They found that not only were all three diet-styles sufficient, they were all well above sufficient:
"Each group exceeded twice its requirement for every essential amino acid and surpassed this amount by large amounts for most of them."
At an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the eminent nutritionist Dr. John Scharffenberg gave a major presentation which was later made into a book. He did not seem to feel that "getting enough protein" was a major worry:
"Let me emphasize, it is difficult to design a reasonable experimental diet that provides an active adult with adequate calories that is deficient in protein."
Many consider Nathan Pritikin the foremost expert on nutrition in modern times. Thousands of people came to his Longevity Centers. Some came in wheelchairs, or preparing for coronary bypass operations. Many went jogging home a month later. Most improved tremendously. The heart of Pritikin's program was his diet. He said:
"Vegetarians always ask about getting enough protein. But I don't know any nutrition expert that can plan a diet of natural foods resulting in a protein deficiency, so long as you're not deficient in calories. You need only six percent of total calories in protein... and it's practically impossible to get below nine percent in ordinary diets."
It seems Nature must have wanted us to have enough protein. For simply following the instinct of hunger and eating enough natural food of whatever kind, it is almost impossible to be deficient in this vital nutrient.

And it doesn't matter very much whether or not we hold one form of protein to be superior. Either way, and whatever the demands of our biological individuality, the evidence forces us to conclude that we will get enough protein, even without dairy products, eggs, or protein complementarity.

I admit that I have sometimes had a hard time accepting these truths. I have been powerfully programmed, and have become emotionally attached to the old ideas about protein. But dispassionate appraisal of the evidence virtually forces me to conclude that the "problem" of where vegetarians will get their protein, even those who forego dairy products and eggs, is in actuality a "nonproblem."

In fact, researchers who purposefully want to design diets deficient in protein often have a devil of a time. It is possible, but it's far from easy. By the same token, it is possible for a vegetarian to be deficient in protein, but it takes some doing.