Getting enough protein seems to be an elusive goal that we are all trying our best to reach everyday. I get quite a few panic stricken emails from ladies wondering how on earth they are going to get enough protein from the MS diet. I mean, how is it even possible without meat and dairy! I can sense the hopeless worry in their tone and try to show them that their daily protein requirements can be more than fulfilled by eating the foods on the MS diet. Meat can be replaced by a variety of foods including fish, nuts, vegetables and even fruit! Milk can be replaced by almond, rice or coconut milk. Cheese can even be replaced by making cashew cheese. I have even come across coconut yoghurt. Expensive but a nice treat every now and then when those yoghurt cravings start creeping up on you!
I must say that I don't miss meat in the least! I really thought I would develop serious cravings for a tender fillet of beef or stir-fried chicken. However, I am not tempted to eat them at all! My body is getting all it needs from fish, vegetables, nuts and grains. Why would I need to eat meat? On the other hand, I do still miss dairy sometimes. All the cheeses and ice creams that I used to adore are no longer available and there are times that this bothers me. However, knowing how they will make me feel when I eat them and the thought of my MS progressing, puts any temptations out of my mind. Eating any of these foods equals a few hours of MS fatigue for me! At times like these, I find an MS Diet alternative that is going to help me keep feeling great. Usually it's a handful of mixed nuts or a rice cake smothered in olive oil. Or, it's my absolute favourite snack, Pecan, Oat and Maple Balls.
In this post, I would briefly just like to run through the MS diet alternatives to meat and dairy. But first, let's take a closer look at this amazing collection of molecules called protein and why it is essential for our bodies.
Protein, the Body's Bricks and Mortar
We cannot survive without protein. Proteins are intricately complex chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. These strings of amino acids are then folded into complicated shapes to create millions of very important body components. The DNA double helix is a familiar example of a protein. Other examples of life giving proteins are hormones, enzymes, haemoglobin (blood) and muscles. Proteins are also essential for the body structure. Bone forms in a protein matrix. Other structural proteins include collagen, cartilage, elastin and keratin that forms the skin. As you can see, protein is essential for life! However, we need to make sure that we are eating the right proteins so that our bodies thrive.
Sources of Protein
The main source of protein is our diet. We get protein from animals and plants. They are then broken down into their amino acid components and then rebuilt into our body proteins. This is called protein digestion and then protein synthesis. Different foods contain different levels of proteins. There are three classes: concentrated protein foods, medium protein foods and low protein foods. What is so interesting is that pretty much all foods, including fruit and vegetables contain some level of protein. This means that even on a vegan or vegetarian diet, you will still be getting all the protein you need. For the sake of this article, I am only going to be referring to proteins allowed on the MS diet.
Concentrated Protein Foods
These are foods which contain 20% of protein or more. Most of them are complete proteins which means that they contain a good balance of all of the essential amino acids that our bodies need. Our bodies require at least 22 amino acids for health and well-being. Of these, 10 or so are called ‘essential’. This means we need to ingest them in our diet. We don’t need to eat the other 12 or so, because our bodies can convert the essential ones into these.
- Wild Salmon: 1 cup = 35.89g protein. Stick to smaller fish that are less likely to be contaminated with mercury. Avoid Tuna.
- Sardines: 1 cup = 45g protein
- Nuts and nut butters: these must be raw and unsalted. Avoid peanuts if you are excluding legumes.
- Almonds: 1 cup = 24g protein (clear winner among the nuts.)
- Pecan nuts: 1 cup = 9g protein
- Cashew Nuts: 1 cup = 18g protein
- Hazelnuts: 1 cup = 17g protein
- Chia Seeds: 15g (2 tablespoons) = 3g protein. Not only high in omega 3, these little seeds pack a powerful protein punch!
- Flaxseeds (Milled): 15g (2 tablespoons) = 3g protein
- Quinoa: 1 cup cooked = 8g protein. It contains all of the essential amino acids and loads of good old fibre.
Medium Protein Rich Foods
These contain 6 to 14% protein and are considered incomplete proteins. This means they should be combined with other protein foods to provide complete protein. They all contain different amino acids but when combined, they could give you a complete set of essential amino acids. This is why it is important to eat a variety of foods and not just stick to your tried and tested favourites.
- Rice: 1 cup of cooked rice = an average of 4g of protein, depending on the variety you use.
- Oats (gluten free is best): In a 30g serving there is 3.3g of protein.
- Millet: 1 cup of cooked millet = 6g of protein.
- White Potatoes (skin on): 1 large potato = 6g protein
- Buckwheat: 1 cup = 22.5g protein
- Corn: 1 cup = 5g
- Spinach: 1 cup = 5g protein ( Wow!)
- Avocado: 1 medium = 4g protein
Low Protein Foods
These include fruits, vegetables and juices and contain less than 5% protein.These foods are brilliant sources of protein. Because you will be eating so many of them on the MS diet, they will add up to provide a pretty impressive amount of protein.
- Guava: 1 cup = 4g protein
- Dates: 1 cup = 3g protein
- Broccoli: 1 cup = 2.5g protein
- Cauliflower: 1 cup = 2g protein
- Zucchini: 1 cup = 1.5g protein
- Kale: 1 cup = 2.2g protein
- Rocket/Arugula: 1 cup = 2g protein
- Tomato: 1 medium tomato = 1g protein
- Butternut: 1 cup = 1.7g
- Carrot: 1 cup = 1.19g protein
- Sweet Potato: 1 inch long potato = 2g protein
- Banana: 1 medium banana = 1.3g protein
- Apple: 1 medium apple = 0.36g protein
- Strawberries: 1 cup = 1g protein
- Blackberries: 1 cup = 2g protein
- Mango: 1 cup = 1g protein
- Pineapple: 1 cup = 0.89g protein
Comparing Protein Content of Plant and Animal Sources
In his book, The China Study, Dr Campbell looks at the difference in the protein content between a mixture of plant sources and a mixture of animal sources. Here is what he discovered:
- Plants (500 Calories): Equal parts of tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas and potatoes = 33g protein
- Animals (500 Calories) Equal parts of beef, pork. chicken and whole milk = 34g protein
As I'm sure you can see, there is only a difference of one measly little gram in the protein content of these foods. Protein is protein , no matter where it comes from. Yes, sure you will have to eat a lot more of the plant based foods to get the same amount of protein as animal sources would provide but this is what we want anyway, don't we? Especially when we want to reduce or even eradicate the effects of Multiple Sclerosis
Summing It Up
Changing your diet is an investment into your present and future health. The research is clear. The more animal protein we consume, as a society, the sicker we are going to get. Making the big switch takes a complete adjustment in thinking. You need to believe that you are going to get more than enough protein by sticking to the food that heal, mentioned above. This is not only important for slowing down your MS progression but for preventing the development of other diseases. Get your family involved in this too. They also need to realise what too much animal protein can do to their bodies. Start off with one night week where no animal protein is present. Some people do 'Meat Free Mondays'. If you don't know what to cook each, get some inspiration from the Meal Packs on offer. There is a new meal plan with recipes each week that covers all seven days. I'm also here to help you adjust to this new way of life and with any other avenue of Multiple Sclerosis support.
I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts on this! Please leave me a comment if you have time.
Health Alternatives. http://www.health-alternatives.com/fruit-nutrition-chart.html
The China Study. T Colin Campbell, PHD & Tomas M. Campbell II, MD. 2006
The Importance of Protein. Lawrence Wilson, MD. http://drlwilson.com/Articles/PROTEIN2.htm