Ahhh protein… Protein is probably the most poorly understood category of food there is.
There is a misconception in our society that only meat and animal products (including dairy), contain protein, and that if we do not eat them, we are at risk of protein deficiency.
Let’s back up for a minute and talk about protein and how our bodies acquire and utilize it…
Our bodies do not use protein per se but rather amino acids. Long chains of amino acids are what make up the protein molecule and it is these chains that wear out and need to be replaced in our bodies over time. So how do we replace these long chains of amino acids? By consuming foods with amino acid building properties.
To be more specific, to date we know of 23 different amino acids. 15 of these are manufactured by our bodies on their own and 8 that cannot be and must be obtained from our diet. When a food contains all 8 of these amino acids, known as the essential amino acids, it is called a complete protein. These essential 8 amino acids are found in most meat and dairy, BUT they are also found in abundance in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouts, and grains such as oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat. By consuming a wide variety of these plant based foods we receive all 8 of these amino acids in a much more easy to digest form than animal-based protein.
The problem with flesh-based protein, including dairy, is that their molecules have amino acids that are not designed by nature for our bodies to absorb. These chains of amino acids are in a specifically different order then those required by our bodies. In order to “absorb” these proteins we must first break down the amino acids and then restore them into protein chains that humans can absorb. As a consequence, this process requires so much energy that after we eat a heavy dairy or meat-based dish, we often feel tired, bloated and groggy. Why? Simply because animal protein is the most complex of all foods to digest-taking at least twice as long as other foods to pass through our digestive system. Moreover, most animal protein we consume is cooked, including milk which is typically highly pasteurized, destroying many of the amino acids they contain, and further depleting their available protein content. In fact, most organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, rendering it even less nutritionally beneficial. Ever wonder why your kids lunchbox milk doesn’t need refrigeration and has an expiry date almost a year away?
Tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams are both Raw Vegan
The fallacy that having to eat animal-based, dense protein to build muscle has been popularized by mainstream media and industry. The largest and most muscular animals on earth actually do not eat animal protein, and are, in fact, essentially vegan after being weened off their mother’s milk. Gorillas, wild horses, elephants, hippos, rhinos all efficiently build up the protein their muscles and bodies need from the amino acids in the greens they eat. Yes, kale is a superstar even in the wild animal kingdom!
But being a vegetarian does not also automatically mean that you are at the peak of health. There are plenty of unhealthy vegetarians. Food choices do matter. You’re better off being an omnivore who eats a wide variety and copious amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to animal products than a person who gives up meat altogether and makes poor vegetarian choices, with a diet containing higher quantities of refined sugar and processed foods. Eat a healthy, plant-based diet and you will receive all the nutrition, including the protein, that your body will ever require!
Some sources to note:
The Protein Myth: Significantly reducing the Risk of Cancer, Heart Disease, Stoke and Diabetes while Saving the Animals and the Planet – David Gerow Irving
Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition – T. Colin Campbell (Author), Howard Jacobson (Contributor)
Healthy Eating, Healthy World: Unleashing the Power of Plant-Based Nutrition – J. Morris Hicks
The China Study – T. Colin Campbell (Author), Thomas M. Campbell II (Author), Howard Lyman (Preface), John Robbins (Foreword)
The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World – John Robbins (Author), Dean Ornish M.D. (Foreword)
The Beauty Detox Solution: Eat Your Way to Radiant Skin, Renewed Energy and the Body You’ve Always Wanted – Kimberly Snyder
Forks over Knives (DVD) – T. Colin Campbell