Let’s take a closer look at the complete protein foods. These foods contain all eight essential amino acids in proportions close to the ideal. Being so well balanced, they provide protein in a highly efficient manner. As a result, they only need to be eaten in small quantities. Six ounces of meat, cheese, fish, or eggs would supply most people’s daily needs.
Complete proteins are also blessed with a high “ nutrient density,” which means they contain high levels of nutrient value relative to their caloric content. Milk, for example, has significant quantities of fat, minerals, and vitamins A and C in addition to protein.
But Americans have been led to think of meat, eggs, fish, and milk as the only suppliers of protein. As you are aware by now, this misinformed view can have serious consequences for individual nutrition. Among other consequences, it can make us believe that any meat is a good protein source. Yet cured ham has only 16 percent protein, while the humble lentil has anywhere from 23 to 29 percent. Most hot dogs have about 7 percent protein, far less than dried skim milk (34 to 38 percent) or sunflower seeds (27 percent). Some sprouted seeds and beans are far better supplied with nutrients at a lower caloric level.
Most Americans are meat-eaters, relying on beef, chicken, pork, etc., to satisfy most of their protein needs. Meat also supplies nutrients such as iron and B vitamins in which many vegetables are deficient. It contains essential fats we need for energy, organ, nerve and heat insulation, and a variety of metabolic functions.
With only six ounces a day of complete protein we could satisfy most of our protein requirements. But meat available in our society has so many other drawbacks that you may prefer to gradually eliminate it from your diet.
Fish is another excellent protein source that our greed and folly have done much to destroy. Formerly abundant, their number has been decimated by overfishing and by the waste products of modern society. The slow accumulation of industrial wastes has polluted our waters and thus rendered much fish unfit for human consumption. Most fish is now nearly as expensive as the prized cuts of meat.
much of your protein needs for a single day. Avoid fish that has been deep-fried, especially if the oil has been used previously, and season it only with lemon and pepper or herbs. And stick to the smaller fish, which are lower on the food chain, such as sardines, herring, and whitebait. Larger fish such as the expensive tuna and swordfish are more likely to be contaminated with chemicals.
Milk is a good protein source and an excellent food generally. In addition to its high protein content (about 8.5 grams per cup), it contains calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A, E, and D, and some of the B vitamins. It is easily digested by most people, and its amino acid content complements that of many plants making it an ideal accompaniment for nonmeat meals.
O f course, there are problems with milk, as with any animal protein source. Many people are allergic to it you should avoid it if you are. It, too, maybe contaminated with chemicals, including antibiotics, synthetic hormones, and the others found in meat. Penicillin, in particular, fed to milk cows to cure an inflammatory condition called mastitis, finds its way into much of the commercially produced milk on the market today. And some authors observe with alarm the tendency for mothers to give their infants cow’s milk instead of breastfeeding them. But even breast milk has been found to contain traces of toxins such as the insecticide DDT.
Still, milk is too good a nutrient source to pass up altogether especially for vegetarians. Whole grain or whole wheat cereal (even commercial brands such as shredded wheat) supply an excellent complete protein breakfast when served with fresh milk. The frulatti of the Italians fresh fruit blended with milk to form a sugarless milkshake makes a delicious dessert or hot-weather drink. Combined with a whole wheat sandwich, milk is an excellent drink, and on its own, it makes a good alternative to the tea or coffee break.
Yet the sad fact is that few Americans beyond childhood continue to drink milk. Some of us, worried about our waistlines or arteries, dislike milk because of its fat content. If you’re one of those people, you can drink skim milk and get even higher levels of protein about 36 grams in a single cup. If you want to know how much milk to use to complement grains perfectly in your recipes and meal planning, insuring absolutely maximum protein availability, see Recipes for a Small Planet In Ellen Buchman Ewald book provides a chart with some figures. She suggests a ratio of one cup of milk to the following quantity of grains (measured dry, before they are cooked): 3/4 cup brown rice; or 1 V2 cups bulgur wheat; or 2 cups flour; or 1 cup (dry) macaroni; or 5 slices whole wheat bread.
