Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Vegetarian Protein Myth Plus Naan "Pizza" Recipe

I'd like to delve into what I consider one of the most commonly misinformed myths about vegetarianism and veganism. That is protein intake. It wasn't until I was watching the esteemed Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Colin T. Campbell in Forks over Knives when I discovered the truth about protein.

Typically the most effort I would make in consciously adding protein is throwing in some beans while cooking and daily slices of peanut butter toast. Since I rarely indulge in dairy items, I do not consider them a reliable source of protein for myself. So just by looking at the big picture, it seems like I'm not getting protein regularly at all. So how the heck am I getting up in the morning and having enough energy to do anything at all? I'll be honest, I had worried a bit about it before, believing I needed to double up my efforts and really pay attention to my nutrition intake. Due to, well, laziness, I never really made any measures to do so. Beans can only go into so many dishes until you decide, "Enough!" (image source)

I had heard someone on Forks over Knives, (can't remember who but suspect I was listening to Rip Esselstyn, Dr. Esselstyn's knowledgable son,) explain that as long as we were consuming the proper amount of calories per day, we were covered on the protein front. Meaning, every whole foods- vegetables and grains- contained protein in varying levels. If I simply ate a good variety of whole foods, I was getting enough protein. Fruits, however, does not have a great amount of protein so rely on them for other nutritional benefits. Especially now in the summer when most of them are at their peak deliciousness.

As for the commonly known belief that vegans have to eat rice and beans in order to gain a "complete" protein, meaning consuming all nine essential amino acids found in the correct proportions so the body can build protein. Well, it's not true. Our bodies are pretty darn smart and they can figure out how to function once given the right tools. So if you consume a variety of foods creating a sort of "amino acid soup," your body will simply dip in, collect what it needs, and go about constructing the important building blocks for staying healthy. (source)

This leads me to our next revelation, meat-eaters as a whole are taking in too much protein. Our bodies weren't meant to eat meat in the large quantities we do today, consuming it multiple times a day at each meal and snack time. Grab a beef jerky once in a while? Chicken snack wraps? Bacon and sausage in the a.m.? Turkey sandwich for lunch? It's easy to forget just how much meat a person can eat in a day when it seems so common in everyday life. Too much animal protein, along with all its saturated fats and cholesterol, can wreak havoc on a human body. With whole plant foods, you're at least eliminating all the harmful components found in animals and reaping the benefits of plants, e.g. fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.  

"Cleveland Clinic’s nutrition experts say that too much protein in your diet, which can be caused by low carb diets, can cause your body to go into a dangerous metabolic state called ketosis as your body burns fat instead of glucose for energy. During ketosis, the body forms substances known as ketones, which can cause organs to fail and result in gout, kidney stones, or kidney failure. Ketones can also dull a person’s appetite, cause nausea and bad breath. Ketosis is prevented by eating at least 100 grams of carbohydrates a day." It is a contributor to obesity and it has also been shown to increase risk of certain cancers. (source)

In short, your body knows what to do as long as you give it good, healthy, whole foods. If you're wondering, even though all whole plant foods have protein in varying levels, here are a few that are protein powerhouses.
I believe in not telling people what to think and how to eat, but giving them the tools and sources with which they can educate themselves. The information above was found in these sources, as well as the documentary: Forks over Knives. If you are interested in learning more, please visit these links and decide for yourself what is the best lifestyle for you.

If you made it through all that, pat yourself on your back! I hope that it didn't come across as too preachy and allowed you to open yourself up to learning more about alternative diets. I just want to inform people and let them make the decisions for themselves. Anywhoo. Onto the recipe!

Tomato and Greens Naan "Pizza" 

I make this "pizza" a lot when I need to make a quick and hot side dish to a salad or any other meal. It's really simple to make and usually ends up being the most delicious thin on your plate. It serves two as a side dish or one as a lunch or light dinner.

Gather up:
  • 1 piece of whole wheat naan (Found in grocery stores in the bread section.)
  • Hummus (I used roasted red pepper but you can use your favorite.)
  • 1 fresh, ripe tomato, sliced
  • Several basil leaves, torn
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Handful of mixed greens (Lettuce, kale, arugula are all good options.)
  • 1 lemon for juice
To make:
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Spread the naan edge to edge with a generous amount of hummus. Add slices of tomatoes in a single layer. You may not need the whole tomato because too many can make it watery.
  • Sprinkle with torn basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Transfer to a pan and bake for about 10 - 15 minutes until edges are browned and tomatoes are warm and soft. Check often to prevent burning.
  • While the naan is baking, mix together the salad greens with a hearty squeeze of lemon. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  • When the pizza is done, mound the salad greens on top of the pizza and cut into wedges.
  • Serve immediately.
I got the idea of putting salad greens on top of the pizza from my trip to Italy. There, a popular dish is a large pizza simply made with tomatoes and basil and very little cheese, topped with fresh crisp arugula. Delicious and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer day!

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