Recently we had one of our collaborators, Chef Ashley, submit Why Chef Ash Nicole Gave Up Meat Part II of her story as to why she eliminated meat from her diet. We enjoyed learning about why chef Ash Nicole gave up meat and appreciated the feedback she is giving us based on her experience. We decided to research further into the truth about protein and where to get it. Her experience is quite similar to many others who have reported eliminating meat from their diet. A simple google search for meat-free diets and lifestyles will inevitably result in a plethora of examples.
Protein and Amino Acids?
The common misconception today is that we have been told that without meat, eggs, dairy or fish, we cannot fulfill our protein requirements. We are here to tell you that is not correct!
The foods mentioned above are not protein per se.
Let’s elaborate on this point!
Although these foods do contain protein, they are not necessarily synergistic with the protein required by our bodies. The reason for this is simply the fact that our body knows and can make its own endogenous protein.
Yes, this is actually a shocker and a complete contrarian understanding to what we have all been told.
Our Body Can Make Its Own Protein. Here’s How!
Whatever so-called protein source we ingest, we do not actually absorb protein. We absorb amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the only thing that is left once the protein has been digested and broken down.
What we don’t hear very often is that amino acids can come from breaking down plant-based foods as much as they can from animal sources.
Biochemistry tells us that amino acids are nitrogen-based. It also tells us that nitrogen is an essential component of plant fertilizers, as plants use nitrogen to make amino acids.
Now if we follow the food chain, we know that animals (yes that includes humans) eat plants and obtain amino acids. The amino acids we consume are combined with the manufactured amino acids to synthesize protein under the guidance of our DNA blueprints.
Have you ever noticed the physique of a gorilla, horse or gazelle?
Have you ever asked yourself why they have such a muscular physique?
These animals thrive on a plant-based diet, which means they get enough amino acids to build that muscle from the plants they eat.
There are to date 22 different amino acids available to us that have been discovered. Our bodies can make 13 of them, deemed ‘non-essential’ and the other 9 are called ‘essential’ amino acids, which means we need to get them from our diet .
The only reason fish, eggs, dairy and meat, are prevalent and glorified is because they are known to contain all 9 essential amino acids.
Protein for Muscle – Myth or Fact?
The other myth is that eating a high protein diet is somehow magically health-promoting or builds muscle.
Our body is an extremely intelligent biological computer. It intuitively knows what is significant to its survival and upkeep. DNA is responsible for protein synthesis. It regulates what and how much to make when to make it and whether it is even necessary. If you’re not exercising, your DNA won’t tell your cells to build muscle protein. Matter of fact, your body won’t use any amino acids seeing how they are not needed to build or repair muscle.
So, what happens to all those excess amino acids after ingesting a nice steak?
I’ll tell you what – they stay in your bloodstream and float around.
What does your body do when there is an excess of anything?
It stores as much of it as possible and then flushes the rest out. Your body will take all the excess and convert it to sugar and/or fat. The rest will be excreted by your kidneys, putting unnecessary stress on your biological filters.
So the notion that high protein diet/lifestyle will make you thin is not a one size fits all. There is much talk about how high protein diets help blood sugar or boost metabolism . But the fact is, if it is not conducive to your lifestyle, well it is counter-productive. I digress a topic for another day.
Excess protein is damaging in many ways:
- Fat storage
- High blood sugar
- Excess inflammation and stress on your organs and joints.
The list goes on. This blog is not here to demonize meat entirely, but we do believe that it has a place and in limited quantities.
How much protein do we really need to get adequate amounts of amino acids?
Studies have shown that no more than 0.8 grams per kilogram of lean body weight per day are sufficient.
This depends on many things as well. Your level of activity, metabolism, age, weight, lifestyle, current health condition and the list goes on. But for the average healthy individual who is moderately active, the number provided above seems to be a good recommendation.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the average recommendation, keeping into consideration all the factors as mentioned above, for women is 46 grams of protein and 56 grams per day for men.
To put that into perspective:
– 4 ounces of lean ground beef equates to 28 grams of protein,
– 4 ounces of chicken breast contains 36 grams of protein,
– 5 ounces of salmon provides about 28 grams of protein.
Referencing the numbers above, you can see how easy it is to get adequate and in some cases excess amounts of protein. So imagine the condition of our voracious meat-eating society, which is drenched in protein advocated shakes, drinks, meals and bars. Really, think about it! How easy is it to get a so-called ‘hamburger’?
Plant-based protein is a notion that hasn’t really been given much contemplation. We are used to associating meat and protein as almost being synonymous or to that effect the same thing. As science progresses and more studies are done, we are slowly beginning to understand that protein is not the Holy Grail.
For example, here are other alternatives to protein from the plant kingdom.
– Beans contain about 15 grams per cup,
– Nuts deliver about 5 grams per ounce,
– Vegetables about 5 grams per cup,
– Whole grains are at 10 grams per cup.
Common Plant-Based Protein Options
Vegetables: Avocado, broccoli, spinach, kale, sweet potato, peas
Nuts and Seeds: Cashews, sesame seeds, walnuts, pistachios, almonds
Non-Dairy Milk: Almond and hemp
Grains / Ancient Grains: Quinoa, Amaranth, bulgur, brown rice, wheat germ, oat bran, oatmeal, sprouted grain bread
Supplements: Spirulina, chlorella, and hemp
Clearly, there are sufficient amounts of protein we can extract from plant-based sources. It may be necessary to eat more vegetables to make up for 4 ounces of lean ground beef, but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience. Naturally, this should not be perceived as an inconvenience. Realize you are ingesting living foods that are loaded with not only protein but minerals, vitamins and all micronutrients that meat cannot supply.
Plants are also much less taxing on the system and individual vital organs. There is a higher demand for resources required to digest animal-based proteins as opposed to plant-based. There are many studies out there outlining the pros and cons. Here is one supporting the inflammatory aspects of meat consumption from the Food Revolution Network .
But isn’t animal protein better?
A 2016 study published in JAMA shows that eating more plant-based protein increases your lifespan .
This study is, of course, not complete and preliminary. One of the caveats found in this study was attributed to the consumption of red meats like beef and pork having more harmful effects on your health. Protein from chicken and fish did not seem to have the same consequences.
Stop obsessing about protein! There is no proof that protein intake, at least the gluttonous amounts we consume, have any benefits and perhaps may have more consequences. Worry less on keeping track of your protein intake and focus more on consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. This variety will not only satiate you but will surely give you an adequate amount of protein to sustain your health and muscular system.
We are not vegetarians, nor are we trying to convert ourselves or anyone else. We are merely trying to shed light on the studies that are coming to surface and open our ears. We respect your perspective as we do not try to impose ours.
If for any reason you do not find value in what is being said, that is perfectly fine. We do insist that you chose your meat wisely and make sure you are eating pasture-raised, grass-fed and finished meat that is humanely treated. The amount of hormones and other chemicals that these animals are being given in CAFO’s (Concentrated animal feeding operation) is outrageous .
We leave you with this simple plan of action – “Eat real food, in moderation and mostly plant-based. You can indulge in the occasional splurge of red meat, but don’t make it a habit!”
To your health and longevity.
Please note that all opinions here are strictly opinions and for informational purposes only. They are not to be used as a replacement for medical opinions and should not be used as the only metric for diagnosing any medical condition.
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