Exploding the Protein Myth

Protein Bomb Burger

In excess, even nectar is poisonous.
– A wise Indian proverb

When I visited the US a decade ago, my western hosts were surprised and perhaps dismayed that I was a hardcore veggie. At a party thrown for me, a very senior American gentleman remarked; “Kid you need more protein to be healthy.”

Respecting his age, I did not retort. But, this is a very common misconception in America since the 1900’s. Americans have traditionally eaten twice the amount of protein that is needed for the body and are not aware of the risks of eating animal protein. Today, a popular diet called the Atkin’s diet encourages high protein and fat intake to lose weight. Excess protein has been linked with osteoporosis, kidney, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers.

How much protein do we need?

When we were medical students in the 1970’s, we were taught that we needed 1 gram of protein/kg body weight. Thus, a 70kg human being needed about 70 grams of protein per day.

Current recommendations believe that the body loses about 0.34 g of protein per kg body weight per day. With a safety margin added, apparently we need .45 g/kg per day of “ideal” protein to replace what’s lost. With additional safety margins for digestibility and protein quality, our protein requirement is in the neighborhood of .75g/kg, or about 56 grams of protein for a 70 kg man.

We were also taught that out of the 20 odd amino acids, the body could synthesize only about 11 of them and the other nine, which had to be got from nutritious sources, were called as ‘essential amino acids’.

It was well known that our protein requirements could change dramatically in illness or injury. Mothers also need more proteins during pregnancy and lactation. It is a common misconception that athletes and other physically active people need a very high protein intake. It is now understood that carbohydrates are the best supply for the extra energy required for strenuous activity.

Vegetarian Protein is an excellent source:

  1. Too much protein is harmful because it can shorten life; increase the risk of cancer, heart disease risk, increase the obesity and diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney stress, and lead to indigestion.
  2. High protein-diets bring about temporary weight-loss but at the expense of overall health. Sadly, people quickly regain weight once they return to a normal diet.
  3. A varied vegetarian diet with a balance of protein, fats & carbohydrates, and adequate calorie intake provides more than enough protein.
  4. Animal protein is an inferior source of protein as compared to vegetarian sources of protein.
  5. Vegetarian proteins do not include the excess calories from fat and toxic residues, which are found in animal protein and are safe on the kidneys.

The problem with High-protein diets:

Diets rich in animal protein can cause osteoporosis, by causing people to excrete more calcium than normal through their urine. Plant-based diets provide adequate protein and also protect against osteoporosis.

Proteins found in meat, poultry and fish are cooked at high temperatures and produce heterocyclic amines and these are carcinogens and are implicated in colon and breast cancer.

A high protein diet puts strain on the kidney, which results in kidney stones and other kidney problems. Diets high in fat and saturated fat can increase one’s risk of heart disease. High-protein diets often encourage consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products, which are all high in cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat. That is the reason, why meat based diets are fraught with cardiovascular risks.

For weight loss, it is better to adopt a lifestyle change that includes a low-fat diet of grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables combined with regular physical activity, instead of relying on a high protein diet.

Being vegetarian is the best:

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
William Blake

The wise question is how much is enough that begs to be answered now

As a thumb rule:

  • Aim for 5 or more servings of grains each day. This may include 1/2 cup of hot cereal, 1 oz. of dry cereal, or 1 slice of bread. Each serving contains roughly 3 grams of protein.
  • Aim for 3 or more servings of vegetables each day. This may include 1 cup of raw vegetables, 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables, or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice. Each serving contains about 2 grams of protein.
  • Aim for 2 to 3 servings of legumes each day. This may include 1/2 cup of cooked beans, 4 oz. of tofu. 8 oz. of soymilk, and 1 oz. of nuts.

References and links:

  1. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Amer Diet Assoc 1997;97(11):1317-21.
  2. Munoz de Chavez M, Chavez A. Diet that prevents cancer: recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research. Int J Cancer Suppl 1998;11:85
  3. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet 1990;336:129-33.
  4. bodybuildingforyou.com
  5. pcrm.org

 

Dr. Rajesh VishwanathanDr. Rajesh Vishwanathan, MBBS, became disillusioned with the impersonal and aggressive allopathic system and trained and qualified in Yoga, meditation, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. He dreams of Integrating Allopathic medicine with the Alternative systems of healing.

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Comments

  1. says

    I really think cereal and bread is a horrible source of grain;not just for Celiac’s or others affected by leaky gut.

    Extrusion: modifies the amino acids, thus making them toxic plus it destroys EFAs.

    You also have to consider GMOs. Wheat, oat and other crops are not the heirloom quality that they used to be, even 50 or so years ago.

    Why would I want to eat a ceral that was so stripped of nutrition that it has to be refortified with manufactured vitamins ad mineral.

    Cereals and breads are so over processed I don’t even consider them to be food. Sure I like them. Maybe they are better for us than cake. But overall, I believe that they contribute to an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut. They feed yeast for sure. And, combining them with fruit creates a digestive mess.

    I agree that we as a general public consume the wrong type of protein and too much of it.

    Whole grain quinona can provide us with tons of bioavailable protein. As well as my fave, spirulina.

    I don’t recommend wheat to anyone especially because the vast majority of us are afffected by a digestive imbalance.

    I agree that veggie sources are way better sources of protein, but what I’d like to hear is why? and what does excess protein do to our bodies chemically?

    Is it true that although meat contains lots of protein, that our bodies do not readily absob it all?

  2. Dr. Rajesh Vishwanathan says

    Hi,

    I think I meant cereals in an Indian contest. Cereals in America may mean Kellogs (hee hee).

    Our bodies are not designed to digest meat, our Hydrochloric acid levels are 10 times lower than that of carnivores. Our large intestine length also suggests that we are meant to be herbivores and If I may dare say WE WERE MEANT TO BE FRUITARIANS.

    That is why I think, meat is bad for us and we are not able to utilize the proteins in it.

    RV

  3. says

    Please mail me some healthy Indian Cereal and bread. what do you mean by fruitarians? Does it require only eating fruits, or fruits and veggies? I cannot consu,e fruit right now.

    Don’t you think that there are some general rules of thumb, but that each person is made uniquely. for example, I cannot eat fruit, but I do well on veggies and grains (amaranth, quinoa, millet). I admit that I’ve been eating fish. Not too often, but I seem to do well on it. Do you think that fish is also bad for us?

  4. says

    If I can just jump in here… about the fish, I’m sure that you are aware, Gina, of the mercury found in fish. And that fish actually have more cholesterol than beef and chicken, since fish need the extra cholesterol to stay warm in the cold water. Generally speaking, large consumption of any “flesh” is bad for us, as you’d agree. But what you are saying does have merit — if you eat meat, and eat it in extreme moderation, then you can still live an extremely healthy life. Will you ever reach the pinnacle of health? I’m not sure. I guess the only person that can answer that is the person consuming the flesh and seeing how they feel over the years. Then cutting it out altogether and comparing. When I used to eat flesh, I got sick multiple times per year. When I quit all flesh, I got sick, on average, once every 48 months or longer! We each have different bodies and different immune systems — so we each have to experiment. There is no right and wrong :)

  5. says

    Interesting and valid points. I would definitely agree with the consumption of protein – in that we consume too much. Unless one is on a vigorous exercise plan (and even then the amount of proteins recommended are probably too high), one does not need to consume such amounts.
    In reality, consumption of fresh water (and to a lesser extent – salt water) fish, is certainly preferred as a source of protein over chicken and beef. Certainly going to bookmark your site, lots of good articles. Look forward to more!
    -Dan

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