Beans are usually mentioned in relation to protein for those consuming a plant-based diet. The concept of a “first-class” or “complete” protein dies hard. This focus on meat protein as being superior deflects the issue away from the simple fact that all plants contain protein. It would be more accurate to call animal protein as “secondhand” protein.
Most plants and microorganisms can synthesize all twenty of the standard amino acids that are needed. Animals, including humans, are unable to synthesize all the amino acids and so must obtain some of them from their diet. Any amino acids that are needed and cannot be synthesized are referred to as “essential” amino acids. Humans need to obtain eight amino acids exclusively from the food they eat.
Some plants contain all the essentials, including quinoa, buckwheat, soybeans, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. Combining rice with beans is one of the most popular combinations and is used in one form or another in many cultures. The key is to consume a variety of plant foods and to include both whole grains and beans on a regular basis. This is because, while all plant foods contain some of the essential amino acids, there are only a few that contain all.
Dietary diversity allows the body to construct protein as it is needed. That is why the grains and beans are part of the foundation in the Human Ecology Diet.
Kidney beans, being a major source of protein, provide all the basic forms of amino acids. Studies have revealed that the darker the color of the skin of the beans, the higher the antioxidant content. They are high in fiber, magnesium, iron, and copper.
Adzuki beans are small and compact shiny red beans that are lower in fat and oil than other beans. Adzuki beans are easier to digest than most beans, and in Asia, they are thought to strengthen the kidneys. It’s a great source of magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, fiber, manganese, and B vitamins, such as niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin.
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) have a wonderful nutty taste and creamy texture when cooked. These are wonderful to use in bean dishes combined with sweet vegetables or corn, as well as in soups and stews. The choline in chickpeas helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat, and reduces
Pinto beans are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other beans. In addition to lowering cholesterol, pinto beans’ high-fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as brown rice, pinto beans provide virtually fat-free, high-quality protein. But this is far from all pinto beans have to offer. Pinto beans are a very good source of folate and protein, vitamin B1, and vitamin B6, as well as the minerals copper, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.
Lentils are an ancient legume that comes in many varieties, from common brown-green to red to yellow to lentils Le Puy (a tiny sweet French variety, which is great in salads). Very high in protein and minerals and with a full-bodied, peppery taste, lentils are good in everything from stews and soups to salads and side dishes. Low in calories and high in nutrition, lentils are the perfect legume to eat in summer salads and to make delicious soups and stews for the colder months of winter.
Soya beans are always mentioned as the most efficient way to achieve the full complement of amino acids. In the Far East, they have proved a life-saving crop for many centuries. There is a huge difference between the ways that soy foods have been traditionally used in Asia compared to their more recent use in the West. Using the Western approach to nutritional science, the soybean was recognized as a valuable source of protein but not really studied in terms of its normal dietary use.
This has stimulated a commercial rush to put soy into anything and call it a “health food.” Soy is now found in a variety of products, such as soy milk, soy yogurt, imitation meat products, and as a filler in many standard grocery products. It is also a popular source of feed for animals.
Fermented Soy Foods
Vegetarian diets and other plant-based approaches to nutrition were common in Asia, and they developed simple food technologies to create healthy foods from vegetable sources. The benefits of the soybean were prized—but only when processed, mostly through fermentation. Foods like miso paste, tempeh, soya sauce, natto, and a wide variety of soy foods were developed. These foods are unique and very valuable. The process of fermentation makes the nutrients more bioavailable. It is important to note that these foods are used in relatively small amounts in the daily diet.
Without fermentation, soy is more difficult to digest. This is especially true with children, and it should not be given to infants as a formula to replace mother’s milk. This is because of the concentration of protein in these formulas. Since the baby is only getting their protein in the form of this concentrated soy, the phytoestrogens present a problem. In this concentrated form, they are several times higher than for adults who are eating soy foods.
Miso, for example, is a nourishing, high-energy whole food that helps maintain health and vitality. The same enzymes that help with fermentation during the making of miso can also help with digestion of a meal that includes miso and can even destroy substances in food that cause food allergies. Miso also acts like a digestive tonic, and once established in the intestine, the acid loving bacteria (found in abundance in unpasteurized miso) promote health and stamina.
The fermentation process creates the probiotic bacteria (the “good bacteria”) that your gut requires—such as lactobacilli, which has been shown to increase the availability, quantity, digestibility, and absorption of nutrients in the body. Nutritional researchers agree that—rather than specific nutrient content—it is the cultured soy medium that is responsible for fermented soy’s health benefits.
Miso has long been suspected to be one of the most significant influences in the high levels of health among the Japanese. Miso is a probiotic, a living ingredient. Miso’s lactic-acid bacteria help to maintain a healthy digestive system. A 2003 report that followed 21,852 Japanese women for ten years showed that eating three bowls (or more) of miso soup every day reduced breast cancer risk by one-half.
Studies report that regular miso consumption may reduce the risk of liver and breast cancer by 50% to 54%. The breast-cancer protection appears especially beneficial for postmenopausal women. In an extensive review of over one hundred experimental and epidemiological studies, the Journal of Toxicologic Pathology identified miso as being helpful in the suppression of cancer tumors, the lowering of blood pressure, and even resistance to radiation damage.
Plants Are Protein Rich
Obtaining adequate protein in our diet is certainly not a problem. Concentrated protein-rich foods have been made for centuries in Asia. None of them require extensive processing, and none of them taste like meat. They do not fit the bill if you are trying to pretend you still eat meat but don’t want to feel somehow deprived. The food industry has taken soy in many forms and manufactured it to have “meaty” or “cheesy” flavors.
