Proteins, one of the most essential elements found in our food, is, despite all the discussion that has been going on about it for a great many years, still the subject of great controversy. There is still a great deal of confusion as to which foods supply the best type of protein for optimum nutrition, and there is still much disagreement about the quantity we need for health and well-being.
We have pointed out that meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, soybeans, nuts, and, to a lesser extent, fruits and green vegetables are high quality or complete protein foods. The grains, maize or corn, and the legumes also provide protein, but of a kind less complete, of poorer quality.
When we talk of a complete protein we talk of a protein that contains all the amino acids or building stones needed for complete nourishment. There is a total of 2o-odd amino acids, and out of these xo are basic and must be supplied in our food for growth and the rebuilding of tissue. The foods that contain all the basic amino acids are known as the complete proteins, while those foods lacking one or more of these essential amino acids are known as the incomplete proteins.
On the Question of Meat
Since meat is a complete protein, it has come to be regarded as an essential food. However, since a number of other foods provide protein in complete form, it should be apparent that it is not essential for adequate nourishment. As a matter of fact, our experiences during World Wars I and II have demonstrated that a limited consumption of meat is actually conducive to better health.
A study of the eating habits of the people of the different peasant countries is illuminating. The peasants of such countries as Rumania, Greece, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia are hardy and vigorous.
To what can the vitality, vigor, and endurance of these people be ascribed? The peasants are people of simple habits. They live outdoors much of the time, work in the fields, lead a quiet life, subsist on plain food, and eat very little meat. The poorest peasant eats meat only on very rare occasions, often not more than two or three times a year, while the wealthier peasant may partake of it about once a week. The people of these countries obtain most of their protein from grains, dairy products, and the vegetables.
Students of nutrition have long recognised the fact that meat is not necessary for adequate nutrition, and that such food as milk, cheese, eggs, soybeans, and the green leafy vegetables are excellent foods that provide complete protein.
The potato, classed as a carbohydrate or starch food, also contains a fine grade of protein and the same can be said of nuts, including almonds, cashews, peanuts, filberts, pistachios, walnuts, as well as the coconut and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Nuts may be used whole, powdered, or in the form of nut butters, but must be well chewed. They should be eaten only in small quantities, and not too often, since they contain large amounts of fat and are, therefore, not easily digestible. They should never be used roasted or salted.
Eggs provide a complete protein, but are best omitted or used but sparingly, since they contain a large amount of cholesterol, a fatty substance that has been receiving increasing attention as an important factor in the development of heart disease, hardening of the arteries, diseases of the kidneys, as well as other serious diseases.
Cholesterol is also found in milk, butter, cream, the fat meats, and fish, as well as other fat foods of animal origin. This is the reason why we prefer skimmed or faV-free milk.
Cheese is a most wholesome protein food, but it is well to bear in mind that the mild, freshly churned cheeses such as cottage cheese, pot cheese, farmer cheese, and the Italian cheese, ricotta, are most valuable from the standpoint of nutrition since they are less concentrated and more easily digestible than other cheeses.