Why We Must Have COMPLETE Proteins – a guide for Vegans

A protein is a very, very long and complex chain of a unique collection of many smaller amino acids. Amino acids are very complex building-block molecules – twenty or so – strung together like beads into millions of combinations, that, when combined with nitrogen and many other elements become the essential building blocks of the varied types of proteins we MUST have.

Our bodies are about 20 percent protein by weight and about 60 percent by water. Most of the rest of our body is composed of minerals such as calcium and magnesium (esp. in your bones).

nuts - essential amino aids and selenium
Brazil nuts with lots of selenium

Many people are turning away from a meat based diet because of considerations for the environment and animals’ welfare. Some New Year’s resolutions, some weight loss concepts and diets and many health claims – true or false – elevate and celebrate vegetarianism as the only way to eat right. Some folks expound on how meat / poultry / fish causes cancer and reduces our ability of returning to optimum health – even though this has been scientifically dispelled.
Some claims are bang on and some, in my opinion, make the Ridiculous List. The question should always be – where’s the science – not where’s the emotional, politically correct, opinion thaat is then twisted into pseudo-science.

Once on a restricted diet, more attention and creativity has to be paid to obtaining all the basic necessary nutrition, and even more so, the correct and sufficient essential saturated fats and amino acids. The more restrictive our diet, the more important the care, knowledge and attention to each meal becomes.
Where confusion comes in is when the amino acids are in a food (that could be from one or two or five or however many amino acids, etc) and then this food is deemed to be containing protein. It will be called that in articles, ads, by dieticians and biased nutritionists, etc and that is only simplistically correct – actually it’s false – actually it’s a lie. Some foods contain some amino acids that are constituent parts of what will become a complete protein assuming the other necessary essential amino acids will also be eaten in another food.
A protein is made of a select number of amino acids – including all of the essential ones as well as the ones that can be made from other amino acids that are hopefully already onboard – strung together and made-to-measure for specific functions, growth and repair. An amino acid is one constituent part only – and it takes a lot of them to make all the various and sundry highly complex proteins.

nuts - essential amino acids
complete vegetarian protein

There’s simple science to measure each amino acid that is resident in each particular food. We know all the possible amino acids in fruits and vegetables. Amino acid content of food should not be a politically correct or ballpark opinion. It is truly a measurable factoid – useable to guide us – so we can plan our health, healing and shopping. If we can put people on the moon, then we can find the amount of exact amount of any amino acid content in our meals or in individual items such as broccoli or lettuce or spinach.
So buyer beware – or more often – reader beware – as to how fanatical gurus explain or explain away – lack of exact details as vegetarian ‘uber’ claims are made.

Even less likely will be finding a vegetarian focused web site that breaks down the different amino acids in fruits and vegetables so we can actually see where we are hitting and missing. Our body’s magic can reconfigure all the amino acids into any kind of required proteins – as long as the merely nine essential amino acids are in well represented in our diets. Eating non-essential amino acids is great – BUT THOSE ESSENTIAL ones MUST be present.

Website after website of pro-vegetarian and pro-vegan insights proclaim that there’s enough protein in vegetables and fruits so that we don’t need to worry about protein quantity in our “preferrable” enlightened vegan diets. But then there are no details to hold up the claims – merely sweeping statements (beside ads? and virtue signalling).
An example had me gobsmacked recently while watching CNN – I’m naive enough to think they fact check all but the politicians at that channel… However, a very handsome, tanned and toned fireman and his father were interviewed because they were the inspiration to President Clinton’s change to a vegan diet. Of course they also had a book to promote (My Beef with Meat)… and crazy claims to help them do this. Ahhh! … those dastardly unsubstantiated claims again, that people want to hear. Apparently those of us who want to know “Where is the protein?” are deemed a bit lame as vegetables such as spinach apparently have 50% protein – don’t you know! And CNN ran with this!
This is the worst torquing of the truth I have ever heard! But book sales will be good. Mission Accomplished.
Spinach is an awesome vegetable – a good choice on any diet if you know how to deal with oxalates – and it is full of essential amino acids – some more and some less. One particular essential amino acid in spinach is of a very little amount. So we can say that there’s a very small amount of complete protein and lots of amino acids.
In one cup of spinach one finds a lot of water, minerals, vitamins and fiber and a few calories, and .1 grams of fat, .9 grams of complete protein and 1.1 grams of carbs.
For a sedentary healthy person of average weight and size with a very modest protein requirement, only 30 cups of spinach per day would be required. For a large, tall and busy laborer, fireman or someone healing from an injury, it would be double! So you can see that being very cognizant of what is in each vegetable and making sure all of the essential aminos are eaten, it very important.

Even less likely will be finding a vegetarian focused web site or product or advice that breaks down the different amino acids in fruits and vegetables so we can actually see where we are hitting and missing. Our body’s magic can reconfigure all the amino acids into any kind of required proteins – as long as the merely nine essential amino acids are in well represented in our diets. Eating non-essential amino acids is great – BUT THOSE ESSENTIAL ones MUST be present.

Which vegetables MUST I include daily to get my needs for basic building blocks met? Missing essential (hence the name essential) amino acids – or put differently, missing essential building blocks can only create building blocks as good as their weakest links. Having some of the essential building blocks missing is truely unwise and a daily physical challenge.

