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I am not a vegetarian because I love animals;
I am a vegetarian because I hate plants.

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10 Great Vegetarian Sources of Protein

By Joe Wilkes

Anyone who's read the latest studies about high-protein diets knows that we need to get a substantial amount of protein in our diets—about a third of a gram for every pound of body weight (see Steve Edwards' analysis in last week's article, "The Best Diet for Weight Loss," in Related Articles below). One of the best and most readily available sources of protein comes from animals, but there are a lot of good reasons to think about cutting back or cutting out our consumption of meat to satisfy our protein needs.

Aside from the obvious animal-rights issues, there are several economic and environmental considerations to consider. The USDA estimates that it takes roughly 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. When you consider that one-third of the world's population is classified by the World Health Organization as starving, it's easy to see where some of that grain could be put to better use. Beef production also impacts the ecosystem, from the clear-cutting of rainforests for grazing to water pollution to methane emissions, which contribute to greenhouse gases. And the cost of meat to your personal health is also significant. Although packed with protein, many meat choices contain high levels of saturated fats, the overconsumption of which can lead to heart disease and cancer.

Grain, Cows, and a Starving Child

At any rate, this article isn't designed to be a polemic about the benefits of vegetarian living. Picking up a book like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, not to mention any of the vast Internet resources available on the subject, might convince you to replace meat with an alternative protein source a couple of meals a week.

The challenge in going vegetarian is finding enough "high-quality" protein. High-quality protein is defined as protein that contains all eight of the essential amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Most meat sources have all of the amino acids in one place. Plant sources usually have some of the acids, but not all in one place. So the key is combining foods to get a full complement of amino acids. Here are some of the top places to get your proteins (vegans, skip to #3). We'll skip soy for the time being—to read more about the good and the bad of soy, scroll down to Steve Edwards' article in this newsletter.

  1. EggsEggs. Egg protein is commonly referred to as a "perfect protein" as it contains all the essential amino acids. There's a reason Rocky drank them during training; they contribute greatly to muscle recovery. One egg contains 6 grams of protein, with only 80 calories and 5 grams of fat. It also contains over 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol, which is high, but dietary cholesterol isn't the same thing as blood cholesterol. In fact, some eggs are now produced with high levels of omega-3s (achieved by adding fatty-acid-rich seeds to the hens' diets), which can actually aid in the lowering of blood cholesterol levels.

  2. MilkDairy. One cup of 2 percent milk contains 8 grams of protein, only 5 grams of fat (3 of which are saturated), and about 120 calories. Switch to skim milk and you get just as much protein, no fat, and 30 percent fewer calories. An ounce of Swiss cheese also has 8 grams of protein but also 8 grams of fat (with 5 grams saturated) and a little over 100 calories. Nonfat yogurt may be your best option with 14 grams of protein and only 137 calories for a cup, or cottage cheese, which boasts 28 grams of protein in one cup. Many dairy products still have the same saturated-fat issues as meat and not all people can tolerate dairy well; some are even allergic or lactose-intolerant.

  3. PeasLegumes. If you read my article on fiber a couple of weeks ago (see "8 Fantastic Fibrous Foods" in Related Articles below), you already know some of the great health benefits of legumes. Not only are they high in fiber, they're high in protein, too. A cup of chickpeas has about 17 grams of protein, a cup of lentils has about 16 grams of protein, and a tablespoon of peanut butter has about 4 grams of protein. Some people blame beans for intestinal distress. It actually isn't the fiber in the beans that causes gas but a sugar that requires an enzyme to be digested, which humans lack. When soaking beans, add a pinch of baking soda to the water. It will help leach out the sugar from the beans, making you less gassy after eating them. Also, to avoid the sugar, don't cook the beans in their soaking water. Aside from that, if you weren't much of a bean eater before, add them into your diet slowly to give your system time to get used to them.

  4. Whole-Grain BreadGrains. Usually, we think of grains as carbs, but when we're talking whole grains, they actually have a fair amount of protein. A cup of barley, for example, contains almost 20 grams of protein. A cup of buckwheat flour contains 15 grams of protein. A cup of couscous (dry) contains 22 grams of protein. A cup of oats for oatmeal provides you with 13 grams of protein. If you always choose whole-grain varieties of your favorite grains, you'll also get most of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of fiber as well. But carb-watchers should beware; whole grains are the "carbiest" of the protein sources available.

