If you paid any attention in health class in high school, chances are you have heard the term “complete protein” as well as about protein’s role in daily diet and body functionality. It’s no secret that most animals need a protein source but, as omnivores, it can be difficult for us humans to choose where we get our complete protein.
It is only natural that humans crave meat.
Our bodies understand the nutritional value of meat, along with sugars and fats. Evolution of hunter-gatherers has equipped us to crave and enjoy these energy dense foods due to their scarcity in the wild. Our bodies have not had time to adapt to the abundance that supermarkets provide and the variety of foods available to the average American consumer being at an all-time high.
Most would agree, animal protein is one of the most delicious sources of complete protein that can be achieved with little culinary understanding. Thanks to culture, tradition, and the agricultural revolution, meat is now available on an enormous scale around the world. But when addressing the concern of sustainability, we have to understand feed conversion ratios.
Feed conversion refers to the amount of caloric input required for to produce a specific amount of output. According to the USDA, the most efficient sources of animal protein are milk and eggs and, at the other end of the spectrum, are beef and pork, requiring upwards of 10 times the amount of feed for production, not to mention the arable land required for animal protein versus plant protein.
Also, if the demand for plant protein for human consumption were higher, it would provide a market for nitrogen fixing crops that are often used in crop rotation, but farmers are discouraged from using them due to profit loss. This encourages monocultures to form that deplete the soil at an alarming rate.
In a world with a growing population and more scientific evidence to support the abolition of factory farms as well of the health hazards of relying on animal protein, a large movement is taking place toward less meat consumption and ultimately a more sustainable, healthy and inexpensive future of food.
Modern health science has shown us that plant based proteins are the most nutritious and sustainable in relation to most meat. The governmentally mandated dietary education is constantly changing, but not fast enough. It wasn’t until 2005 that the USDA advised less animal protein consumption on a daily basis. “Vary your protein routine – choose more fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds” (MyPlate.gov).
So, what exactly is a complete protein? A complete protein (or whole protein) is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for the dietary needs of humans or other animals. Most standard servings of meat fit these requirements making them a convenient choice for consumers. But by combining different sources of plant proteins, a healthier, cheaper, and more sustainable option is formed.
Some plant-based sources of protein are complete by themselves. Examples include potatoes, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, cashews, cauliflower, quinoa, pistachios, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, kasha and soy. Certain traditional dishes, such as Mexican beans and corn, Japanese soybeans and rice, Cajun red beans and rice or Indian dal and rice or roti combine legumes with grains to provide a meal that is high in all essential amino acids.
Next time you are shopping for animal protein, think about the little changes you can make to save money and increase your longevity. Change starts with you. If you can’t stand to not eat meat, just reduce your intake by one meatless meal per week. The market will always respond to demand, which is driven by consumer behavior. You have the power to build a brighter future for mankind. The choices you make every day matter the most.
Dan Wood is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.