Understanding Protein and Amino Acids: Natural Nutrition and Health

proteinPhoto from usa.gov

On my path of learning and living natural nutrition and natural healing I came to the realization that, as with myself, one of the main concerns people have about a vegetarian diet is getting enough protein. I came to understand after a time that although so many have a sense that protein is essential to their diet many do not seem to really know what protein is or what it does. Speaking for myself I always understood that protein is necessary for muscle growth which is why athletes who are trying to build muscle put an emphasis on getting a lot of protein in their diet. I ascertained from this that protein must be necessary as well for organ tissue, nerve and brain cells. I always remembered from school that protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. I assumed that whatever protein people ingest has to be broken down into its essential components and reconstructed as human protein. Unfortunately when I would mention this in a discussion with people I would just get blank looks. What I would keep hearing from people is that they felt that protein was necessary to “have energy”. I of course realized that the body mainly gets energy from carbohydrates including breaking down fats for calories to use for energy. I, also, knew that the body has to convert starch, sugars and fat to glucose which is the only kind of sugar the cells of the body can use for energy from calories. As well I knew that the body has to produce insulin to deliver the glucose in order for it to be usable to the cells. I did know that the body can use protein for energy from calories but this is not the main function of protein in our diet.

When I started on a path of reducing meat in my diet and learning to cook organic, vegetarian meals from scratch I chose a book called, Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, which had vegetarian recipes, each of which had complementary proteins listed. I felt that I could trust these recipes to have well balanced meals with the protein I needed in my diet. I certainly was not disappointed and have reaped the rewards of good health.

After a time however my continual frustration with the fact that most people did not seem to understand what protein is or what it does even though they emphasized so much importance on having lots of it in their diet brought me to the conclusion that I had to do the research to back up what I essentially knew. When I even tried to tell people that too much protein is bad for them I would either get blank looks or a canned response of “Well, too much of anything is bad for you”. I realized that I, myself, owed it to myself to really understand protein and amino acids more thoroughly. I especially needed to be able to explain protein and complementary proteins from plant sources to people to take away their fear of vegetarianism. I could plainly see that this lack of knowledge about health and nutrition was responsible for people simply taking the easy way out and continuing to consume lots of meat. I was tired of seeing people literally making themselves sick and killing themselves by degrees because of a lack of knowledge about something so fundamental to understanding good health.

When I started my research on protein I was immediately confronted by some amazing facts! The first was that after water people are mainly made of protein, more than calcium or anything else. The second fact was something I had been taught in school but had forgotten about which was that our very genetics, our genes and chromosomes, are made of protein.   Well, this obviously explains why after water we are mainly made of protein. Even our bones and teeth have protein in them. All cells of our bodies have to have some protein because of the genetic information they contain. Obviously muscle tissue has more protein than other tissue.

8656058266_d318b022c5_zPhoto from usa.gov

Of course protein whether from animal or plant sources has to be broken down by the body into its essential components to be useable to the body and reconstructed into human proteins (plural). What are the essential components of protein? They are amino acids but more importantly the human body needs the “essential” amino acids. The term, essential amino acids, is a little difficult to understand because in fact the human body, mainly the liver, produces eighty per cent of the amino acids that we need. However the essential amino acids are the amino acids that our own bodies do not produce so we have to get these nutrients from food. These essential amino acids then are the building blocks from which our own bodies are able to produce all of the other amino acids to produce all of the different types of proteins our bodies need. The liver takes the essential amino acids and puts them together in different combinations of varying amounts and even aligns the molecular structure of the amino acids to produce all of the proteins our body needs. In fact enzymes and hormones are specialized types of proteins. Cholesterol is a specialized type of protein.