The issue of meat substitutes brings up issues that go deeper than simply the providing of a tasty treat. It speaks to our attitudes about what we eat, some potent mythologies of nutritional science, and our place in nature. They are issues that I believe are important for anyone who is vegan, macrobiotic, or would label themselves an environmentalist. For decades, the whole topic of eating animal products or to avoid them has revolved around two issues: nutritional need and pleasure. When the issue of nutritional need is debunked, the default setting is “But I love meat.” It is a sensory, emotional, and often sentimental attachment.
Since increasing numbers of people have come to the conclusion that meat is not a good choice, this decision invariably affects social and personal habits. What if you like the taste of meat? What if you like the texture of meat? What if you simply like the idea of meat? Food science is on the way to your door with a wonderful resolution to your concerns: fake meat. Pretend meat, pretend milk, and pretend cheese is flooding the marketplace.
Soy protein isolate is a favorite ingredient in artificial soy meat substitutes. Soy burgers, soy sausages, and lunch meats are mostly touted as healthy replacements for meat. The problem is that the products are made from soybeans (usually GMO) that have had all the fat removed and washed in a chemical bath or water to remove the natural sugars and fiber.
A company called Beyond Meat recently caught the eye of the multibillionaire Bill Gates. The young entrepreneur who started the company is busy cranking out all sorts of fake meat in his factory. He outlined his idea in an interview with Business Insider magazine.
“Meat is well understood in terms of its core parts, as well as its architecture. Meat is basically five things: amino acids, lipids, and water, plus some trace minerals and trace carbohydrates. These are all things that are abundant in non-animal sources and in plants.”
Here we are again in the “food as a chemical delivery system” world. So far, they have manufactured artificial chicken (it tastes just like chicken) and beef in his new facilities in Southern California. The prevalence of these foods is a clear indication of our addiction to “junk food.” If we are concerned that the junk is either environmentally damaging or unhealthy, we simply try to make what seems to be a “healthier” junk replacement. The quality differences are often marginal, and the irony escapes us.
Another option soon coming to a market near you is SuperMeat. This is a science-fictional product that takes animal stem cells and “grows meat muscle and fat” in the lab. The cells are placed in a “meat growing environment,” and the product is said to taste just like the real thing since it is simply artificially grown meat without being attached to any particular animal. It is developed by animal cells and nourished by an animal serum.
The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology did a study on the carbon footprint of various protein-source meals. What they discovered was that a meal using peas as the major protein required a fraction of the energy required to produce the same calories as pork. When they compared peas that were processed into a “pea burger,” the footprint was roughly equal to a pork-chop.
These products are being marketed as a solution to the “meat problem.” But we don’t have a meat problem. We have a human problem. It is a problem that goes to the source of our relationship with planet Earth. Do we feel that we need meat at some level, or do we really need to alter our thinking and accept the fact that nature provides our needs without superficial improvements? We seem determined to meddle with the laws of nature to suit invented social habits. It’s good to remember that nature knows best.
Occupy The Food Supply
Claiming a new relationship with nature and all life is revolutionary and transformative, the rejection of consumerism is part of it. It is within our power to occupy the food supply and reduce our reliance on an industry that separates us from the simple pleasures of choosing real food, local food, and foods grown in living soil. So who needs fake meat? Nobody.
Tempeh is a good example of a natural protein-rich food. It is made by using a controlled fermentation process that binds hulled, cooked soybeans into a cake form. Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is still a staple there. The beans are mixed with a mold spore starter and incubated for two days. The white mycelium of the Rhizopus vegetable mold keeps the soybean packed together to form a sliceable cake. As a result of the fermentation process, the soy protein in tempeh becomes more digestible. Tempeh is fiber-rich and a healthy source of vegetable protein, minerals, and
Tempeh is low in saturated fat and contains a generous source of B vitamins, iron, calcium, and lecithin, plus essential polyunsaturates such as linoleic acids. These acids are important because they help emulsify, disperse, and eliminate cholesterol deposits and other fatty acids that frequently accumulate in and around vital organs and throughout the bloodstream. Tempeh is always cooked before eating; you can steam, boil, bake, or sauté it. You can enjoy it with a wide variety of grains, vegetables, or noodles—or use it in soups, salads, and sandwiches. It is a very versatile addition to a healthy diet.
Tofu is a staple food that has been eaten throughout Asia for the past two thousand years. Tofu is known for its good nutritional and culinary versatility. It has a cheese-like quality and is laboriously made by curdling “milk” made from boiled soybeans with a natural coagulant. It’s notorious for its bland taste, but tofu blends with and absorbs flavors from other foods. Rich in B vitamins and a vegetable protein source, tofu is often portrayed as a cheese substitute. Tofu is taken traditionally with miso soup as a meal, but it’s perfectly fine to use in the occasional dessert or marinated patties. Always buy a brand that is made from organic whole soya beans and nigari.
Nigari is a naturally occurring, mineral-rich coagulant produced after removing sodium chloride from salt. The base of nigari is magnesium chloride, which is an alkalizing mineral vital for the proper functioning of the cells in our body. It also has numerous other beneficial mineral salts in abundance, such as potassium chloride and calcium chloride. Tofu is an excellent protein source and has all the eight amino acids.
The growing popularity of soy products has led to controversy about their health and safety. These concerns have been raised by some, who lobby to a diet reliant on animal protein, regarding the presence of phytoestrogens. The phytoestrogen compounds can mimic the hormone estrogen because of their similar structure, and they can inhibit the function of naturally occurring estrogen in the body.
What is seldom pointed out is that plant estrogens are a thousand times weaker than the estrogen produced in our bodies. They are only significant if they are eaten in amounts that would never be part of a normal diet. What has been shown in the bulk of soy research is that it is helpful in preventing some cancers and other serious health issues. When using these soy foods, it is always good to read the labels and use only products that are certified organic and made with non-GMO beans.