Protein, it’s all the rage nowadays. All the “new” popular diets seem to advocate eating a small portion of lean protein at every meal.
I would agree we all need protein. The question is how much and from what source. How can we best meet the requirements of the body?
Let’s start at the beginning… At what time in life would you think humans needed the most protein? I would think as babies, when we are developing.
It is helpful to look to nature for answers. Mother’s breast milk is the “perfect food” in order to ensure proper growth and development of human beings.
When we look at the nutritional composition of mother’s milk it turns out that it is only 3% to 5% PROTEIN! So why as adults would we need to make protein the major portion of our caloric intake?
But there is more. The protein in mother’s milk is human protein! It’s in a form that is usable to the human body. If you eat a piece of meat for protein, your body must first break it down into its component parts – amino acids. These amino acids must then be reconstructed by our bodies into human protein.
This process takes time and is ineffective for several reasons. The cooking process alters the meat making it more difficult, if not impossible, for our bodies to utilize as a protein source. Next, due to the way the meat has been processed and handled, many unwanted toxins have been added, not to mention possible pathogens. Our bodies must deal with these. And lastly, meat is acidic. Which means by eating it we are contributing to the over-acidification of our body.
One fact that is often overlooked. Vegetables consist of protein as well (and at percentages closer to mother’s milk). Vegetables contain the essential amino acids the body needs in order to construct the protein it needs. And this protein is in a much more readily available form, which the body can quickly and easily utilize.
Again it is helpful to look at nature for answers. After all, it mirrors the wisdom of the universe.
Just consider the most powerful animals on the planet. What do they eat? What is their source of protein? In a word, plants.
A gorilla is 30 times more powerful than a man and thrives on a basically vegetarian diet. Where does it get its protein from? Horses are some of the fastest, most powerful animals on the planet. What do horses thrive on? Hay…
So how should this information affect the way that we eat? I am not advocating that you never eat meat, or even that you become a vegetarian. Let’s just get real. Let’s not think that eating meat at every meal is necessary or even healthy.
I like a good steak as much as the next guy. I was raised on meat and potatoes. But once I realized the effect my diet had on my overall health, I had choices to make.
Namely, did I want to eat food that was going to be easy for my body to process, and which would provide it with the nutrients it needed to build healthy muscle, tissue, blood and bone? We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat”. Well this is true on a number of levels. On a physical level, the food we eat literally becomes our body.
The bottom line: If you are going to eat meat, eat it because you like the way it tastes. Don’t buy into the popular belief that you need “protein” in order to be strong or to lose weight.
Our bodies were made to thrive on a plant-based diet rich in water and minerals. The easiest way to do that is to “go green”. Eat a salad with meals in which vegetables take up the major portion of your plate.
You will be doing your body a world of good!
Protein And Its Role In A Healthy Lifestyle
The role of protein in our lives is well understood by most of us. It’s an essential nutrient. Proteins are made up of long strings of amino acids, called polypeptides. When we consume proteins, our digestive system breaks them back down into their constituent amino acids for subsequent use by the body. We use amino acids in some shape or form for nearly every bodily process. They are the pre-cursors, or ‘ingredients’ we need to be able to manufacture hormones, enzymes, body tissues and body structures. They are used to repair cells and can even be used as fuel to keep our cells running.
Proteins – An Essential Source Of Amino Acids
Tyrosine for example is used to produce melanin, our skin and hair pigment. The essential amino acids valine, isoleucine and leucine are used to build and repair muscle tissue. Arginine is used to make nitric oxide, a vasodilatory mediator that plays a vital role in keeping our blood pressure healthy and our heart muscles contracting regularly. Creatine, despite its popularity as a muscle-building supplement, is naturally produced in our bodies using arginine and glycine. You can read more about Creatine supplements, and whether they’re worth the hype.
Protein Supply – It’s All About Diet
Most of us get enough protein from our diet. Even those of us who perhaps don’t eat as healthily as we should! Proteins are obtained from all manner of dietary sources. Some of these foods are referred to as complete protein sources, meaning they provide all the essential amino acids and many of the non-essential ones as well. What is an essential amino acid? All amino acids are ‘essential’ in the sense that we require all 20 of them in varying amounts. However, the 9 amino acids deemed ‘essential’ are those that must be obtained via our diet because we can’t manufacture them ourselves. In other words, they are an ‘essential’ part of our diet. Non-essential amino acids are those we can manufacture ourselves provided we have the raw ingredients.
Most animal proteins are complete protein sources – meat, dairy, eggs, fish. Therefore, people who eat these proteins regularly are unlikely to require special protein supplements unless they’re into heavy bodybuilding. Even then, those additional protein requirements can usually be met by increasing dietary intake of proteins.
Even Vegetarians And Vegans Get Enough Dietary Protein
Even vegetarians are mostly OK for protein because they still eat diary and eggs. The group at most risk of not getting enough protein are vegans, who only eat non-animal foods. However there are many plant based sources of proteins that contain these essential amino acids, which debunks the protein myth that we need to eat meat as a source of protein! Hemp and soy proteins for example contain all 20 amino acids. Other good plant based sources of protein for vegans includes nuts, seeds, and legumes – beans, chickpeas, lentils etc. In fact, one cup of cooked beans provides the same quantity of protein as 2 ounces of meat! Mushrooms are another good source of protein.