What are the essential amino acids? As with most things when doing research we may get different answers especially since science is perpetually trying to keep up with learning about nature. Many sources say that there are eight essential amino acids but a good recourse I use, Prescription For Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, doesn’t say how many essential amino acids there are but names them. I have counted them over and over again and I count nine and they are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylananine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

So what about complementary proteins? People apparently assume that if they eat meat they get what they call, “a complete protein”, therefore they assume that if they eat meat they don’t have to worry about getting the protein that they need in their diets. This actually is incorrect. In fact an egg is the closest thing to a completely useable protein by the body. However one egg has all the cholesterol we need in a day so it is not a good choice to eat eggs all the time. Even with meat a person needs protein from plant sources. All of the essential amino acids have to present in the body within a four hour period in their proper amounts for the body to be able to produce the amino acids and proteins that we need. Excess protein causes the liver to try to turn it into glucose for energy but there are only four calories in one gram of protein and the process of converting it to glucose creates ammonia which is harmful to the body. The liver turns the ammonia into urea which is less toxic and then eliminates the urea through the bloodstream and kidneys. Excess protein, too often, will wear out the liver and kidneys. Not having all the essential amino acids in balance can cause a negative nitrogen imbalance which is unhealthy. The body will urinate out nitrogen.

5941039768_a4aa318880_zPhoto from usa.gov

Clearly getting less meat in the diet and getting more protein from plant sources will keep people from getting too much protein and protect people from some of the other harms of excess meat consumption. This gets back to the question of how do we know we are getting the right balance of complementary proteins. In the book, Diet For A Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé has charts of complementary proteins for easy understanding. After studying these diagrams I have noticed that a good rule of thumb is to eat foods from different food groups in each meal. These food groups for complementary proteins may be a little different than what people are used to however because seeds and nuts are in a different group than grains. Fruits are not really mentioned because they are so low in protein. This is a little confusing because people think of seeds as being grains however sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are in the group with seeds and nuts for complementary protein purposes. In general then we would be looking at whole grains with beans or legumes such as peas and lentils would be complementary proteins. Corn and beans, wheat and beans and, good news, wheat and dairy made with whole or skim milk are complementary proteins. Even a single serving of pasta has seven grams of protein so you do not have to give up your bagel with cream cheese or pasta with parmesan cheese! If you have sesame seeds on your bagel you even get an extra complementary protein. Peanuts are very deficient in some essential amino acids but with grains and especially with sunflower seeds added it is well balanced with essential proteins.

It is important to note that even if a person gets the proper amounts of the essential amino acids in the diet the body may not be able to use this available protein without the proper balance of vitamins and minerals. As a general rule as Frances Moore Lappé so aptly puts it even in a completely plant based diet the more different kinds of food one eats the less one has to worry about getting the proper balance of essential amino acids and healthy protein.

But what about the people who say that we get energy from protein? As it turns out some of the essential amino acids do help to supply energy to muscles. Isoleucine helps to regulate blood sugar and energy levels. The best way to think of protein however is that it is necessary for cell growth. This definitely includes making babies. Women who are expecting a child or nursing need more protein. People’s protein needs change at times. Small children have very different nutritional needs including a lot of fat before the age of two for the brain to develop properly for one thing and since children are growing they need a higher percentage of protein per the total caloric intake in their day.





Vegetarian Shiitake Mushroom Gravy For The Holidays!

mushrooms-1382049532zTHPhoto by Angelika Pyka

Vegetarian Shiitake Mushroom Gravy just in time for the holidays!


6-10 Shiitake mushrooms (depending on size)

1 medium size onion

olive oil

organic soy sauce

 4-5 Tbls organic wheat flour (white or whole grain)

3-4 Tbls flax meal

black pepper

brewers yeast



If using dried shiitake mushrooms soak in water that has been brought to a boil for twenty minutes.  Cut off stems and chop mushrooms.  Save water for soaking for broth.  Slice and chop onion.  Sauté mushrooms and onions in 6-8 Tablespoons of olive oil stirring occasionally until onions are translucent and tender.  Add more olive oil as needed.  It helps to make sure onions are tender if all olive oil is not absorbed during sautéing so add more oil as necessary.  Add mushroom soaking water that was set aside.  Stir.  Let simmer one minute. Add water, 5-6 Tablespoons. Let simmer and stir.  Add organic soy sauce and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.  Add more water if necessary.  Add wheat flour and flax meal.  Simmer.  Stir frequently. Add more water if needed.    Add more soy sauce to taste for desired degree of saltiness.  Sprinkle in brewers yeast.  Stir and let simmer one minute.  Remove from heat.  Serve over potatoes or grains. 

