Protein has been given cult status. It’s the one macronutrient that everyone worries about getting enough of. But why do we worry about it? Where did the idea that protein is so important come from? And is it really something we need to be concerned about?
What is Protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids, essential (we can’t make them ourselves) and nonessential (we can make them). Amino acids are the building block of most human cells. We need about 10% of our caloric intake to be protein.
Why is Animal Protein Considered Better than Plant Protein?
In 1914 two scientists at Yale university did a study looking at how well rat pups grew eating animal protein versus plant-based protein. They discovered that rat babies don’t grow as well eating only plants. From there they made the large leap to saying animal protein was also better for humans.
They failed to observe that milk from mommy rats has ten-times the protein as human breast milk because rats grow ten-times faster than humans. Does that mean we should feed human babies rat milk if we want them to grow better? Clearly there is a flaw in the logic.
But their incorrect assumption, that animal protein was better for humans, has stuck for more than 100 years!
What about Having to Combine Plant Proteins to get Complete Protein?
In 1975 Vogue Magazine (because they are experts in nutrition?) came out with the idea that humans needed to get all the essential amino acids at the same time to be healthy. And created the idea of combining plant-based foods, like beans and corn or wheat.
While you certainly CAN eat beans with corn or wheat you don’t have to. Your body isn’t so dumb as to need all the building blocks at the exactly the same time. Imagine what a mess it would have been in human evolution if we had needed an exact type and quantity of specific amino acids at every meal.
Side note: If anyone has the February issues of Vogue from 1975, I’d love to see the references they used
How it Really Works
The human body has two sources for amino acids if it needs them and you didn’t happen to eat that one in your last meal. The first is the old proteins in your body. Human cells aren’t static. The wear out and get replaced.
But the building blocks from that cell aren’t just sent to the trash. They are recycled into new cells. Since your body is made up of all the essential amino acids (just like any animal flesh), you have a magic recycling plant pumping out any amino acid you might need at the moment (to the tune of about 90 grams a day).
The second source is a store of free amino acids just hanging around waiting to be used. Not all the protein you eat is use instantaneously. Your body keeps them in reserve for when you need them.
Is it Possible to Intake too Much Protein?
It is very easy to exceed the amount of protein your body needs, particularly if you are eating animal flesh. Once your system is “full” protein is sent through the body and out with the trash (it is not converted to fat). However, the process of eliminating excess animal protein is very hard on your organs. Your kidneys will be under the most strain.
Getting excess plant protein is harder and doesn’t seem to create the same stress on the body.
All plants have protein. And eating whole-food plant-based means you will get about two times the daily requirement of protein your body needs to function. It is impossible to ingest enough calories and not get enough protein (so unless you are anorexic, you cannot be protein deficient). Eat a variety of plant foods. Beans are AMAZING for their nutrition, fiber and protein content. Green peas are 26% protein. But really, just don’t worry about protein. Being protein deficient isn’t a thing. You have more important things to worry about than a myth made up by jumping to conclusions from a study of baby rats and reading Vogue magazine.
Jump start your 2019 by booking a consultation with Dr Robyn to discuss your nutrition needs and the hurdles to great health and longevity.
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.