  5. NutsNuts and seeds. The mighty almond, which also has the most fiber per ounce of any of the common nuts, also has the most protein—6 grams per ounce. But almonds also have 16 grams of fat per ounce; however, only one gram of that fat is the unhealthy saturated kind. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, have 7 grams of protein per ounce (about 140 seeds) with 13 grams of fat (2 grams saturated). Other seeds, like sunflower and flax, are also good, with about 5 grams of protein per ounce.

  6. SeitanSeitan. Seitan is a meat substitute made from processed wheat gluten. Popular for centuries in Asia, it has gained in popularity in America in the past few decades but is still largely only available in health-food markets. It's not very flavorful, which makes it an ideal ingredient for replacing meat in any dish—it will assume the flavor of the sauce or spices you use. Many Asian dishes use it as mock pork, chicken, or beef. Just three ounces of setian contain 20 grams of protein, almost twice as much steak, and only 2 grams of fat and 130 calories. Try it in a stir-fry—you might fool your family!

  7. QuornQuorn. Quorn is a fungus-based protein source that has only been available for about 25 years or so. It is processed into different forms and flavors, like hot dogs, burgers, and faux chicken nuggets. Three ounces of Quorn, depending on how it's prepared, can have 10 to 16 grams of protein, and low fat and calorie contents. Like seitan and other meat substitutes, the sodium content bears keeping an eye on; it's usually the go-to ingredient when disguising the origin of a meat substitute. Also, there have been some reports of people with allergic reactions to Quorn, so it may be worth checking with your doctor to see if you're susceptible.

  8. Nutritional YeastNutritional yeast. This is an additive that can be used in recipes. It's very popular in Europe and Australia and gaining popularity in America. It has a slight cheesy flavor and can be added to shakes, soups, and sauces or used as a substitute for Parmesan cheese or as a popcorn or garlic-bread topping. It's especially rich in B vitamins. A two-tablespoon serving has 8 grams of protein (and is a complete protein, containing all amino acids), only one gram of unsaturated fat, and 50 calories.

  9. SpirulinaSpirulina. Also known as blue-green algae, this has been a food source for centuries in Africa and South America. It has a lot of vitamins and minerals and is a complete protein. One ounce of dried spirulina contains 16 grams of protein, only 2 grams of fat, and 81 calories. Algae aren't the most appetizing foodstuffs, and much of spirulina is consumed in pill form or mixed into super-green drinks (like Beachbody's upcoming Shakeology™ drink). But it can also be used powdered or fresh in dips, salads, and sauces. There are a lot of message boards and recipe ideas on the Internet posted by enthusiasts.

  10. QuinoaAmaranth and quinoa. These are often referred to as "pseudograins." Both are actually seeds but are similar to grains in texture and flavor. Both are complete proteins, containing all eight essential amino acids, and have high levels of fiber and minerals. Amaranth can be used as flour, puffed into breakfast cereal, or cooked into soups and stir-frys. One ounce has 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and 105 calories. Quinoa can also be used for breakfast cereal and, when boiled, makes an excellent substitute for rice or couscous. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, and 222 calories.

And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the greatest protein substitute of them all, Beachbody's own Whey Protein Powder! (Come on, what'd you pay for this newsletter?) With 18 grams of protein in every scoop, and available in chocolate and vanilla flavors, it's a great addition to your health shake, containing the highest concentration of branched-chain amino acids of any source, critical for muscle development. Also, if you're thinking of cutting back on fish in your diet, you might want to consider adding a decent omega-3 supplement to your regimen.

Related Articles
"The Best Diet for Weight Loss"
"8 Fantastic Fibrous Foods"
"Salt: Taste Bud Thriller or Silent Killer"


Joe WilkesIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Soy: 10 Questions Answered

By Steve Edwards

Soy took another hit last week when a study was released showing that eating half a serving a day could lower a man's sperm count. Over the last few decades, soy has usurped many traditional crops and has been an ever-increasing part of our daily diets. The latest finding is just another in what seems to be an ever-growing list of health concerns surrounding soy. But, we still regularly see headlines promoting soy as a miracle food, so it's hard to know whether or not it's healthy. We analyzed the latest claims and concerns, and came up with a list of the top ten questions you might have about soy.

