Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Protein Myth

Posted in health, veganism, vegetarian by allisonkilkenny on December 31, 2008

Kathy Freston

protein_bombWhen I tell people that I’m a vegan, the most popular question, by far, inevitably follows: “But, how do you get enough protein?”

There it is again, I think, the meat industry’s most potent weapon against vegetarianism — the protein myth. And it is just that — a myth.

In fact, humans need only 10 percent of the calories we consume to be from protein. Athletes and pregnant women need a little more, but if you’re eating enough calories from a varied plant based diet, it’s close to impossible to not to get enough.

The way Americans obsess about protein, you’d think protein deficiency was the number one health problem in America. Of course it’s not — it’s not even on the list of the ailments that doctors are worried about in America or any other countries where basic caloric needs are being met.

What is on the list? Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity — diseases of affluence. Diseases linked to eating animal products. According to the American Dietetic Association, which looked at all of the science on vegetarian diets and found not just that they’re healthy, but that they “provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

They continue: “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence … Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.”

Dr. Dean Ornish writes of his Eat More, Weigh Less vegetarian diet — the one diet that has passed peer-review for taking weight off and keeping it off for more than 5 years — that in addition to being the one scientifically proven weight loss plan that works long-term, it “may help to prevent a wide variety of other illnesses including breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, colon cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, and so on ….”

So when people ask me about protein, I explain that protein is not a problem on a vegan diet, that the real problems that are plaguing us in the West can be addressed in part with a vegetarian diet, and that I get my protein the same way everyone else does — I eat!

Beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, and whole grains are packed with protein. So are all vegetables as a caloric percentage, though they don’t have enough calories to sustain most people as a principal source of sustenance. And these protein sources have some excellent benefits that animal protein does not — they contain plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates, where meat has none. That’s right: Meat has no complex carbs at all, and no fiber. Plant proteins are packed with these essential nutrients.

Plus, since plant-based protein sources don’t contain cholesterol or high amounts of saturated fat, they are much better for you than meat, eggs, and dairy products.

It is also worth noting the very strong link between animal protein and a few key diseases, including cancer and osteoporosis.

According to Dr. Ornish (this may be the most interesting link in this article, by the way — it’s worth reading the entire entry), “high-protein foods, particularly excessive animal protein, dramatically increase the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and many other illnesses. In the short run, they may also cause kidney problems, loss of calcium in the bones, and an unhealthy metabolic state called ketosis in many people.”

The cancer connection is spelled out at length in a fantastic book by Cornell scientist T. Colin Campbell, called The China Study. Basically, there is overwhelming scientific evidence to implicate that animal protein consumption causes cancer.

And just a few quick anecdotal points:

  • Olympian Carl Lewis has said that his best year of track competition was the first year that he ate a vegan diet (he is still a strong proponent of vegan diets for athletes).
  • Strength trainer Mike Mahler says, “Becoming a vegan had a profound effect on my training. … [M]y bench press excelled past 315 pounds, and I noticed that I recovered much faster. My body fat also went down, and I put on 10 pounds of lean muscle in a few months.”
  • Bodybuilder Robert Cheeke advises, “The basics for nutrition are consuming large amounts of fresh green vegetables and a variety of fruits, to load yourself up with vibrant vitamins and minerals.”

A few other vegans, all of whom sing the praises of the diet for their athletic performance: Ultimate fighter Mac Danzig, ultramarathonerScott Jurek, Minnesota Twins pitcher Pat Neshek, Atlanta Hawks GuardSalim Stoudamire, and Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez.

And let’s not forget about tennis star Martina Navratilova, six-time Ironman winner Dave Scott, four-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, or Stan Price, the world-record holder in bench press. They are just a few of the successful vegetarian athletes.

Basically, vegans and vegetarians needn’t fret about protein, but many Americans do need to worry about their weight, heart disease, cancer, and other ailments — many of which can be addressed by healthier eating, including a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Vegetarians and vegans get all the nutrients our bodies need from plants, and will thus, according to the science, be more likely to maintain a healthy weight and stave off a variety of ailments, from heart disease to cancer.

For answers to other popular questions about conscious eating, please check out my previous post on the topic here.

Happy eating!

Our Food Sucks And You Know It

Posted in environment, vegetarian by allisonkilkenny on June 12, 2008

Despite being one of the most grotesquely overfed populations in recent memory, Americans remain preoccupied only with the quantity, and not the quality of their food. They don’t mind if scientists inject their French fries with High-Fructose Corn Syrup as long as McDonald’s Super-sizes their order for a nickel.

