In the last blog I talked about what I consider the foremost principle of health: Eating a Wide Variety of Organic, High Nutrient Dense (HND) Whole Foods.
Quite often when people first see the HND food list, they see all the foods that they consider their main source of protein at the bottom of the list. Fish, eggs, dairy and red meat are all in the category of low nutrient dense foods that I recommend avoiding if you’re wanting to correct a health condition. So, the questions quickly come: “What about protein? How much do we need? Why do we need it? And what are the best sources?”
I love these questions, and the answers are simple: to improve health, eat plant protein rather than animal, and by eating 10% protein foods each day, we have more than enough protein for our body’s needs. Let me explain:
Protein means “primary substance.” This is appropriate since all of our tissues are built and repaired with protein. This includes all of our muscles, our bones, our hair, and even our fingernails. Besides making up our tissues, protein, and the amino acids that protein is made of, are utilized in most all of the processes and functions of the body. We need protein to build antibodies for the immune system. We need protein for the hormones that regulate our growth, our emotions, and our metabolism. We need protein for the hemoglobin of our red blood cells, and all of our enzymes. Protein is definitely a primary substance in our bodies.
Common Sources of Protein
Protein is produced and found in every plant that grows. Every animal utilizes this source (or another animal that did) to build its body with protein. So all protein starts as a plant protein, but when animals eat it, it’s rebuilt as animal protein in their tissues. What is surprising to many is that many plant sources of protein provide even higher levels than that of animal sources. Here’s a chart showing the amount of protein in 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) of different protein sources.
Best Protein Sources for Good Health
As you can see, there are many sources for high levels of protein from both plants and animals. The main difference between them is what they do in our bodies. Because of its nature, when we eat animal protein there is a greater acid condition created than with plant protein. This higher acid condition can lead to a loss of minerals, particularly calcium. Also, the fat in animal sources contains cholesterol, arachidonic acid, which inflames arteries and joints (hence arterial sclerosis & gout), and is highly saturated. On the other hand, the oils in plant sources of protein have no cholesterol, contain linoleic acid, an anti-inflammatory, and are unsaturated.
Excess saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet from animal sources can lead to heart disease, diabetes, breast, colon and prostate cancer. So, getting our protein from plant sources produces a healthier condition in the body than animal sources.
If you are going to use animal protein, use it in small quantities like in the Bone Soup Recipe from my August 3rd blog post. It’s a wonderful recipe that strengthens digestion and bones. Use meat like a condiment for flavour, rather than as a main portion of a meal.
How much Protein do we need?
The World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends 10% protein by calorie intake. In the US, the National Research Council recommends 8%. Interestingly, mother’s milk is 5%, and that amount provides all the protein needed for babies to grow, which is the most intense period of growth and protein demand during a lifetime. So, 10% is quite adequate.
By this standard, 30 grams of protein a day is more than enough. Even a 1500 calorie diet of HND whole foods provides this easily without any meat. The typical North American diet has 100 to 160 grams of protein, which is commonly animal based. With excess protein like this, our bodies begin to lose calcium, which may well be the reason why Western countries have the highest rates of osteoporosis or bone loss.
In his book The China Study, T. Colin Campbell showed that Americans, particularly American men, had a 1700 percent greater incidence of heart disease than Chinese who ate a grain and vegetable based diet. Ninety percent of the protein in the Chinese diets is from plant sources. Interestingly, Campbell found that wealthy Chinese eating high protein animal diets had heart disease similar to the Americans. Not surprisingly, other degenerative diseases, including diabetes and cancer, were less likely in those eating the traditional grain and vegetable Asian fare.
So, when people ask if the HND whole food plan provides adequate protein, I answer quite confidently that it does. To learn more about protein and the effects of animal protein on the body, read the books below. Each book will open your mind to what foods deliver great health. And try the recipes at the end of this blog. We’ve often had died-in-the-wool meat eaters for dinner, and they were always surprised and satisfied with how delicious plant protein dishes can be.
• The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD
• Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman, MD
• The Survivor’s Handbook, by The Cancer Project, www.cancerproject.org
• Total Health Solution for the 21st Century, by John McDougall, MD
• Eating Right For Cancer Survival, by The Cancer Project, www.cancerproject.org
• The Greatest Diet on Earth, by Joel Fuhrman, MD
To your amazing health,