WHAT ABOUT MILK PRODUCTS?
But you can still enjoy and benefit from eating cheese. Low-fat cheeses of nearly all types are good protein sources, though some may be as expensive as meat. Cottage cheese contains 15 to 19 percent protein, other cheeses about 25 percent.
One of the best features of cheese is its versatility. Combined with leafy vegetables and/or alfalfa sprouts on whole grain bread, it makes a delicious and nutritionally complete lunch. Grated with cream and served on whole wheat fettuccine, it makes an excellent main course at supper. An all-home-made pizza with real mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce, and the whole wheat dough can serve six or eight people as a party dish. Cheese souffle is another good party dish, and cheese omelets can be whipped up easily if you’re eating by yourself. Instead of serving sugar-laden desserts, a bowl of fruit with a good selection of French and Italian cheeses makes an excellent alternative.
Of course, cheese suffers from some of the same contaminants that adulterate milk, but it, too, is too good a protein source to leave out of most people’s diet. Cottage cheese is especially attractive to people who want to lose weight since it’s made from skim rather than whole milk. Its protein density is five times greater than that of milk, enabling you to get the same amount of protein with one-fifth of the calories. When combined with incomplete vegetable sources, it complements their inadequacies and provides further nutritive value at a low cost.
Similar to cottage cheese, but more interesting in flavor, is ricotta, usually made from sheep’s milk. This too can be combined with vegetables it makes a delicious snack when spread on celery and used as part of dips or vegetable spreads. The Italians mash it up with cooked spinach to make gnocchi and wrap it in dough pockets for ravioli, both excellent high-protein foods.
When buying cheese, avoid the numerous processed cheeses available in your supermarket. Processed cheese has had life taken out of it. It is made from a mixture of different hard cheeses and various chemical agents, all combined to make a relatively bland “convenience” food. Its additive level could be high and the quality of the original cheese used in manufacturing could be low. Processed cheese is also more expensive than many naturally produced cheeses. Even worse are the “cheese products” and “cheese foods” often sold in a way that disguises their true nature. Since they, too, are so expensive, they provide no economic advantage over real cheese.
Eggs are another superb protein source. You can utilize 94 percent of the protein in the eggs you eat. Eggs (along with milk and cheese) are superior in protein availability to meat.
Have you been afraid to eat eggs for the last few years because of the great cholesterol scare? It convinced many people that cholesterol (found in egg yolks, among other foods) could almost single-handedly cause heart disease. Few scientists or physicians take this idea seriously, and there is much evidence that undercuts the danger of cholesterol considerably. Unfortunately, many people remain prejudiced against eggs, milk, and other fine nonmeat complete proteins. If you don’t eat meats, thereby reducing your intake of saturated fats, get enough exercise, control your stress levels, get enough vitamin E and C and the right proportion of minerals in your diet, the cholesterol in your eggs would not make any great difference. Check with your doctor before eliminating them from your diet.
Like cheese, eggs are astonishingly versatile; the culinary uses to which you can put them are almost endless. They can be eaten in delicious dishes at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and combined with other foods for both taste and complete nutritive value. The Basque dish pip6rdde and Chinese egg foo young both combine eggs with fresh vegetables and spices; you can do the same in experiments of your own. Omelets can be made with cheese, vegetables, tofu, and other foods to make a luncheon dish that supplies a full complement of complete protein. A simple but delicious Japanese soup can be made by dribbling a beaten egg into hot miso, thus providing another complete protein package.
Substituting recipes using milk, cheese, and eggs is a nutritionally sound way of cutting down on meat-based meals if you have not yet eliminated meat from your diet. You’ll find satisfying recipes in nearly every great cuisine for egg- and dairy-based dishes, and you’ll spend less money in preparing them.