Recipe: Ultimate Seaweed Salad!

stock-photo-salad-mix-with-avocado-and-cucumber-with-balsamic-dressing-115737661Photo from shutterstock.com


package of fresh, assorted seaweed
1/4 cup organic olive oil
1/8 cup organic brown rice vinegar
4-8 Tbls organic soy sauce (depending on desired saltiness)
2Tbls organic, raw agave nectar
5-7 cloves of grated garlic
1Tbls ground mustard seed
1Tbls paprika
chopped red onion

Put package of fresh, seaweed in a vegetable wash basket or colander within a large bowl and fill with water.  Agitate seaweed with hands, pour out water.  Repeat this process until all of the sea salt is rinsed out of the seaweed.  In a mixing bowl combine grated garlic, olive oil, vinegar, agave nectar and soy sauce.  Add ground mustard seed and paprika.  Add fresh seaweed to bowl of dressing, stir and let marinate.  Break up pieces of your favorite kale (such as Russian kale) and break up pieces of radicchio.  Place kale and radicchio in a bed on each plate for serving.  Top with some marinated seaweed and dressing.  Top again with chopped red onion, avocado slices and chopped tomatoes.  And that’s it!  The ultimate seaweed salad.
Add more soy sauce and vinegar to taste.
6 to 8 servings depending on how huge of a salad you want!

Hint:  Add a few tablespoons of organic, flax seed oil to dressing or a tablespoon over each serving for extra nutrition and healing power.
Hint:  Radicchio is a type of lettuce that is loaded with minerals and vitamins.


medical-tabletsPhoto by Vera Kratochvil


On Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007 on the front pages of mainstream newspapers was an article about how the American Heart Association was recommending that women use aspirin daily. Amazingly the article started with a common technique used by skilled propagandists to influence how people think and act which was a scare tactic. The article started by saying that most women are at risk of heart disease and stroke. Then the article recommended that women use aspirin daily. Somehow the idea that women should use aspirin daily hardly seems normal or natural and the article did not even mention anything about doing something about the causes of the problem, only trying to control the symptoms, at least not the part of the article that was on the front page which of course is the only part most people will read. There has to be many, many ways to keep down blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The article did mention that aspirin can upset the stomach and even cause bleeding ulcers and that women under the age of thirty are probably not at risk and shouldn’t do this. Of course the article eventually said that women should consult a doctor before starting to take aspirin everyday.

Of course! If someone follows the money trail of who the major funders are of the American Heart Association one will surely see the real reason for this headline, front page story is the interest of the industrial medical complex. Obviously the American Medical Association is an organization which puts the interests of doctors as business owners ahead of the welfare of the people of this country and I’m sure the American Heart Association gets substantial funding from the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture aspirin whose sales of aspirin have fallen because of the popularity of other over the counter pain remedies such as Advil, Nuprin and Tylenol. Recommending that women go see their doctor before doing anything sure puts money in the doctors’ pockets. What if people just exercised, avoided things that drive up their blood pressure and cholesterol levels and used things that bring down their blood pressure and cholesterol levels naturally such as cold water fish and flax seed oil that has Omega essential fatty acids that help the body to break down fat and cholesterol? What if people avoided red meat and even too much poultry and had more meals without meat with more vegetables, fruit and whole grains. What about using good medicinal herbs such as hawthorne berries in herb tea that is good for regulating blood pressure whether people have low or high blood pressure and is good for regulating the heart beat naturally?

