Diet is a sensitive topic. And sometimes it can be hard to express or defend one’s way of eating amidst preconceptions held by those whom we love. So, the next time you find yourself in conversation about diet or protein requirements, say, at Thanksgiving, here is the science by which to defend yourself.
Of the twenty-two amino acids that we know of, nine are “essential”. That is, our bodies cannot produce these protein building-blocks on their own. We must obtain them through food. Histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine are the magic nine. However, it is important to remember that the word “essential” hinges upon one’s body functioning in optimal form. Being able to make the remaining “nonessential” amino acids does not necessarily indicate that one is doing so.
Glycine is a good example of this. It is made via serine (a nonessential amino acid) reacting with serine hydroxymethyltransferase (an enzyme) and pyridoxal phosphate (vitamin B6). (Hang in there with me…) A deficiency in vitamin B6 inhibits the production of glycine. Suddenly, we have a “nonessential” amino acid that remains “unlocked” if one of its keys is missing (such as B6 for glycine). In this case, can we still consider it nonessential? Let us be wiser, therefore, and adjust amino acid classification into three categories: essential, nonessential, and conditionally essential. This means that meat eaters with a poor diet and weak mineral absorption can also be deficient in amino acids! Eating animal protein is not a guaranteed precursor to health, just as veganism or vegetarianism isn’t a guaranteed path to detoxification and enlightenment. The healthfulness of both diets depends upon the quality of execution.
The best way to avoid deficiencies is eating a diet of variety, rotating ingredients often and, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, wisely food combining.
For a complete, plant-based protein, apply the 3:1 ratio. Three parts grain and one part beans or legumes will provide the right balance of amino acids and will digest smoother that a 1:1 ratio. Rice and beans are a famous combination, and for good reason. Before it was scientifically understood, our ancestors knew intuitively to combine rice (rich in methionine, but lacking in lysine) with a legume (lacking in methionine but rich in lysine). The result is a nutritional bingo!
But sometimes, even science isn’t enough to convince your stubborn uncle that vegans aren’t damned heathens. In this case, we can present to him something more palatable, like a side dish of this all-star stuffed squash—sure to make him grimace in denial and rethink his argument.
A few more vegan recipes to share with family and friends this holiday season:
Like us on Facebook!