Thursday, July 7, 2016

Our Obsession with Protein

Our Obsession with Protein

Americans are obsessed with protein. We have been made to think it’s the single most important dietary component we should be ingesting. 

But is this even true? What does protein actually do? What levels of protein are best for overall nutrition? Is there such a thing as excessive limits? And do people that work out more need extra protein?

For these answers I looked at a variety of resources and texts including The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell, Nutrition Facts .Org, The New York Academy of Sciences, The Harvard School of Public Health, The Scientific American Journal, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the United States Department of Agriculture. 

Current government recommendations for protein are calculated based on weight; thus for every pound you weigh multiply it by .4, and therefore an adult that weighs 150 lbs. it would be recommended that he/she ingest 60 grams of a protein a day. 

Protein is an essential building block for our organs, and your body needs it for healthy cell growth. Do animal products have a higher protein count than plants? Yes. Are plants completely lacking in protein? Absolutely not. There is protein in everything, and not just legumes, nuts, and seeds. There is protein in potatoes, corn, tomatoes, nectarines, grains, non-dairy milk. in pretty much every plant that exists. 

The real difference lies in how our bodies react to the different kinds of proteins. Animal proteins are similar to our own bodies’ protein and thus more easily absorbed, but there is also an acidic component that can have enormous consequences. 

Excessive protein can be detrimental to our health, it has been scientifically linked to cancer growth, tumors, kidney disease, kidney stones, early onset of puberty, heart disease, osteoporosis, and liver damage. These studies have been done in petri dishes, experimental animal studies, and actual human subjects. Towards middle age (as our bodies increasingly become weighed down by years of toxic eating) our bodies begin reacting to the accumulation of heavy saturated animal foods, and that is when cancerous cells are liable to develop a quicker rate. 

For argument’s sake, let’s compare protein levels among foods while also looking at dietary fiber (the food substance that is of real concern in America) and fat levels. I choose to compare different elements of the food because we can’t reduce a food to a single factor, nature takes a more holistic approach in nutrition. 

(220 grams or 1 cup)
Dietary Fiber
Black Beans
46 grams
2 grams
35 grams
0 milligrams
55 grams
42 grams
0 grams
141 milligrams
Brown Rice
5.7 grams
2 grams
4 grams
0 milligrams
8 grams
3.5 grams
3.6 grams
0 milligrams
64 grams
7.5 grams
0 grams
178 milligrams
46 grams
108 grams
26 grams
0 milligrams
29 grams
24 grams
0 grams
821 milligrams
7.8 grams
0.9 grams
7.5 grams
0 milligrams
45 grams
12 grams
0 grams
145 milligrams

Plant proteins do not promote cancer growth the same way animal proteins do. Our bodies are much better able to absorb the protein, which also create an alkaline system within our organism that leads to improved health, stable weight, and longevity. 

As a note, researchers funded by the very popular Atkins diet (not unlike the current Paleo meat heavy one) reported that the subjects suffered from frequent constipation, bad breath, headaches, hair loss, and increased menstrual bleeding. Additionally, over half the participants leaked calcium from their urine. This is not optimal health. 

Protein deficiency is a fear created by mass marketing of animal products. This only occurs when the human body is extremely malnourished, particularly in third world countries. It does not happen to most Americans who have abundant access to a variety of foods. 

Nutrition is a great complement to a heavy workout. Active adults and children can get adequate protein levels via plant foods because all plants have protein. A diversified plant-based diet that includes whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, beans, nuts, seeds, and many greens will meet all your physical needs and more. It is virtually impossible to have excessive protein on a plant-based diet. This is because our bodies are better able to digest and process plant proteins far better than animal proteins. 

Animal products because meats (of all kinds) and their related products have unnaturally high levels of protein. One 6 ounce steak will have 40 grams of protein, but it will also have 60% of your daily saturated fat, max out your daily sodium intake, and provide no dietary fiber or anything else of value really. If you happened to have had meat for breakfast, and meat for lunch, the standard American diet usually consists of, this dinner would be overdoing your protein levels too. 

Sure, a cup of lentils is 18 grams of protein, half the protein of steak, but with 15 grams of dietary fiber, no saturated fat or sodium, it seems like an obvious choice to me. But do you then need to food combine to meet all essential nutrition? No. That theory is fast becoming discredited with more recent scientific studies. 

Do we need protein to feel satiated? Not really. Your body and particularly your brain needs glucose for optimal functioning. Ideally this would be a high carbohydrate (whole foods) diet of plants.
Instead of protein, we should really put our focus on what the standard American diet is lacking, which is dietary fiber, phytonutrients, potassium, vitamin D, and calcium. Not protein.