Soy Products

  1. Do we eat too much of it? In a word: Yes. Whether it's healthy or not, soy is being forced down our throats a lot more than we know. The U.S. is the largest producer of soybeans in the world, so there's a lot of money there to spend on ways to tell us how good it is for us. But even if it is good, that's no reason to eat nothing else. Americans eat more soy than anyone else in the world, with some people getting upwards of 60 percent of their protein from it. This is because it's in a lot more than tofu these days. The food industry has developed so many creative uses for soy that it's now found in paints, glues, and bug sprays. And food. A lot of it. Soy, in some form or another, is on the label of hundreds of varieties of processed foods, which, by most accounts, seems to be the real problem.

  2. Healthy AsianBut haven't healthy Asians been living on it for years? This is the marketing hoopla, for sure, beginning with the dubious claim that all Asians are healthy. Either way, however, soy plays only a partial role in their diets. A 1990 study from Cornell University concluded that the average Chinese diet consisted of between 0 and 58 grams of soy a day, with the average being 13 grams—about half an ounce. This is not insignificant, but it's a long way from being 60 percent of their protein consumption.

  3. Are all types of soy the same? Not exactly. You don't need a nutrition expert to point out that there might be a difference between an unprocessed soybean and bug spray. But soy is now found in foods from all over the tiers of Michi's Ladder, and it can be found on Tier 1 or Tier 5. For example, natto—a Japanese dish of fermented soy—nearly always shows up on lists of the world's healthiest foods. But soy chips are, well, fried crispy things devoid of nutrition, no matter what the base ingredient is. The rule with soy should be the same as the rule with most other foods; the closer it is to nature, the better. This means that edamame and miso are likely to be healthier than soy milk, soy cheese, soy burgers, and soy ice cream.

  4. Concerned About CancerCan it cause cancer? Forget sperm count; let's first find out if it's going to kill me! The risk of breast cancer due to soy intake has proliferated on the Internet since a 2001 Canadian study and a 2006 California study suggested that women with a high risk of breast cancer be mindful about the amount of soy they consume. This was due to isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen, a chemical produced in plants that acts like estrogen when introduced into animal bodies. The isoflavones scare has caused both Israel and Great Britain to issue warnings recommending that females under the age of 18 limit their soy consumption.

  5. Can it prevent cancer? On the flip side, there's a lot of research showing that soy isoflavones might help prevent cancer, along with hot flashes, osteoporosis, and brain aging. According to Mark Messina, an associate professor at Loma Linda University who has worked with the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, and now consults as a soy expert, it seems far more likely that soy prevents rather than causes cancer. "There is very exciting data indicating [that] early soy consumption reduces breast cancer risk," says Messina. "There have been four epidemiologic studies that have looked at this relationship. The latest study, from the National Cancer Research Institute, found that women who consumed the most amount of soy at 5 to 11 years old were 58 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who consumed less soy."

  6. Obese MaleIs it making us sterile? Back to the original scare piece, we see that even small amounts of soy consumption can lead to a reduced sperm count. Researchers at Harvard concluded that eating only half a serving per day (about the same as the Chinese, who haven't seemed to have problems) lowers sperm concentrations and "may play a role" in male infertility. However, moving past the headlines, we see that no males in the study were infertile due to soy and that the much larger culprit in the study was obesity. Obesity can cause sterility. There is no evidence that soy can or will.

  7. Is it making us fat? One soy fact is clear: It's not making us fat. Soy's popularity, in fact, came from the fact that it's a very good source of protein and omega-3 and, unlike animal protein, is far less likely to make us fat. In 1989, the FAO/WHO developed the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score, a method of measuring protein values in human nutrition. Eggs, milk, and soy all score a 1.0, the best possible. Beef scores .92 and peanuts score .52. Additionally, soy's fat is mainly omega-3, making it an excellent substitute for meat, which is high in saturated fat.

  8. FatigueIsn't an allergy to soy likely? Soy is one of the top eight allergens, along with milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and wheat. This is due to its 12-protein structure. While it's not likely that you're allergic to soy, its symptoms can be subtle and hard to distinguish, like sore muscles or general fatigue. Also, it's in so many foods that it can be difficult for those with soy allergies to eat a balanced diet, or to even know they're eating it at all. Soy is often found in baked goods, canned tuna, cereals, crackers, sauces, soups, some peanut butters, and infant formula. Avoidance takes a lot of attention.

  9. What is soy lecithin? It seems to be in everything! Soy lecithin is a waste product that comes from the manufacturing of soybeans and is used in many different products. Its main use is as an emulsifier in junk foods, but it's also used, in part, for many supplements. It's been linked to many health benefits and some things less beneficial. It's debatable whether it's a health benefit or a danger, but a bad batch was linked to a recent Hershey recall and plant closure in 2006. Even if it proves to be healthy, as studies suggest, soy lecithin still needs to be considered when determining your soy intake.

