bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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More on protein

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have been seeing a bunch of infographics such as these lately:

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While the second one’s much better than the first (credit: Avery Muether Illustrations), it includes fairly accurate protein quantities (and some of these foods are reasonably high sources of protein), I still wanted to comment on them. I went through the foods included in the first infographic and looked up the protein in a serving of each. Here they are:

spirulina (1 tbsp dried) – 4g

goji berries (2 oz dried) – 8g

chia seeds (1 oz) – 4.4g

spinach (1 cup raw) – 0.9g

hemp seeds (2 tbsp) – 10g

barley grass (6g dried) – 1.5g

brazil nuts (1 oz) – 4g

broccoli (1 cup raw) – 3g

(bean) sprouts (1 oz) – 0.8g

figs (1 oz dried) – 0.9g

avocado (1 oz) – 3g

maca (1 tbsp powder) – 1g

kale (1 cup raw) – 2g

romaine lettuce (1 cup shredded) – 0.6g

For the most part, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the amount of protein in these foods. Considering that a single serving of protein is considered to be approximately 6-7g. Even if you consumed all of these foods in a day you would be consuming only 44.1g of protein in total. This is quite close to the needs for many women. Protein needs are generally 0.8g per kg of body weight. However, more protein may be needed in some cases such as for athletes, pregnancy, wound healing, childhood, elderly, etc. Even so, most of us handily exceed the daily requirements for protein.

There is something else beyond total protein to consider, however. We also need to look at protein quality. High quality proteins are those that contain ample amounts of all nine essential amino acids. I’m sure you already know this but just as a refresher… Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 (or 21 if you count cystine) amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential because our bodies cannot synthesize them and must, therefore, obtain them from food. Animal proteins (with the exception of gelatin) are considered to be high-quality as they contain all of the essential amino acids in ample quantities. Many plant proteins are considered to be low-quality as they are either low in, or lack, one or more of the essential amino acids. While it’s absolutely possible to obtain all of the amino acids we need from plant proteins it also takes more careful consideration than proteins obtained from animal sources. This is why we talk about complementary proteins. These are plant protein sources that, when combined, yield adequate amounts of all 9 amino acids. A few examples are: hummus and pita, rice and beans, veggies and polenta. Just to be clear, the complementary proteins needn’t be consumed together at the same meal (although they certainly can be) as long as they’re consumed throughout the day.

Generally speaking, aside from foods such as beans, nuts, and seeds, plant proteins are lower in total protein (not just essential amino acids) than animal proteins. Just a few examples: 3 oz of canned tuna has 21.6g of protein, 3 oz of chicken breast has 21.3 g, Greek yoghurt can contain up to 15-18g per serving.

Yes, it is possible to consume adequate protein without consuming animal products. It’s likely preferable if we do favour plant sources of protein over animal sources. However, it’s not as simple as those infographics make it seem. Most foods contain some quantity of protein. That second infographic especially irks me. Suggesting that romaine lettuce and figs are good sources of protein is ludicrous.


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Follow Friday: Cookie + Kate

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It’s been a little while since I gave you a recipe blog for a Follow Friday post. I made two things from Cookie + Kate last weekend and they were both great so I think her blog is worthy of sharing. I made her Curried Coconut Quinoa and Greens with Roasted Cauliflower for supper one evening. It was mighty tasty and easy. Just a little chopping. Cauliflower in the oven, everything else in a pot, done. I also made a batch of these Maple Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies to refuel after my long run on Sunday and we satisfied our sweet teeth on them all week.

If you’re looking for easy, delicious, vegetarian recipes, Cookie + Kate is a great place to look.


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Does dairy cause osteoporosis?