Years ago I read an article in the East West Journal that stated that there was very low instance of heart disease in Japan until western fast food companies came into Japan such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut. Previously the Japanese diet was so healthy because of fish and vegetables.

pills-296112807925762yuNPhoto by Susan Buck Ms

Most importantly people should question more what they read and hear and ask why. In this case one should ask what are the alternatives to what the modern medicine industry which includes government public awareness programs and the media are offering. In fact modern medicine is not traditional medicine. Natural healing has existed for thousands of years and has been proven. Much of what modern medicine offers is experimental. In fact modern medicine has always gotten lots of its principles from traditional natural healing and pharmaceutical companies still try to concoct industrialized remedies from natural healing herbs that traditional, natural healers have been using for many generations. Some people try to tell me that aspirin comes from a natural source which is birch tree bark, a natural remedy use by the native Americans. Knowing what I know about the way pharmaceutical companies try to isolate active ingredients and learn to synthesize them I am skeptical that modern aspirin is even close to a natural remedy. Whose monied interests provoked this headline, front page story and why? I’ve known for awhile there are problems in nonprofit which is one of the most taboo subjects apparently. Perhaps this is the first place some of my readers may have heard this subject broached. Just as we did in the sixties I think it’s time we started questioning everything again.


Recipe: Black eyed peas & seaweed pottage

johnny_automatic_soup_tureenIllustration from publicdomainvectors.org

Here is a very healing recipe. When I eat this meal made in a soup pot I feel the healing power going throughout my body and brain right away.

Recipe: Black eyed peas & seaweed pottage


3/4 cup black eyed peas
1/2 cup sweet brown rice
shiitake mushrooms
one small, organic red onion
organic garlic
dried mixed seaweed veggies (Kombu, Sea Palm, Wakame and Nori)
organic curry
organic chili powder with chipotle
organic sage
organic oregano
sea salt
low sodium organic soy sauce
organic olive oil
natural brewers yeast

Rinse black eyed peas in a vegetable wash basket.  Put in a medium sauce pan almost filled with water.  Add a tablespoon of sea salt and bring to a boil stirring once or twice.  After bringing to a boil lower heat to medium and cook uncovered for an hour stirring occasionally.  In the meantime if using dried shiitake mushrooms put four to six shiitake mushrooms depending on size in a bowl and add water that has been brought to a boil.  Let mushrooms soak for 20 to 30 minutes.  Save the water to add to your broth.  After cooking the black eyed peas for an hour add the sweet brown rice, lower heat, cover with lid slightly ajar to avoid over boiling and simmer for about an hour.  While the bean and rice mixture is simmering add the mixed sea veggies and stir.   While the rice, beans and sea veggies are simmering cut off the stems of the shiitake mushrooms and chop them.  Peel and chop the red onion.  Peel and grate a few cloves of garlic.  Saute the mushrooms, onion and garlic in two or three tablespoons of organic olive oil until the onions are transluscent.  Add to the soup pot.  Add a tablespoon of organic curry and a teaspoon of organic chili powder with chipotle.  Add two fingers-full of organic sage and one fingers-full of organic oregano crushing the herbs between the thumb and fingertips before sprinkling into mixture.  This brings out the natural aroma and flavor of the herbs. Stir in the the spices and herbs.  Add the water from soaking the mushrooms if you were using dried mushrooms.  Add anymore water as needed depending on how thick you want your pottage to be and continue simmering, stirring occasionally.  Total cooking time should be almost two hours.  When done put into bowl and sprinkle on some natural brewers yeast and stir in.  Add organic, low sodium soy sauce to taste such as low sodium Tamari.  Yields 4 to 6 servings.

That’s it!  It’s difficult not to have healthy cell growth and tissue repair and healing power with this recipe.  It’s a VGIRLNATURAL original.

RECIPE: Seaweed & Shiitake Mushroom Miso Soup

chinese-lunchPhoto by Peter Griffin


This is a recipe I came up with to help a woman who was suffering from Evans Syndrome and Leukemia. She went to the Mayo Clinic and the doctors there asked her to ask me for recipes with seaweed because apparently this combination of an autoimmune illness and blood cancer is extremely rare in countries such as Japan where seaweed is part of their diet. This woman named Louisa had no iron in her bone marrow. She was helped with the recipes I gave her. I picked these ingredients because black fungus has about 400 per cent of the iron a person needs in a day in one serving. Shiitake mushrooms has about 40 per cent as well as having all of the essential amino acids.  Fermented soy products such as miso have vitamin B12. Natural brewers yeast is loaded with vitamins and minerals including the more rare minerals.  It, also, has lots of amino acids and some enzymes. Seaweed has vitamin B12 (important for cell growth), iodine, protein, chlorophyll and lots of nutrients.