  10. Soy PodsSo why risk eating soy at all? And if I do, how much should I eat? There is no denying that soy can be a healthy part of your diet, unless you happen to be allergic to it. Its macronutrient profile is exceptional. It's a great protein and fat source. It's been linked to improved cardiovascular health, and the isoflavones have myriad benefits associated with them. All the negative research seems to be linked to excessive amounts. It's only what is deemed excessive that is debated. Messina states, "I don't believe there is evidence that exceeding these amounts is harmful," in regards to a 25-gram-per-day recommendation. The Chinese study showed nothing but health benefits associated with the consumption of 13 grams per day, on average, but participants also ate up to 58 grams per day. It would make sense to recommend a serving or two of soy per day, provided it comes from natural sources. The trick is learning about the foods wherein soy is hidden, which will take some label reading and a little bit of probing.

Related Articles
"Food for Thought (Literally)"
"The Down-Low on Dairy"
"10 Urban Food Myths"


Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.


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Test Your Peach IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

August is National Peach Month. How well do you know your peach facts?

  1. RoseWhat popular flower family is the peach a part of? The peach is related to the rose family. However, giving someone a dozen peaches on an anniversary has been met with mixed results.

  2. How many bushels of peaches does Georgia produce annually? Georgia produces slightly less than 3 billion bushels of peaches every year. The United States is the world leader in peach production, supplying over 20 percent of the world's peaches.

  3. Freestone PeachHow did the cling peach get its name? The cling peach is so named because the flesh of the peach is more attached or "clings" to the pit. Freestone peaches pull away easily from the pit.

  4. What vitamins are peaches particularly high in? Peaches are high in vitamins A, C, and E, as well as dietary fiber. And at 35 to 70 calories a peach, they make sweet and healthy snacks.

  5. Roald DahlWho wrote James and the Giant Peach? Roald Dahl, the British author of another popular "sweet" children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Check out the 1996 film version of James and the Giant Peach directed by Henry Selick.


If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Total number of Reviews: 15
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"what about egg beaters- low fa, high protein"

– Gus, East Providence, RI

"Eggs and dairy are from animals and not vegetarian. We recommend spending a day on a farm to learn about food sources."

– J S Alexander, Santa Monica, CA

"Great article about soy...but, don't forget the dangers of soy consumption on the thyroid. There are many links on the web, just look up soy and thyroid, and check it out."

– MJ Williams, La Mirada, CA

"What about soy..."

– Sue, Pembroke Pines, FL

"Eggs and dairy are indeed from animals. There are many variations of vegetarianism, but for the most common vegetarian eggs and dairy are suitable, but not for vegans. If you choose a vegan diet and lifestyle, then you do not consume any type of dairy, meat, animal by products, or even products produced from animal labor such as honey. Thats a tough one since I love honey in my coffee."

– Terry Majamaki, Beverly Hills, CA

"I have hypothyroidism, and have been told that soy should be avoided with any thyroid problem. Has this been confirmed or is it just a myth"

– Tracy, Prescott, AZ

"According to my naturopath and several articles I have read, there is a difference between protein content and available protein which is the amount of protein that the body can absorb from food. For instance, many grains have quite a bit of protein but much of it is not available for absorbtion by humans due the the relatively quick way human body processes food. Can you comment."

– Frances, Portland, OR

"I heard a report last week on NPR that there are a couple studies to suggest a link between tofu and alzheimer's. I have found several references to this including on the UKs Alzheimers Research Trust site. As mentioned on your page, I think eating as non-processed food as possible is the best bet."

– Frances, Portland, OR

"Hemp is an excellent source of vegetable protein also"

– Bill Wachter, Pgh, PA

"Thanks for the article, I have been a Vegan and latley a Vegeterian for the past 12 months, I still learned from your article and will now include other items to get my protein needs met. I feel a large part of my weight gain is due overating carbs, beacuase I am hungry likely because I am not meeting my protein needs. Thanks again this will help me so much."

"In response to JS. The term vegitarian is applied to a Person of a certain diet. The author said vegitarian protein sources. Vegitarians consume eggs and dairy, therefore a legitimate protein source. Maybe you should spend a day with a dictionary."

– Vegitarian and can read, Chicago, IL

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