Protein Protein Protein! It certainly seems to have taken centre stage in our conversations around food. Food companies labels proudly display how much protein their products contain and whole marketing campaigns are being dedicated towards helping the consumer make a healthier choice by choosing the high protein variety of a type of food. Only recently have we seen this begin to happen in the yoghurt department of the supermarket shelves where high protein varieties seem to be popping up everywhere and being marketed as a ‘healthier’ option. While, my view is that it is good to see yoghurts being made without added sugars, do we really need to sell yoghurt as ‘high protein’ in order to make it sound healthy?
All this hype about protein leads us to believe we must be in the midst of a protein shortage or that protein is the answer to all our first world problems! Therefore more protein must be healthy and better for us. But is it? Regardless of the answer to that question, the message is certainly getting through because those consuming a western diet are consuming huge amounts of protein on a daily basis with the average person consuming somewhere between 2-3 times the recommended daily amount.
Amongst all this chatter about protein is also the message that the only viable source of protein is from animal products. But how true or untrue is that and what other facts should we consider when choosing where to get our protein from?
When working with my clients on their diets, I often ask them to consider what ‘package’ their protein sources come in? More specifically, I ask them to think about what other substances or issues are packaged into the protein source they choose. For example, chicken, fish and beef are all foods that contain a lot of protein but what comes along with them? Is there cholesterol, saturated fat, drug residues such as antibiotics, heavy metals such as mercury, pathogens such as E coli or salmonella, is the protein inflammatory to their body and what does the raising and processing of that particular type of protein do to our planet, to climate change, the environments we live in and the water we drink?
These factors become important for many and various reasons but as a whole when you start to look at how animal based protein is ‘packaged’ you begin to see that it may come with a whole host of other environmental and health related issues. With global warming, de-forestation happening at an alarming rate and 1 in 3 people who consume a westernised diet dying of heart disease, I feel these factors should be front and centre of our minds when making our food chooses.
Certainly within the westernised diet we have been led to believe that animal protein is the superior protein because it is ‘complete’ and therefore protein derived from plants is inferior because it is ‘incomplete’. Thus we have opted to consume eggs, meat, fish and dairy in mass amounts out of fear that by choosing plant based options will be the unhealthier or less educated way to get your protein. But the reality is this could not be further from the truth.
The truth is if we want to sustain our life on earth and live a healthy life we have to pivot away from the way we are currently producing protein and look towards cleaner options much like we have with the clean energy movement where we have actively chosen to move away from the use of fossil fuels and oil for power and begin to use more sustainable sources such as geothermal, solar and wind.
So how can we become more sustainable and clean about our protein food choices? The answer is simple and that is to choose plant-based products. When you think about it logically it makes sense for several reasons – plants don’t contain pathogens, saturated fat or cholesterol. Instead they contain huge amounts of added fibre which isn’t available in the animal kingdom and fibre is essential to help regulate our blood sugar levels, clean and regulate our digestive systems, keep our cholesterol levels in check as well as lower our risk of heart disease.
Plants also contain a plethora of vitamins and nutrients, which our bodies can utilise for optimal health and while you could make the argument that plants come ‘packaged’ with a whole host of pesticides and fertilisers – these are the only negative packaging they come with and choosing organic can easily mitigate this.
So why aren’t we moving towards a plant based diet faster than we currently are? Is it because we still hold onto the belief that a plant-based diet is a less efficient way of getting our protein? Possibly but lets take a look at how much protein our body actually needs. Its also important at this point to understand that I am not necessarily advocating you become 100% vegan, that decision is completely yours and should be made with careful consideration but I am advocating we choose cleaner sources of foods where we can, in particular protein sources.
In the UK, the current recommended daily allowance of protein is .75g per kilo of body weight. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently found and started to recommend a number around .37g per kilo of body weight as a more realistic and healthy amount of protein each day. Meaning an average female who weights 65kg only needs 24g of protein each day and a male who weighs 90kg only needs 33.3g each day. These amounts can easily be achieved by eating a wide variety of plant-foods, which all contain small amounts of protein but once combined in our digestive system can easily and very readily synthesis the protein we require for optimal health.
Just like the air we breathe, we don’t need to worry about how we are going to get the correct amount of air into our lungs and cells, our body has mechanisms in place so we don’t have to worry about it, it just does it for us. Our bodies are the same with protein, as long as we eat a variety of plant based foods on a regular basis our body’s can and will synthesis what it needs from the amino acids provided from a diet full of plant foods. So go forth with confidence and enjoy all the beautiful foods the plant kingdom has to offer such as beans, grains, pulses and fruits and of course vegetables. Not only will you receive all the protein your body needs, you will also receive fibre and the cleanest protein, which hasn’t been ‘packaged’ with other complications.
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