Don’t Pig Out on Protein

There seems to be a cultural bias, and even obsession, towards protein. Even when it was first discovered (in 1839 by Dutch chemist Gerhard Mulder if you really want to know) it was considered to be the most fundamental and sacred of all nutrients and was named from the Greek word, ‘proteios’ meaning ‘the first quality’. But how much protein do you actually need?


First, the science bit: there are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of amino acid chains in protein, including enzymes, hormones, structural tissues and transport molecules. Only eight amino acids are considered ‘essential’ or needed to be obtained through diet. All other proteins can be synthesised from those eight. The World Health Organization, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council say that at the very most, you only need to get 8% of your calories from protein.


However, eating meat has become somehow rooted in cultural elitism. German scientist, Carl Voit (1831-1908), proclaimed that good health required 118 grams of protein per day, in spite of having discovered that humans needed only 48.5 grams of protein per day. One of his protégés, W.O. Atwater (1844-1907), went on to become the director of the USDA, and recommended 125 grams of protein per day. This occurred at a time where if you were rich, you ate meat, but because poor people ate plants, and nutritional scitentists were deeply rooted in cultural elitism, it was decided that a lack of protein was making the lower classes lazy and less intelligent.


Meat and dairy products have long been synonymous with protein, but if it’s true that you only need 8% of your calorie intake from protein, plants can easily satisfy those requirements.  For example, the percentage of protein calories in asparagus is 32%, broccoli 36%, and kale 40%, whereas lean beef packs 32% protein, and pork chops just 23%.


But why is excess protein a potential problem for your wellness? Unlike carbohydrates, protein cannot be stored in the body, so if it cannot be eliminated by your kidneys, the protein will be absorbed by the lymphatic system. If this is excess animal protein, it can harm your wellbeing by resulting in osteoporosis, cancer and kidney disease. The high-fat content that you find in animal protein sources like meat, milk and eggs, can also lead to heart disease and cerebral vascular disease. Plant protein, on the other hand, does not have these dire consequences for humans. It seems the protein message must therefore be: less is more.

Comments are closed.