In our society we tend to look for a miracle or a quick fix. And for a longest time the cult of protein prevails when we talk about healthy life style. But let me tell you, high protein diet is not doing you any good. Yes, you might see quick results of losing weight within even a week or two but in the long run this type of diet can be harmful to your health.
It is important to note though that protein plays a tremendous role in our body functions. The only thing is that we do not need quantities that we are lead to believe we need. It is true with pretty much anything in our lives though– overdoing with even a very good stuff is harmful. For example, vitamin D is crucial for you but too much of it will cause thirst, diarrhea, nausea, weakness and headaches. We are aware of drugs, vitamins and minerals toxicity but we think that protein can be consumed in any doses without any side-effects. That’s just not true.
Let start from the basics. Proteins are complex molecules comprised of combinations of 22 naturally occurring amino acids. Traditionally, amino acids (protein building blocks) were divided into non-essential (the ones that our body can produce) and essential (the ones that should be consumed). More recently, nutritionists are using the name conditionally essential for some amino-acids because they require additional elements like let’s say vitamins for the body to produce them. Hence, if a person is deficient in this element he or she might become deficient in the derived amino acid.
There are few functions of protein in our bodies:
1) Amino acids are necessary to support the body structure such as muscles, connective tissue, hear, and fingernails.
2) The main function of protein is to satisfy the energy requirement.
3) It was discovered that protein forms the structure of smaller components, for instance hormones and enzymes. Research also discovered the individual amino acids can carry messages from nerve to nerve. When amino acid plays this role it is called a neurotransmitter. So in addition to providing structure amino acids establish communication between body cells and organs.
4) Protein helps maintain sodium and potassium balance and act as buffers to normalize acid-alkaline balance. This is a widely discussed topic nowadays. We will talk about keeping your acid-alkaline balance some other time. At this moment it is important to understand that our body needs to keep at a slightly alkaline level of 7.4 at all times. Some foods including animal protein put our bodies into a more acidic state that the cells have to work hard to neutralize.
Now, how much protein we need? The recommended dietary allowance of protein according to US government standards is 0.8 gram per kilogram of ideal body weight for people over 19 years old. It is important to note that the ideal body weight for male is considered 70 kg, with the need to consume 56 grams of protein and 50 kg for female, with 40 grams per day protein requirement. Pregnant women and children have different protein needs. The government of Canada does not post a daily % of protein requirement staying that there is no protein deficiency health concerns in Canada. WHO puts protein needs at 0.45 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight. Almost twice as less as US Government.
Having this baseline, we can now analyze where we can get our protein from and how much we need. Let’s look at the protein content in plant and animal sources:
3 oz hummus – 7.4 grams
3 oz spinach – 2.8 grams
1 cup of black beans – 14.5 grams
1 cup of brown rice – 5 grams
1 cup of peas – 7.5 grams
½ cup of pumpkin seeds – 6 grams
Animal sources of protein
8 oz steak - 57 g
2 eggs - 12 g
Chicken breast - 31 g
The quantity of protein is mainly based on the assumption that this amount of protein will get us to the consumption of all the individual amino acids. But whether we will get there depends on the quality of protein.
Plant protein comes with a long list of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes and a bunch of other chemicals that have not even been even fully studied. Plus we don’t need to sacrifice our acid-alkaline balance. We are also getting tons of fiber to feed our friendly bacteria in our guts that are helping us to extract and digest the nutrients and ensure our immune system is strong. It is true some vegetables do not have all amino acids we need. This is where variety comes in. You need to eat as many different plants you can find: greens, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes and mushrooms. Eating the same salad of lettuce and tomatoes won’t do it.
According to statistics, many people consume between 100-200 grams of protein per day. This is at least twice as much as we need. In addition, the animal products (especially conventionally raised) come with an increased inflammation, a heavy burden on your digestive system, and a high fat content. I am not even talking about processed meats like wieners and salamis that contain so many chemicals. Do you know that WHO clarifies processed meat as Group 1 – carcinogenic to humans (in the same group as tobacco and asbestos) and red meat as Group 2A – probably carcinogenic to humans? Do you want to take chances with your health and longevity? Isn’t it better to stick with something that has been proven to bring balance, energy and well-being in your life?
And let’s not forget the production of animal protein is one of the major contributors of planet rising temperatures.
I am not saying let’s give up meat all together. The intention here is to bring awareness and reconsider the focus on protein that has been dominating our diets recently.
Instead of the obsession of where to get protein from bring your attention to the amount of fiber you eat, enjoy the colors on your plate and feel energized after each meal.