This article originally appeared in the Kansas City Wellness Magazine.
While preparing this article, I realized that my last article stated as fact something that is truly unclear at this time. We do really don’t know how much protein a human being needs. Different sources quote different amounts, which have been steadily lowered since Recommended Daily Allowances were established early last century. A common value these days is 0.23 grams per pound (0.5 grams per kilogram) of body weight for most people and 0.34 grams per pound (0.75 grams per kilogram) of body weight for athletes. Other sources say more, others less, and many studies are inconclusive. I hope you learned from my last article that plant foods are valuable protein sources with far more health benefits than animal protein sources. Also, it’s easy to get too much protein by eating usual amounts of animal foods and miss the protection plant foods offer.
I think the focus on protein is misplaced. We are asking the wrong question. Why? Our body doesn’t use protein to make protein. It uses amino acids to make protein. Our body makes amino acids from carbohydrates and other amino acids, except for eight to ten so called “essential” amino acids that we must get from food. It was once thought that we needed to eat animal foods because they contain all of the essential amino acids in adequate quantity. We now understand that our essential amino acid needs are well met by eating a variety of plant foods. This has been the position of the American Dietetics Association since at least 1988. In one study where the participants ate only corn, all the amino acid needs were met except one, and 91% of its requirement was met. In another study where the participants ate only rice, amino acid needs not only were met but were 1.5 – 4.5 times the requirement.
So complicated food combining regimens described by Frances Moore Lappe in her seminal book Diet for a Small Planet are not necessary. She later stated "In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually it is much easier than I thought."
Even “high quality” protein becomes a myth when we realize that what we really need are amino acids. “High quality” was once used to describe a food that provided all of the essential amino acids in adequate quantity. “Low quality” described a food that did not. These terms are outdated.
So don’t worry about protein. Instead eat a variety of whole, unprocessed foods, mostly from plants and let your body do the rest. Make organically grown foods from local sources your first choice.
Here’s a recipe to add to your repertoire on non-meat main dishes. It’s my take on a well known health food salad and a family favorite come summer. This recipe calls for aduki or adzuki beans. You’ll find these small red beans at your local health food store. They originate in Japan where they valued for their medicinal properties. Known as a natural diuretic, they are beneficial to those with high blood pressure. They also fortify the kidneys and bladder, helping those with frequent infections or other problems in these areas. Rich in fiber, they help lower cholesterol and promote bowel regularity. Aduki beans do not require soaking. However, if beans give you gas, soak them first. Always throw out the soaking water and cook beans with fresh water.
Summertime Red Beans and Rice
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1 TBSP shoyu or tamari (natural soy sauce, please don’t ruin it with La Choy or other conventional brands!)
3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
Beans and Rice
1 cup cooked or canned aduki beans, drained or a heaping 1/3 cup dried aduki beans
2 cups cooked brown rice
½ cup raw cashews, chopped into large pieces
3 whole scallions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1. If using dried aduki beans, rinse them first, and add them to 4 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 - 1 ½ hours. You may also pressure cook unsoaked beans for 14 – 20 minutes, or soaked beans for 5 – 9 minutes. Then place the pressure cooker in the sink with the release valve pointed away from you. Run cold water over the pressure cooker until the pressure comes down, then open. If the beans are not done, return to pressure for 1 – 2 minutes more. Drain the beans.
2. Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl or screw top jar. Stir or shake. Set aside for 30 minutes.
3. Combine the ingredients for the beans and rice. Whisk or shake the marinade until well blended and pour over the bean and rice mixture. Toss and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes. Delicious served cold or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.