Sunday, October 9, 2011

So how do you, like, get protein and stuff? Cookies, of course.

That's really my favorite response to "No thanks, I don't eat meat." Okay, not really. But, how do I, (and the other 15% of students who don't consume animals), like, get protein and stuff? Now, this may come as a shock to those who's only source of dietary understanding can be traced back to Oscar Meyer and Tyson campaigns, but.... meat is not the only source of protein available to human beings. (Muscle Milk is not the only alternative, either. Sorry, bro.)

They're even going veg in Seoul!
Crash course on protein: The human body requires protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids found in humans, and adults actually can synthesize a lot of them internally. Yes, we make protein (actually, we recycle our old body tissue... and now that we know we're kind of eating ourselves, who needs an outside source, anyway?) Eight of these 20 amino acids are considered "essential" to humans, because we can't synthesize them and must obtain them from food sources.

Here's the Tyson factory where a deadly chemical accident landed 173 workers in the hospital. Yay, protein!
What foods actually contain all eight of these essential amino acids, aside from animal products? Quinoa, soy beans, hempseed, and spirulina do (those hippie vegans are onto something.) But here's the catch: The human body doesn't need to obtain a complete protein from one food source. Incomplete protein sources, missing one or more essential amino acid, can be combined, or even consumed separately throughout the day to yield the same benefit as the complete protein found in a steak. What combinations could possibly do that? Any combination of a legume, grain, or nuts and seeds.

Terminology for Dummies Regular People:
Legumes - beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, chickpeas, and soy products
Grains - barley, bulgur, cornmeal, oats, buckwheat, rice, pasta, rye, wheat
Nuts/Seeds - sesame, sunflower, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans, etc.

Now, let's apply that to foods you'd actually eat. Rice and beans is a simple one... yes, that Chipotle burrito was a complete source of protein before you added the carnitas. Legumes + wheat are another popular complete protein lunch choice, since in layman's terms, a that's a PB&J on whole wheat bread. Middle Eastern food is also an excellent source of a meatless protein, just dig in to a dish made with rice and lentils (legume + grain), or dip anything in hummus (legume + seeds). For breakfast, make this, or toss some walnuts in your oatmeal. Even vegetarian chili and a piece of cornbread satisfies the complete protein requirement. In fact, there are even more foods that contain essential amino acids. Chocolate, oats, bananas, dried dates all contain Tryptophan. Green beans, spinach, and amaranth contain Lysine. Valine is present in mushrooms, and Phenylalanine can be found in avocados and lima beans.

Nope, that's not chicken. Some Chipotles carry Garden Blend vegan protein... double the awesome.
To be fair, meat contains the most concentrated amount of protein, but who said unlimited protein was a good idea to begin with? Excess consumption of protein causes nitrogen to be excreted in the urine, which is linked to reduced kidney function. Studies show that reducing protein intake in subjects with impaired kidney function slows the organ's rate of decline. Additionally, too much protein increases calcium excretion, and calcium exiting through the urinary system can produce kidney stones (as in, you might pee blood.)

So where is the perfect equilibrium of protein intake in a human diet? Our ability to metabolize so many different foods makes it impossible to tell, but this much I do know: everyone likes cookies. Here's a recipe for a vegan, protein-packed cookies that are as rich and delicious as any cookie could be, but substantial enough to fill up on for dinner (tested and confirmed). They're much higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than any "normal" cookie. Why? Flour has been traded out for chickpeas. I know. It sounds weird. However, I just watched a bunch of unsuspecting dinner guests wolf these down without hesitation. I mean, I didn't mention that they were made from legumes, but no one inquired in the first place...

High Protein Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies:
- 1 can chickpeas 
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 2 tbsp almond milk (any kind of milk will work)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 C brown sugar*
- 1/8 tsp stevia, optional
- 3 oz dark chocolate, chopped in chunks

*You can fully or partially substitute one ripe banana in place of brown sugar to eliminate refined sugar, add nutrients and an extra gram of protein, and change up the flavor. (Note: if you don't like banana, don't do this.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain and rinse chickpeas well, then soak them in water with 1 tbsp baking powder. Allow to sit for at least half an hour, preferably longer. In a food processor, puree chickpeas, almond milk, and peanut butter until smooth and creamy. Add all other ingredients, except for chocolate, and blend until smooth. Stir in chocolate chunks. Spoon cookies onto a greased baking sheet or parchment paper, then bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Let cool and serve with any milk (excluding muscle milk.) This recipe yields 6 servings of 2 cookies at 100 calories each, with 6 grams of protein per serving. Enjoy guiltlessly. 

(Piles of cookies.... the new cover girl of good health.) 

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