Protein’s Last Stand

This is yet another of my blog posts about my struggles with my “mostly vegan” eating regimen. I have to put mostly vegan in quotes, because I have never given up eating egg whites and that’s not vegan.

Being on the road for work continues to be a challenge, but even in my daily life, I’m increasingly concerned about not eating enough protein.

Protein, protein, protein.

It’s become an obsession.

Here are some excellent, nutrient dense sources of protein that I consume regularly:

  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Egg Whites (although it is vegetarian, it ain’t vegan by a long shot)
  • Mushrooms (they are higher in protein content, for a vegetable)
  • Nuts & Seeds

Nutritional Yeast Flakes

Hmm, does that seem like a short list? Yeah, it does to me too. (Before you comment about soy and tofu, those are off my list of consumables. You can read previous posts about why, if you’re interested.)

Since I have been on this mostly vegan regimen for about 4-5 months, every once in a while I will fantasize about eating chicken. Possibly crispy fried chicken. Possibly.

No, no… I’m lying. Alright, sometimes I fantasize about eating bacon. I get cravings for a BLT, with mayo. 😦

And a few weeks ago, I was at a diner, looking over the menu, and I’d just sort of had it. I was grumpy about my eating, and hungry and I wanted meat.

So, I ordered a plate of white meat turkey, with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Nothing crazy, but still, it was a moment of feeling like I was crossing over to the dark side.

The plate arrived and I looked at it. It looked fine. It even smelled okay. I tentatively ate a bite of the turkey. It didn’t taste like much, which I figured was for the best. I ate some stuffing, which was good. Then I ate a few more bites of turkey.

And then…

My stomach was like, UH HELLO? WHAT IS THIS, AND WHY ARE YOU FEEDING IT TO ME??

And then it hurt. More than a little. Not a lot… but still, it hurt enough for me to realize I wasn’t going to be able to eat any more turkey. My stomach wouldn’t have been able to handle it.

Later, a friend told me, “Oh, didn’t you know? When you become vegetarian, your body loses the ability to digest meat.”

And I thought… What? That doesn’t seem possible.

Turns out that, NO, you do NOT lose the ability to digest meat, HOWEVER, the levels of digestive enzymes you normally use to digest meat become diminished in your stomach because, guess what, you don’t produce as much of them when you’re not eating meat.

And while I’m not suggesting that I want to jump back into eating meat and being a carnivore, in my travels I found an interesting blog post about re-introducing meat into your diet if you are a vegetarian. http://whole9life.com/2013/02/eating-meat-a-primer-for-the-meat-challenged-2/

The most interesting part of that post, for me, was this:

Consider taking a digestive enzyme. That idea that vegetarians permanently lose the ability to digest meat is bunk, but that’s not to say the first few days of meat eating won’t create some digestive distress. The levels of enzymes that digest protein and fat decrease when you stop eating meat – but they quickly rise again once you ‘get back on the wagon’. However, when your gut is damaged or compromised (like it often is with a diet containing grains, legumes and dairy), a digestive enzyme can help until the gut’s own enzymes come back.

That post also had a link to another, about why it may make sense to take digestive enzymes to support gut health: http://whole9life.com/2012/09/digestive-enzymes-101/

Frankly, this is all way more than I ever wanted to know about how my body functions. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to understand the human condition, but it’s just a lot to try and digest. Bleh.

But let’s get back to the issue at hand: protein.

Since I’m still trying to stick with a mostly vegan eating regimen, that means steak, fried chicken and BLTs are OUT.

But I need to increase my protein consumption, I’ve decided to give vegan sources of protein powder a try.

MLO Brown Rice Protein (powder) 24 oz

I started by purchasing a container of Hemp Protein Powder. What I found is that Hemp Protein Powder is akin to eating concrete. It’s extremely grainy, and not water soluable so it’s not something you want to put in a shake. Also, it takes many scoops of powder to achieve even a 14 gram protein consumption and that’s a lot of grainy, gritty stuff to mix in with oatmeal. Yes, I tried both the shake and the oatmeal.

Brown Rice Protein Powder, on the other hand, is mostly water soluable and two heaping tablespoons of the mixture give you 14 grams of protein. Considering the average adult woman needs 46 grams of protein a day, one shake can provide nearly a third of my daily protein requirement.

I’m not inclined to use the protein powder for more than a third of my daily requirement, so I’m not planning to drink two shakes a day, for instance. I feel I should be getting as many of my nutrients everyday from whole food sources, not supplements.

For right now I have decided not to use a digestive enzyme to bolster my digestive tract, although I have apparently already depleted the “normal” levels of digestive enzymes as evidenced by my tummy’s reaction to a few bites of turkey. THAT said, I have begun eating candied ginger after some of my meals because ginger is a natural food that assists with digestion. (Papaya and pineapple also help, in case you were wondering.) Another way to assist the gut is to take a probiotic supplement, which is a few million bacteria packed into a pill that helps ensure healthy bacteria colonies thrive in the gut.

However, ALL of these changes in my eating patterns have been – as far as I’m concerned – an experiment. IF I am unable to sustainably continue to be “mostly vegan,” I may, after continued experimentation, determine that I need to go back to eating meat.

Or not.

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