Plant Proteins and Human Nutrition Discussion

As part of BSUFN’s series of reading discussion groups we have been talking about human nutrition and plant proteins. Under our special interest group (SIG) theme Food Health and Education, a group of members met to discuss the 1994 paper ‘Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition’ by Young and Pellett (available here).

Our discussion of this topic took us through nutrition, health, food policy and economics, sustainability, and society. Below are some points raised during our disucssion.

  • Commonly used terminology to describe protein content in food stuffs is incorrect and misleading. Many foods are describes as having ‘incomplete’ proteins but in fact they have low levels of some amino acids which are increased to good ratio through combining food stuffs.
  • Vegetarianism and veganism can still provide more than sufficient dietary nutrition because there are proteins present in pulses, cereals, and vegetables. In a typical Western diet we consume more than enough protein.
  • Past medical advice regarding protein intake in children and adults was in places incorrect but still gets taught in medical schools. This has resulted in misleading public health messages being maintained long after health sciences have shown otherwise.
  • The food industry has a dominant role in determining food policy and advice.
  • Combining different food types, such as legumes and cereals, will provide sufficient amounts of the necessary amino acids. However, these combinations do not need to be consumed during the same meal and eating different types of food stuffs throughout the day is sufficient.
  • There is limited sustainability of the meat industry in its current state because of the amount of protein-rich feed required to raise livestock. For example, in much of Latin America, for every kilogram of beef produced cattle are fed ten kilograms of protein-rich feed. This feed is typically soya or similar food stuffs which could be eaten by humans. There are questions over the amount of land required for producing feed for livestock as well as the ethics of giving protein-rich food to cattle when over 800 million people globally go hungry every day.

 

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