Enough With The Protein

“Enough With The Protein”

 

I’ll take the salad”

“Excellent, would you like a protein with that salad?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, would you like some steak or chicken?”

 

“But steak is about half fat, and chicken is about a quarter fat, so are you asking me if I want protein and fat with my salad? Not to mention the the spinach, chickpeas, and seeds in my salad have protein already.”

 

I do pity the poor waiter that falls into my trap, but I am so tired of our American obsession with protein. Yes, protein is important, but nature knows that and gives us protein in just about all foods. Even fruit has amino acids.  While we do use protein as a building block, we only need so much, and our bodies are efficient at recycling. But clever marketers know we want to grow muscle and have sold us half truths, promising lean muscular bodies just by choosing more protein. I tell a patient to eat an apple and instead they eat a protein bar. The consequence being we are way over consuming protein. The body can only utilize so much. This becomes like a house that has been built but they keep delivering bricks to the front yard, creating a mess.

 

How did we get here? In the 1970’s the Senate Select Commission on Nutrition, after much deliberation, recommended we eat less meat, dairy and eggs. The industries did not like this suggestion and had the recommendations changed to eat lower fat meat, etc.. The result was that we stopped looking at food as food.  Instead we started a reductionist attitude, reducing food to its component parts. This created the low fat craze, which produced low fat cookies. Obviously this was not successful, though we never did eat less fat, just more sugar. But it did incite a decades long debate between carbs and fats, which allowed protein to be vaulted to a pedestal, and marketers ran with it.

 

The RDA suggestion for protein consumption is 56 gm for men and 46 gm for women, yet men average 102 gm and women average 70.

 

In 17 years as a doctor I have never seen a single person who ate a normal amount of calories and yet was protein deficient, yet I have seen thousands of people who were severely fiber deficient. The extra protein does not make you stronger and it definitely does not make you thinner. At best it is extra calories, at worst there is evidence that protein could contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and aging. And keep in mind, when you eat a steak you are not just eating protein. You are also getting a side of saturated fat, heme iron, and other toxic byproducts.

 

If you look at the cultures in the world that enjoy the longest, healthiest lives, they eat only about 7% of their calories from protein while we eat 15-20%. Even breast milk is only 7% protein. And the best place to get your protein is from the plant world where it comes with fiber and phytonutrients.

 

And if you think you will become weak eating plants, remember that the largest animals eat mainly plants.  As Pino Caruso points out, “People eat meat and think they will become strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.”

 

My suggestion is to eat predominately whole natural foods, and ignore the marketing.

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