Sugar Ridge has been serving guests plant-based meals for 10 years now. Over the years I’ve been routinely asked 2 questions. “How do you get enough protein” and “Why don’t you serve meat here”? So I thought I’d address them here.
Most people don’t have the opportunity to experience their body on a meatless diet. If you don’t know what you don’t know, why would you change? Most guests leave saying they would like to eat more vegetarian food if only they knew how to prepare it. The experience of one’s own body thriving, feeling increased vitality in just a couple days speaks for itself. People leave Sugar Ridge knowing they can thrive without meat. The experience is education enough.
Side Effects of Eating Meat
I don’t want this to turn into a rant so I’ll suggest that you look into a few facts that in general, we try to avoid and which, in my opinion, if everyone cared about, there would be an end to suffering when it comes to food. In no particular order these are other reasons we don’t serve meat:
- lack of arable land – deforestation to graze cattle, loss of rainforest
- lack of fresh uncontaminated water – most available fresh water feeds domestic livestock
- starving people – grains used to feed livestock could feed far more people than the flesh of those animals
- obesity epidemic – unhealthy foods are cheap
- many diseases directly affected by meat consumption include diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, arthritis
- animal cruelty – no animal destined for slaughter is happy with the process
- dairy isn’t meant for human consumption and contributes to illness, including osteoporosis
- global warming – according to the UN the livestock industry creates 55% of greenhouse gases (methane from livestock is worse than CO2)
- the meat industry is not sustainable – we’re running out of land as the human population grows
- low nutrient quality of food – factory farming depletes the soil, GMO’s – we still don’t know long term effects
- focus on macronutrients (protein, fat & carbs) leaves the body hungry for missing micronutrients, so we keep eating
My focus here at Sugar Ridge is mindfulness and food has always been a big part of that whether guests know it or not. The present moment is the one in which we have power to influence our health, wellness and the wellbeing of the planet. The decisions made in the present moment affect our future individually and as a species collectively. The decision to eat meat or not is one of those opportunities. So much suffering is attributed to the meat and dairy industries. And not just the suffering of the animals involved, but the human suffering as diseases become normal, lifespan is now decreasing, forests are destroyed, people are displaced, and water is contaminated.
The main reason we don’t serve meat is that I refuse to participate in the harm of your body, the harm of animals and the harm of the planet through global warming.
The Protein Myth
The protein answer is pretty easy and it’s really just about education. Most people are misinformed about nutrition in general and get their dietary education from the media, from the plethora of food commercials, from good intentioned (but uneducated about nutrition) health professionals and a lot from powerful food lobby groups. It’s easy to see how people get misinformed when everywhere they turn they’re told to eat more protein, carbs are bad and fat is good (or bad) depending on the day. Just think about who’s paying for that ad. The protein myth is one that can be dispelled quite easily.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients needed by our bodies. The other two are carbohydrates and fats. Our bodies need each of these for proper cell functioning. Metabolic processes happen with the aid of enzymes and every enzyme is made of protein strands. The body itself is made of proteins. The paradox of protein is that it is not only essential in your diet but too much threatens your health and is linked to serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It’s virtually unheard of for healthy people who have access to food in general to have a protein deficiency. On the other hand, many people need to reduce protein under doctor’s orders.
The myth part of the protein craze stems from the fact that animal protein is called complete, whereas most vegetable proteins, but not all, are called incomplete. Protein is made up of various amino acids and every plant has many amino acids but few have all of them in the proportions we need to thrive. Thus they are called incomplete proteins. Animal flesh, dairy and eggs are complete proteins because they contain all of the amino acids. But that doesn’t mean you will have a protein deficiency by not eating meat or dairy.
When you eat protein-containing foods, the digestion process breaks down protein into amino acids to make them available for use by your body. Nine of the 20 amino acids are essential because our bodies cannot make them on their own. This means we must get them from our diets. We don’t need to consume protein; we need to consume amino acids.
Vegetables have protein too!
Complete proteins in the vegetable world include quinoa, hemp seeds, soy products, carrots, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, kale, okra, peas, cauliflower, corn, eggplant, potatoes, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and bananas.
We do not need all essential amino acids from one food or meal because our bodies are able to store amino acids for future use. Food combining used to be popular but now it is understood that you don’t have to consume all amino acids in the same meal or even in the same day. Although all vegetable foods have protein, some have more than others. You can divide the vegetable world into seeds, nuts, legumes and grains with the combination of any two providing all essential amino acids. We naturally combine these foods because they taste great together, so it really takes no effort to get all amino acids. For example, a peanut butter sandwich, rice and beans, hummus with pita bread, lentils with rice or quinoa, a wrap with tempeh and so on contain all essential amino acids. Note this doesn’t take into account the protein in vegetables and fruits. If you eat a variety of whole foods throughout the day, you get enough protein.
A vegan diet has plenty of protein, as well as minerals and vitamins and micronutrients that a healthy body needs. Animals that are killed to be consumed by people have plant-based diets, getting all their protein from the plants they eat. Cows are huge just eating grass (it’s also where they get their calcium). Every plant has some protein in it. All protein ultimately comes from plants, either by consuming an animal that consumed the plant, or consuming the plant itself. Eating the plant is easier on your digestion.
Protein and Disease
According to the World Health Organization most North Americans consume more than double the recommended dietary intake of protein. The WHO suggests we should have 4.5 % of our calories from protein. You probably don’t need as much protein as you think, and you’re more than likely getting enough, even if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or even a raw vegan diet.
Many diets that have been popular over the last few years have had a focus on high protein and low carbs. These diets actually promote weight gain over time. Animal flesh is denser than plant foods, has no fibre, and has a much higher caloric count by volume, taking up much less space in your stomach than an equivalent amount of calories from plant matter which has a lot of fibre. So, you tend to eat more calories since you don’t feel full, and you can miss out on micronutrients which your body needs, leaving you still feeling hungry despite the calories you’ve consumed.
People who consume animal products with every meal are taking in approximately 5 times the recommended amount of daily protein.
I encourage you to do your own research and don’t take my word for it. I am intentionally leaving out references so that you will go find your own. The truth is out there! I know I was surprised, angry and disappointed the more I learned. The science is there. Match what you find to your own body and eat so that you thrive. The same diet isn’t right for everyone. Find yours and don’t be fanatical about it or it causes more stress which will undo all the good that the diet does. Plant-based eating can include meat, just not much. If you want to transition to eating a more plant-based diet think about the starch, fat and veggie side of a meal and build around that.