shiitake mushrooms
black fungus
black dino kale
white miso
green onions (also, known as scallions)
sesame oil
natural brewers yeast
dried mixed seaweed veggies (Kombu, Sea Palm, Wakame and Nori)

If using dried shiitake mushrooms soak four to six mushrooms depending on size in a bowl of water that has been brought to a boil.  Also, soak about a handful of the dried seaweed veggies broken up and about half a handful of dried, shredded black fungus (or if not shredded broken into pieces) in another bowl of water that has been brought to a boil.  Soaking time should be about 20 to 30 minutes.  After shiitake mushrooms have soaked remove from water but save water for broth.  Cut off the stems of the shiitake mushrooms and chop.  Chop three green onions.  Take about two thirds of the chopped green onions and the shiitake mushrooms and put them in a medium saucepan with one tablespoon of sesame oil and saute until the mushrooms and scallions are tender crisp.  Save the rest of the chopped green onions and put aside.  Add the water from soaking the mushrooms and seaweed veggies with black fungus with their soaking water to the saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered with lid slightly ajar to avoid over boiling 20 minutes.  Meanwhile break up leaves of kale so it is about the equivalent of a cup and a half of kale and wash in a vegetable wash basket.  After simmering soup 20 minutes add kale and stir in.  Simmer 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Ladle out a little of the stock and add to 3/4 cup miso in a bowl and stir mixture.  Stir miso mixture into soup.  Remove from heat and sprinkle on some natural brewers yeast and stir.  Garnish with fresh, chopped green onions.  That’s it!  A delicious and healing soup!

One can add an 8 ounce package of tofu to this recipe if desired.  Pat out excess liquid from tofu and cut into one inch cubes before adding to soup about halfway through cooking.

Editor’s note:  Kombu is another kind of edible kelp.  Dried black fungus can be found in Oriental markets.

For more information about dried mixed sea veggies visit: http://www.loveseaweed.com

Non-GMO Labeling Is Fake!

stock-vector-made-with-non-gmo-ingredients-grunge-rubber-stamp-vector-illustration-169029779Photo from shutterstock.com


Amazingly there was an almost great news item on CBS! It was put on by their nutrition reporter. The report discussed organic foods labeling and the new non-GMO labels that are appearing on products in stores. The reporter basically said that the only way to be sure your foods contain no GMOs (genetically modified organism) is to buy food that is officially certified as organic such as with the USDA organic certification. The reporter said that the new non-GMO label only means that foods are completely GMO free if they are a single food. If the food product contains multiple ingredients then the non-GMO label only means that the product may be completely free of GMOs or it is almost completely free of GMOs. In other words there could be a small amount of ingredient that is GMO.

How can this be you may ask? The reason why is that the non-profit that provides this labeling is simply a marketing company to help businesses sell their product to consumers who are concerned about GMO food being bad for their health. There are no laws concerning foods being labeled as non-GMO at all. This organization has developed on its own. It is not the product of any law that has been passed about labeling foods non-GMO. The only laws that protect you in this case are truth in advertising laws and it usually requires a lawsuit to enforce these laws.

Before this new non-profit came into being some manufacturers of packaged food products were already printing on their packages that they were non-GMO. If a product is labeled organic and non-GMO it is a redundancy. Foods that are certified organic are already 100% free of GMOs. Does this non-profit charge companies to have this new non-GMO label on their product? Of course. It is a marketing company helping companies to sell their product in a world in which people are concerned about genetically altered foods.

In fact a company recently was exposed for putting the words, non-GMO, on their packages of tortilla chips without the certification from the new non-GMO labeling organization when their product in fact contained more than 75% GMO corn. This is according to a recent test conducted by Consumer Reports. The brand name of the product is Xochitl.

It is important to note that there are, also, no laws on labeling foods as “natural”.