Yet, the attitude toward Vegetarianism is changing in the United States. While it’s difficult to quantify how many vegetarians live within the borders, it’s easier to observe the attitude towards vegetarians. Twenty years ago, “What’re you, a Commie?” was a more typical response to a confession of Veggie brotherhood. Nowadays, despite the occasional stink eye, meat-eaters at least understand that Vegetarianism is healthy, if not a lifestyle particularly suited for them.

Even though the U.S. is more Veggie-friendly these days, it’s still difficult to avoid crappy food even if one chooses to become a vegan (vegetarian, minus the dairy) as I did six years ago. Despite my decision, I found myself projectile vomiting into my toilet last week. Diagnosis: food-poisoning. Suspect: tomatoes. Unfortunately, becoming a vegetarian or a vegan doesn’t ensure healthiness. Sure, vegetarians enjoy many health perks (low rates of: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, etc.,) but we’re still at the mercy of the meat industry in many ways.

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For starters, the meat industry poisons the environment. A 2006 United Nations report described the devastation caused by the meat industry as “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Aside from global warming, meat production is a large factor in overexploited natural resources, deforestation, wasted land, and air and water contamination.

The water contamination may play a large part in increasing reports of vegetable and fruit contamination. In 2007, a California produce company recalled bagged fresh spinach after a sample tested positive for Salmonella. Nearly a year before, an outbreak of E. coli, in fresh spinach killed 3 people and sickened 200. This week, the tomato Salmonella outbreak has affected at least 145 people, resulting in 23 hospitalizations, and many believe water contamination is the cause of the infected tomatoes.

It’s not the veggies that are to blame. The problem is the meat. Salmonella is an animal pathogen so it doesn’t originate from tomatoes. Most experts agree that the bacteria probably come from groundwater contaminated with animal feces.

You read that right: Cow shit is in your tomatoes. Actually, cow shit is in everything: the water, hamburgers, other plant life, and if one ascribes to the the hippy, New Age belief that we are all one pulsating organism upon Mother Earth, then cow shit is in all of us.

But in a realer, more concrete sense, frenzied production lines coupled with lax management have resulted in a dramatic increase in food-poisoning. The shitty (literally) food is so prevalent that it’s affecting non-meat-eaters. While Salmonella prefers fleshy fruit like tomatoes, our friend E. Coli prefers leafy greens like spinach.

The problem is prevalent. A recent census of produce outbreaks between 1996 and 2007 counted no fewer than 33 epidemics from Salmonella-contaminated fruits and vegetables.

Some scientists claim the cure for Salmonella and E.coli contamination isn’t scrubbing clean the fruits and vegetables because doing so could remove the good bacteria humans rely upon for survival. The solution will come from the government and outraged citizens demanding that the meat industry clean up its practices so fresh produce doesn’t suffer at the hands of hasty slaughter and over-crowded holding pens.

The outrage has already exploded in other parts of the world. While irresponsible butchers poison ground water and otherwise healthy plant life here at home, Americans remain mute about the diseased slabs of meat they’re consistently forced to choose between at their grocery stores. Meanwhile, angry mobs took to the streets of South Korea when their government resumed importing beef from the United States. This wasn’t some kind of fervent anti-American protest, but rather concerned citizens protecting themselves from potential Mad Cow disease.

In America, the only way citizens can protect themselves is to grow their own food or to buy their food from local, trusted farmers, who don’t use chemicals or unethical farming practices. But many poorer, urban citizens have no choice but to buy whatever food is cheap and readily available.

Still, all of this isn’t cause for concern. Unless, of course, citizens are worried about the expanding legion of rotund American children, who despise vegetables, binge-eat bagged chips, and walk only if the landscape slopes down hill. The obesity rate is so wildly out of control that Americans collectively celebrated this year – not when the child population began to lose weight – but when they ceased to get fatter and obesity rates finally plateaued for the first time in 20 years.

Unfortunately, Americans can’t fix their unhealthy eating until supposedly “healthy” food is clean of bacteria originating in diseased cows. Of course, the crazy practices of the meat industry shouldn’t concern citizens… unless they’re worried about global warming. The Environmental Defense reports that if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted it with vegetarian foods, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than a half-million cars off U.S. roads.

