Is Protein the Most Powerful “Fuel” for Your Body?
The number one question I get asked as a healthcare professional in plant-based nutrition is, where do you get your protein? The answer is simple, accurate, and important- from plants! And we don’t need as much protein as we are lead to believe! Humans can consume protein from animals or from plants so let’s talk about this revered nutrient that most people want to place at the top of the podium.
By animal protein we mean any food or liquid that comes from an animal so that would include all animal flesh (meat, fish, or poultry) and all animal milk whether the milk products come from a cow, a sheep, or a goat. So all dairy is animal protein but not all animal protein would be considered dairy.
Myths about nutrition are common because a little kernel of truth is spun out of control when many inaccurate statements are woven around that one piece of truth. And I really get on my soap box about it because people are getting sick because of false information flooding the market about what constitutes a health promoting diet. Here’s the thing … protein is important. However that’s a very general statement so let’s talk specifics.
First, protein is used as enzymes to slow or speed up chemical reactions in our cells and yes, that’s pretty important. Protein is also used for building blocks in the body. I think we all remember that from grade school science class. However what most people don’t realize is the protein we eat has to be either used up quickly to build another protein in the body or its structure is changed and burned for fuel. So bottom line protein needs used up or eliminated. The body does not store it.
The body does not like to keep protein around or use it for fuel that is why initially, and I use the word initially very strongly here, people lose weight on a high animal protein diet. Those diets work in the short term but are incredibly unhealthy in the long run. Here’s why… In simple terms protein is made of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, please remember the nitrogen piece.
The body can reuse protein so we don’t need to consume lots of it and if the body is not going to use it the liver must disconnect the nitrogen component, and that’s the problem. Excess nitrogen is a really pesky thing (this is what kicks protein off the gold medal stand.) Nitrogen is incorporated into ammonia or urea and excreted through the kidneys into urine. Over time two bad things can happen – the kidneys become damaged and it takes water to conduct this process so a diet high in protein can cause excess fluid loss. I’ll save the dehydration speech for another time. The remaining part of the stripped-down amino acid can be changed into glucose, and then it is burned for energy. It is removing that nitrogen component when protein is digested that causes the deleterious health outcomes.
You see it’s a lot of work on the body to break down protein. Hence this revered nutrient is not the body’s number one source of fuel! I know that is a shocker to some and a heartbreaking notion to others. That chicken, steak, fish, cheese, or Greek yogurt is not the body’s answer to high energy, maintaining a healthy weight, or glowing skin. In fact it is the opposite. Plants are your answer to that sexy body and glowing complexion.
Plants do not cause this adverse effect when they are broken down, only animals cause the problem. You can probably guess in the race for the golden fuel award which macronutrient stands at the top the podium. Carbohydrates win the gold by a huge margin! Fat comes in a distant second with the silver and yes friends protein is coming in third for the bronze (because of that nitrogen).
Carbohydrates found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are the body’s number one source of fuel.
The breakdown of macronutrients for great health is:
- 80% complex carbohydrates; (vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.)
- 10% good fat (nuts, seeds, and avocado – hail to my avocado lovers out there!)
- 10% protein (and you get all the protein you need from plants.)
And that breakdown comes from the gold standard science of Dr. T. Colin Campbell in The China Study.
I see so many young people in my office, in their late 30’s and 40’s with cancer because their consumption of animal protein was so high over the years. I get a lot of amateur athletes who have been on very high animal protein diets for a prolonged period and they have kidney damage and often end stage cancer. All from too much animal protein, it’s sad. Animal protein promotes tumor growth and degenerative disease as the preponderance of the evidence shows. If you have not read The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, please do so. This book details the largest, most comprehensive, gold-standard, nutritional study ever conducted on human beings in the history of mankind.
So what can you do?
Eliminating or Reducing your animal protein intake of meat, poultry, and or seafood to no more than 3 servings a week, not a day, will drop weight and protect your body from disease.
“The real danger of meat however is the nutrient imbalances, regardless of the presence or absence of those nasty chemicals. Long before modern chemicals were introduced into our food, people still began to experience more cancer and more heart disease when they started to eat more animal- based foods.” Dr T. Colin Campbell, the China Study.