A recent tweet in my feed caught my eye. It said “Populations that consume the most cow’s milk and other dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures in later life.” If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m no big fan of milk, nor of the inclusion of milk (and alternatives) as a food group in Canada’s Food Guide. Still, this statement irritated me. Association is not the same as causation. There could be any number of reasons for this alleged (I say alleged because I’m not sure what evidence this statement was based on) difference in osteoporosis and hip fracture rates between populations. Perhaps the dairy consuming population lives longer so they have more time to develop these issues. Perhaps they aren’t physically active enough to build and maintain good bone density. Perhaps they are more genetically prone to osteoporosis. After all, diet only contributes so much to the development of osteoporosis.

When I googled the tweet I found a whole lot of vegan propaganda. However, a google scholar search for “dairy + osteoporosis” yielded some interesting results. One article in particular caught my eye. it was a review of 58 studies “published on the relationship between milk, dairy products, or calcium intake and bone mineralization or fracture risk in children and young adults”. It found there was no evidence that dairy consumption increases bone mineralization in children and teens. Damn, all those years of suffering through the school milk program for nothing! Despite this lack of support for dairy in preventing osteoporosis I could find no legitimate evidence to support the claim that dairy consumption actually increases the risk of osteoporosis. Vegetarians and vegans do not appear to be any less likely to suffer from osteoporosis than omnivores (1).

It seems to me that there is no strong evidence to support either argument at the moment. There is no reason to believe that dairy consumers are at any greater (or lower) risk of developing osteoporosis than non-dairy consumers.


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The ethics of eating animals

The New York Times came out with a recent contest asking readers to tell them why eating meat is ethical. Not sure how I missed this when the contest came out (submissions were due in early April and apparently the winner has been announced although I haven’t seen any of the entries). My first reaction was “How could anyone argue that it’s ethical to eat meat?” As a sporadic meat eater I have no problem with eating meat but I didn’t see how it could possibly be construed as ethical. I decided to revisit the meaning of ethics. After reviewing a little Aristotle and checking out the definition of ethics I can now see how eating meat could be argued to be an ethical practice. If something is ethical because it serves to better mankind or increase happiness then certainly, for those who enjoy partaking, eating meat could be argued to be ethical. Eating meat betters me because it provides me with essential nutrients. Eating meat makes me happy because it tastes delicious. Of course, I think that vegetarians and vegans hold the higher moral ground here. But, as long as your morals don’t preclude killing other creatures then eating meat is not unethical.

After writing the above, I managed to find the winning entry here.


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Is a vegan diet really healthy?

I have an issue with vegetables masquerading as meat. Now, I’m not a vegetarian, although I only eat meat infrequently. I have however, decided to become quasi-vegan for Lent. My reasons for doing this? 1. For the environment, animal products are far more detrimental to the environment than are plants, 2. For my health, plants are a lot better for my body than animals and their by-products, 3. Because my original avowal to take-up a vegetarian diet didn’t seem like enough of a challenge. I say “quasi” because I plan to allow myself to continue to eat fish and won’t be a huge stickler if I inadvertently consume a piece of bread or something that might have a little dairy or honey in it. I’m not quite sure why honey is a bad thing to consume. Anyway… I digress…

I’m fully supportive of primarily plant-based diets. What drives me nuts are all the processed foods that are now being marketed to vegetarians and vegans. Just check out the ingredient list for a popular veggie ground round: “Water, soy protein product, wheat protein product, onions, spices, canola oil, salt, evaporated cane juice, natural flavour, malt extract, torula yeast, lemon juice powder, guar gum, tapioca starch, vitamins and minerals (thiamine hydrochloride, riboflavin, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanocobalamin, calcium pantothenate, reduced iron, zinc oxide, wheat starch). Contains soy and wheat.  May contain eggs.” For me, eating a plant-based diet is all about returning to a simpler way of eating and getting nutrients from whole foods. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that eating all these faux-meats defeats the whole point of going vegetarian or vegan. The more processing your food undergoes the fewer nutrients that are going to be left intact in it. There’s really very little difference between this sort of food and any other highly processed convenience food. Let vegetables and grains be proud to be themselves, don’t try to force them to be something that they’re not.

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