Isn’t this the most important question when it comes to your diet? Well, that’s only true because of what the food and fitness industry want you to believe. The real question here is, where do you get your fibre from? Where do you get your micro-nutrients from? And honestly, we really don’t have the answers for these because most of the food that we consume today is devoid of fibre and valuable nutrients.
During my counseling sessions, this is one question that always crops up, and it actually makes me ask the client in return, “who told you that you need more protein than what you are already consuming?” The answer, “that’s what everyone says!” Sadly, even gym instructors fail to understand the real importance of a nutrient dense diet as opposed to a protein rich diet. But the upside is that I am here to solve one of the biggest confusions.
First of all, forget everything that you know about protein and let this be your first ever lesson. Proteins are divided into amino acids, essential (1) and non-essential (2). The non-essential amino acids are those that the body synthesizes itself and do not need to be taken from the food. Essential amino acids can only be acquired from the food. A third category called conditional (3) amino acids (that are actually non-essential) may be consumed in times of illness or stress.
Amino acids are the building blocks of life. What is important to understand is the source of your proteins, aka amino acids. Since the human body is alkaline (pH-7.35) in nature, any proteins consumed from an animal source send the body into a state of acidosis. In such an event, the body would try to combat this state by leaching Calcium and Magnesium from the bones in order to maintain the optimum pH of 7.35.
I would like to take the example of cow’s milk here, which is touted to be a good source of protein for humans. What is interesting to note first is that the best source of protein for humans is human breast milk, or mother’s milk. You would be surprised to know that amongst mammals, human milk actually contains the least amount of protein. But when we end up giving cow’s milk to our young ones from a young age, it leads to a host of problems.
While referring to Ekhard E. Ziegler’s journal on ‘Adverse Effects of Cow’s Milk in Infants' (5), just one of the numerous papers that speak about this, it is clear that not only is there excess protein in cow’s milk, but the extremely low levels of iron also form one of the reasons for iron deficiency in infants. Sadly, this carries on into their teens.
The truth is that we are actually consuming more protein than the body’s daily requirement of 0.8-0.9 g/kg/day (Ex: 100 kg person needs 80-90 g of protein only). This excess consumption of protein/animal meat is associated with bone disorders, calcium loss, decreased renal/kidney function, liver disorders, increased cancer risk, and precipitated progression of coronary heart disease. There is enough evidence to prove the disadvantage of excess protein consumption beyond the recommended daily allowance (RDA) because of these potential risks.
Now to answer your question, where do you actually get your protein from? Since we want to get our RDA from a source that has no adverse effects on the body, it is recommended that we get it from as many plant based sources as possible; because in addition to the protein, we get soluble and insoluble fibre along with a host of micro nutrients that have an overall anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Exactly the opposite of what dairy or meat would do - cause mucus build up and high amounts of inflammation. This is also one reason why athletes struggle to attain optimum levels of fitness, hence the need for more plant based food.
Your protein rich foods are beans, nuts, cereals, grains, lentils, fruits and of course vegetables. We tend to discount the protein that we get from these sources. I am going to leave some links (4) and references below to better understand the whole protein fiasco. In case you want to know more, feel free to reach out to me.
1. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
2. Non-essential amino acids include: alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, and glutamic acid.
3. Conditional amino acids include: arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.
5. Ziegler, Ekhard E. “Adverse Effects of Cow’s Milk in Infants” Nutrition Reviews, Volume 69, Issue suppl_1, 1 November 2011, Pages S37–S42.
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