In fact, the crazy practices of the meat industry probably won’t rock citizens at all until they find themselves knelt over their toilets, hurling. Right about then, they’ll understand how cow shit affects them all.

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Getting Past the ‘Protein Myth’ That Keeps People from Quitting Meat and Dairy

Posted in veganism, vegetarian by allisonkilkenny on June 3, 2008

Source: Kathy Freston, Huffington Post

The way Americans obsess about protein, you’d think protein deficiency was the number one health problem in America. Of course it’s not.When I tell people that I’m a vegan, the most popular question, by far, inevitably follows: “But, how do you get enough protein?”

There it is again, I think, the meat industry’s most potent weapon against vegetarianism — the protein myth. And it is just that — a myth.

In fact, humans need only 10 percent of the calories we consume to be from protein. Athletes and pregnant women need a little more, but if you’re eating enough calories from a varied plant based diet, it’s close to impossible to not to get enough.

The way Americans obsess about protein, you’d think protein deficiency was the number one health problem in America. Of course it’s not — it’s not even on the list of the ailments that doctors are worried about in America or any other countries where basic caloric needs are being met.

What is on the list? Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity — diseases of affluence. Diseases linked to eating animal products. According to the American Dietetic Association, which looked at all of the science on vegetarian diets and found not just that they’re healthy, but that they “provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

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They continue: “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence … Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.”

Dr. Dean Ornish writes of his Eat More, Weigh Less vegetarian diet — the one diet that has passed peer-review for taking weight off and keeping it off for more than 5 years — that in addition to being the one scientifically proven weight loss plan that works long-term, it “may help to prevent a wide variety of other illnesses including breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, colon cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, and so on ….”

So when people ask me about protein, I explain that protein is not a problem on a vegan diet, that the real problems that are plaguing us in the West can be addressed in part with a vegetarian diet, and that I get my protein the same way everyone else does — I eat!

Beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, and whole grains are packed with protein. So are all vegetables as a caloric percentage, though they don’t have enough calories to sustain most people as a principal source of sustenance. And these protein sources have some excellent benefits that animal protein does not — they contain plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates, where meat has none. That’s right: Meat has no complex carbs at all, and no fiber. Plant proteins are packed with these essential nutrients.

Plus, since plant-based protein sources don’t contain cholesterol or high amounts of saturated fat, they are much better for you than meat, eggs, and dairy products.

It is also worth noting the very strong link between animal protein and a few key diseases, including cancer and osteoporosis.

According to Dr. Ornish
(this may be the most interesting link in this article, by the way — it’s worth reading the entire entry), “high-protein foods, particularly excessive animal protein, dramatically increase the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and many other illnesses. In the short run, they may also cause kidney problems, loss of calcium in the bones, and an unhealthy metabolic state called ketosis in many people.”

The cancer connection is spelled out at length in a fantastic book by Cornell scientist T. Colin Campbell, called The China Study. Basically, there is overwhelming scientific evidence to implicate that animal protein
consumption causes cancer.

And just a few quick anecdotal points:

  • Olympian Carl Lewis has said that his best year of track competition was the first year that he ate a vegan diet (he is still a strong proponent of vegan diets for athletes).
  • Strength trainer Mike Mahler says, “Becoming a vegan had a profound effect on my training. … [M]y bench press excelled past 315 pounds, and I noticed that I recovered much faster. My body fat also went down, and I put on 10 pounds of lean muscle in a few months.”
  • Bodybuilder Robert Cheeke advises, “The basics for nutrition are consuming large amounts of fresh green vegetables and a variety of fruits, to load yourself up with vibrant vitamins and minerals.”

A few other vegans, all of whom sing the praises of the diet for their athletic performance: Ultimate fighter Mac Danzig, ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, Minnesota Twins pitcher Pat Neshek, Atlanta Hawks Guard Salim Stoudamire, and Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez.

And let’s not forget about tennis star Martina Navratilova, six-time Ironman winner Dave Scott, four-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, or Stan Price, the world-record holder in bench press. They are just a few of the successful vegetarian athletes.

Basically, vegans and vegetarians needn’t fret about protein, but many Americans do need to worry about their weight, heart disease, cancer, and other ailments — many of which can be addressed by healthier eating, including a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Vegetarians and vegans get all the nutrients our bodies need from plants, and will thus, according to the science, be more likely to maintain a healthy weight and stave off a variety of ailments, from heart disease to cancer.

For answers to other popular questions about conscious eating, please check out my previous post on the topic here.

Happy eating!

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