Thursday, July 12, 2007
The Big Fat Protein Myth
Consider this: 100 calories of steak has 5.4 grams of protein. 100 calories of broccoli has 11.2, almost twice as much.
I’ll go to Answers on Yahoo or any number of forums where people are asking questions about vegetarians and vegans. Then someone will pop in who obviously hasn’t read up on nutritional content or anything about the veg*n lifestyle and say things like “The only place you can get protein is meat.” Or the people asking questions will pretty much always bring up the whole protein issue. And I can’t say this enough:
It is a MYTH.
Amino acids, aka protein, are deemed the "building blocks of life." Everything has some protein in it. The United State's obsession of protein is based on an outdated experiment done on rats in the early 1900s. If you look at nutrient dense foods - which foods are going to give you the most nutrients per calorie (this is how people lose weight and stay thin, too) -meaning more nutrient bang for the caloric buck - fruits and veggies outdo anything. Consider this: 100 calories of cow has around 5 grams of protein while 100 calories of broccoli has around 11. Vegans - the most strict form of vegetarian - actually get twice the amount of protein the body truly needs. The makeup of plants - fat content and everything - is perfectly in sync with what our bodies need. Vegetables are around 23% protein on average, beans 28%, grains 13%, and even fruit has 5.5%. For comparison, human breast milk is only 5% (designed for the time in our lives when our protein needs are as high as they'll ever be). The US Recommended Daily Allowance is 8%, and the World Health Organization recommends 4.5%.
It's odd that people think we need to eat animals for protein, but the animals that we eat consume nothing but plants! Where do pigs, cows, and sheep get their protein? From plants. Does anybody ever worry that cows or sheep aren't getting enough protein? The cows and sheep certainly don't.
Consider something else. Many people eat animals because they think that there are some magical nutrients in meat. But realize that meat is simply flesh. And humans are simply flesh. Look at your own arm -- you're nothing but walking meat. Anything that you might expect to get from eating flesh you already have, because you're made of flesh.
The average American diet contains meat and dairy products. As a result, it is often too high in protein. This can lead to a number of serious health problems:
Kidney Disease: When people eat too much protein, they take in more nitrogen than they need. This places a strain on the kidneys, which must expel the extra nitrogen through urine. People with kidney disease are encouraged to eat low-protein diets. Such a diet reduces the excess levels of nitrogen and can also help prevent kidney disease.
Cancer: Although fat is the dietary substance most often singled out for increasing cancer risk, protein also plays a role. Populations who eat meat regularly are at increased risk for colon cancer, and researchers believe that the fat, protein, natural carcinogens, and absence of fiber in meat all play roles. The 1997 report of the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer, noted that meaty, high-protein diets were linked with some types of cancer.
Osteoporosis and Kidney Stones: Diets that are rich in animal protein cause people to excrete more calcium than normal through their kidneys and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Countries with lower-protein diets have lower rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures. Increased calcium excretion increases risk for kidney stones. Researchers in England found that when people added about 5 ounces of fish (about 34 grams of protein) to a normal diet, the risk of forming urinary tract stones increased by as much as 250 percent.
For a long time it was thought that athletes needed much more protein than other people. The truth is that athletes, even those who strength-train, need only slightly more protein, which is easily obtained in the larger servings athletes require for their higher caloric intake. Vegetarian diets are great for athletes. To consume a diet that contains enough, but not too much, protein, simply replace animal products with grains, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and fruits. As long as one is eating a variety of plant foods in sufficient quantity to maintain one’s weight, the body gets plenty of protein.
Since Nature designed her plant foods complete, with abundant amounts of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, “Where you get a specific nutrient?” is almost never a relevant question, as long as there is enough to eat. So, why have scientists, dietitians, medical doctors, diet-book authors, and the lay public become fixated on a non-existent problem? Protein is synonymous with eating meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs—the foods traditionally consumed by the wealthier people in a society—thus, protein-eating means higher social status. High-protein foods are also high-profit foods. Therefore, propagating the protein myth is motivated by egos and money—and the usual consequences of pain and suffering follow closely behind these two human frailties.
Highly Suggested Reading:
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.
Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.