I’m amused by the comparisons some puritanical vegetarians make by relating to the strength of cows and giraffes who are both herbivores. But our systems have nothing in common!
Cows and buffalo, for example, have convoluted guts that have huge colonies of bacteria that release saturated short-chain fatty acids extracted from the grasses they have gobbled up into small bits for easy processing in the first of a few of their stomachs – and then the last of the stomachs gets a splash of acids, which kills the bacteria and the cow excretes the grass and makes for good soil with good bacterial content for the next year’s crop.
This leaves me wondering about the lions and the tigers who wouldn’t be caught dead with leafy greens in their jaws. Neither would the hyena, nipping at the heals of the vegetarian, foraging zebra.
It seems mother nature creates all varieties of digestive systems – so beware of food gurus who pick the examples that suit their persuasive needs! And beware of those folks who assume that because a vitamin, mineral, fibres, phyto-chemicals are in a plant then that it is able to be free-ed up and find their way and metabolize / absorb into our tissues and organs. (And of course, follow the money!)

General Requirements for Everyone
The minimum amount of protein required for an average adult (neither a full-out construction worker nor bedridden tiny individual) who is moderately active is 1/3 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. We can coast a bit on reserves, but not for long. A toddler needs twice as much and a new born babe even more. So a 150 pound person needs 50 grams of protein per average day.

A can of tuna contains about 30 grams of protein, just to give an example. A glass of milk or an egg contain about 8 grams of protein. A slice of average commercial bread may contain 2 grams of protein. A cup of raw spinach has less than one gram – and by that we are calling a protein as having the full range of ESSENTIAL amino acids. Quinoa (9 grams per cup of cooked quinoa) contains all the essential amino acids.

Most animal sources (meat, dairy, eggs, seafood, etc.) provide what’s called “complete proteins” in that they contain all our essential amino acids together / at once.
Vegetable sources, except for a few exceptions such as spinach, are missing some or a few of the essential amino acids or even all of them. For example, rice and beans are all high in most of the essential ones but not all of them. So even if you included enormous amounts of these in your diet each and every day as your main protein source, your body would be hampered in creating the proper building blocks it needs because still a few of the essential ones are in a big deficit.

These are the essential amino acids that together make up a complete protein: tryptophan, lysine, methionine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, phenylalanine, histidine.

The following foods contain all of the above essential amino acids: meat and poultry, fish and shell fish, dairy, eggs, some dried spirulina, seaweed and most nuts.
There are small amounts of all essential aminos in oats, seeds, lentils, grains (such as wheat and quinoa) and most beans. There is a smidgen of all essential aminos (1% to 5%) in avocado, real chocolate, coconuts, potatoes, spinach, pineapple, bananas and dates.

Good news:
Spirulina and chlorella (broken cell) have all the essential amino acids in them and 1 cup gives you 65 grams of complete protein. This would be a staple in my diet if I were a raw vegan – daily – and I wouldn’t skimp on quality!
That’s a lot of green drinks to consume – but it can sustain you on a hyper-restricted diet!

So a raw meal of broccoli (1 cup offers 2 grams), cauliflower (1 cup offers 2 grams ), spinach (1 cup offers .9 grams), sprouted lentils (1 cup offers 7 gms but is missing tryptophan), sprouted beans (1/2 cup offers 3.5 grams), a handful of Brazil nuts (8 grams and some lysine missing) and 2 Tbsp of sesame paste made into a dipping sauce with water, salt, lemon and garlic (would be almost 6 gms), would be somewhat complete to have in meals for the day.

There’s a very scarey belief circulated by some fanatic food gurus that: “if you keep at least 80 percent of your calories coming from complex carbohydrates – 10 percent from protein – and no more than 10 percent from fat, you’ll pretty much automatically end up eating whole raw fruits, vegetables and a limited quantity of fats and fulfill the requirement for fighting cancer”.
On a prolonged basis, as I have seen personally, there will be great emotional imbalances due to a greatly imbalanced endocrine system from lack of good oils and fats and poor ratios of Omega 3s and 6s and arachadomic acid; lacking intestinal health due to imbalanced gut microbes; poor healing of tissue; reduced energy; foggy thinking and more… And if you were actually fighting cancer (why would you be ‘fighting it” when you don’t have it) then this would be the least useful diet imaginable.

10% of your calories from fats and 80% of your calories from carbs would mean that you would have to eat a very peculiar diet. It would represent the approach at the Gerson Clinic for the first three weeks of their stage four cancer protocol – a diet that consisted of about 22 lbs of a few fruits and very many vegetables – made into broths and juices – and with a very sedentary person in mind (completely bedridden).

Happy shopping, eating, cooking and combining. And wishing you a healthy, vibrant body.

Merrie Bakker B.Sc, M.Arch, CN

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Merrie Bakker – Live Blood Analyst / microscopist – Health Educator – Author – Teacher – Speaker – Editor – Hands-on-Healer – Reflexologist – Dowser – Reiki Master – Nutritional Coach – a life-long student of holistic medicine and preventative health who believes with a passion that cellular disorganization can be prevented or reversed by ortho-molecular medicine, emotional healing work, environmental detoxification (many areas of concern) and nutritional and lifestyle re-balancing (many possibilities). Combined with vigilance, monitoring and team work, clients are encouraged to detox, rebuild, re-nourish, resolve and re-educate.

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