Your Good Health: Vegetarian diet has plenty of protein

Dear Dr. Roach: I’ve been a vegetarian for the past few years, and I’m concerned about how to get enough protein without consuming meat from any type of animal.

Until recently I was supplementing my diet with protein drinks and protein bars, but now I’ve been told that because these are processed foods, they’re not good for my health. What are the healthy sources of plant protein?

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A.

The concern about getting enough protein is largely overblown. A well-balanced vegetarian diet contains all the protein a person needs. Protein needs depend on size and activity, but 50 grams is adequate for most. The average vegetarian and vegan diet contains more than 70 grams of protein.

Many protein drinks and bars do contain processed foods, especially simple sugars and starches, which should be kept to a minimum. However, some have much less of these.

Excellent protein sources for vegans include soy (edamame, tofu, tempeh); lentils; chickpeas and other beans; and some cereal grains, such as spelt. These might be important to emphasize when protein needs are higher, such as for athletes.

Dear Dr. Roach: I am wondering if older people (87) need more sleep, or am I just getting lazy?

H.S.

People often sleep a bit less as they get older, but that is by no means universal. The recommended range is seven to eight hours per night for those over 65. Some people will certainly need a bit more, some a bit less.

If you feel well rested when you get up, don’t get sleepy during the day, even during times of being quiet and not doing much, and fall asleep within 30 minutes upon going to bed, then it’s likely you are getting the right amount of sleep for you. These are more important than the total numbers of sleep hours you are getting.

You should consider sleep problems, particularly sleep apnea. In addition to feeling sleepy during the day, loud snoring and especially having periods of time not breathing at night (as witnessed by a partner) are signs of sleep apnea. Poor-quality sleep can lead to people sleeping longer hours but still not feeling rested.

I would never accuse a person of being lazy without knowing a lot more. I would also say that at age 87, a person has earned the right to be a teeny bit lazy.

Dear Dr. Roach: Should we be concerned about being bitten by a mosquito this summer because of coronavirus? Could a mosquito bite transmit the disease? I live in the Mississippi River flood plain.

H.H.

There is no evidence to suggest transmission by mosquito, and it’s very unlikely. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, and the main way of transmission is via respiratory droplets. It is only rarely found in the blood.

Some viruses can be transmitted by mosquito: yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, West Nile and dengue all are viruses that can be transmitted by mosquitos. Fortunately, there have only been a handful of cases of these illnesses in the Mississippi River valley.

Physical distancing from others, face masks and hand hygiene remain the best ways to prevent COVID-19.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu

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