Protein and the USDA

I don't know if you've seen the new USDA food guidelines, but it's now a plate with the different food groups shown in varying sizes. It's a good start to making a change, but there are a few major flaws.

First, the inclusion of dairy is basically excluding vegans from the recommendation. In addition, a lot of Americans are lactose-intolerant, preventing them from consuming a lot of dairy products. I know it says dairy for simplicity sake, but products like soy milk and almond milk should also be considered a part of the dairy category.

Second, I think there should be a bigger emphasis on whole grains, instead of just grains. I have always liked my pasta white (and probably always will) but I think at least half of those grains should be coming from whole grains, if not more.

Third, the separate protein section of the plate is only helping fuel a common misperception--only certain foods contain protein. Of course, this is true--only certain foods do contain protein. For example, table sugar doesn't contain protein.

The list of foods that do contain protein, though, is much more comprehensive that most people expect. For example, did you know that bread contains protein? In fact, it's the protein in flour that makes bread chewy (which is why you use high protein bread flour instead of low protein cake flour).

But let's do a little thought experiment about bread.

Nutrition Facts for 1 slice of white bread
For the sake of example, let's say you're a woman aged 18-59. According to the chart below, you'd need 2000 calories and 60 grams of protein.

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Also for the sake of example, let's say you ate nothing but white bread. To reach 2000 calories a day, you would need to eat around 30 slices of bread:

30 slices * 66 calories/slice = 1980 calories

How much protein would you get?

30 slices * 2g protein/slice = 60 grams

Broccoli is even better: 3g of protein in 50 calories! (Not to mention fiber, and vitamins.) This isn't perfect--both of these foods would leave you short in fats, which are an important component of a healthy diet. And fats add a lot of calories.

Still, 1500 calories of broccoli would provide more than enough protein for even a typical athlete (90g) and still leave a lot of room for olive oil. (It would also clean you out, with 150g of fiber.)

So next time you think you need to open a can of beans or add a piece of chicken to make sure you get enough protein, think again. There is protein in almost everything we eat, and it add ups fast.

And finally, the biggest problem with this new plate--where's dessert??!?!!!

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com. 

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