The Protein Myth

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“I keep my diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein” -Sullivan Stapleton

This seems to be an extremely common sentiment among the ever growing health community. But is this healthy or optimal?

I can unequivocally say– NO. And lucky for me, so does all of the data.

Ideal Protein Amount

The recommended amount of protein is between 8-10% of our total daily caloric intake. That number is adjusted from the initial findings of 5-6% to ensure for a margin of error and to ensure each person gets the proper amount. The average amount of protein consumption is 30 grams a day. 

While considering this daily need, we should also take into account all of the protein that is recycled each day. In fact, our bodies are able to recycled anywhere between 100-300 grams of our own protein per a day.  This means that we are already getting plenty of protein to meet our needs internally. External protein consumption is only a supplement.

Let’s look at this from another perspective. The perfect food for human beings is breast milk. It is formulated specifically to give us optimal growth and nutrition during the first 3 years of life. This is particularly poignant because infancy is the time of most rapid growth. Guess how much protein is in breastmilk? .9%, not even an entire 1% of the total composition of breastmilk is protein. 

What does that tell you about our protein needs? They aren’t much higher!

Protein Deficiency? Where?

One important thing to note is there is no real evidence of protein deficiency existing. Let me say that again, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF PROTEIN DEFICIENCY EXISTING. In fact, quite the opposite. Decreased protein intake is associated with lower levels of cancer and death. 

However, there is an abundance of evidence suggesting that overconsumption of protein leads to a number of disease and health complications. Some even suggest that overconsumption of protein, specifically animal protein can cause the same physiological complications as smoking. 

Not to hound the potential health risks too hard, but the data suggest that overconsumption of protein leads to health complications such as constipation, hypertension and preeclampsia in pregnancy, decreased cognitive function and sleep, obesity, chronic stress, osteoporosis and fractures,  diabetes,  heart disease,  death, and so much more. And these aren’t small correlations either. If you’re into statistics check out those numbers, the P-values are insanely low.

Heart Disease and Diabetes. Oh, My.

To delve into a few of these a little deeper, let’s take a look at heart disease and diabetes.

One study found that high protein animal foods on a regular basis is associated with a 60 percent increase in the risk of heart disease. Conversely, plant-based protein consumption is linked to a 40% reduced risk of heart disease. But what about diabetes? This 18-year study found a correlation between overconsumption of protein and increased risk of diabetes. But, we aren’t talking a small correlation- the results show a 7300% increased risk of developing diabetes on a protein diet higher than 10%.

For Athletes and Men

*But Cassidy, I’m an athlete. Maybe you skinny people only need 10%, but I need so much more protein*  WRONG! That kind of thinking hurts my heart a little, because in an attempt to bulk up, you are clogging arteries and creating long term complications in favor of short term gains. In fact, data has shown that increased protein intake for athletes leads to a decrease in performance and is associated with longer recovery times.

Furthermore, it can lead to a decrease in testosterone levels. This impacts not only athletic performance, but sexual performance as well, including erectile dysfunction and infertility. Contrary to popular belief, protein and meat consumption is not manly. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I can’t think of anything less manly than impotence. 

The Importance of Protein

Now, I don’t want all of this to underscore the important role that protein does play. In fact, it’s important that we get protein each day. But, if you are eating food (and I mean REAL food, not the junk you buy in a box or wrapper), you will never find yourself protein deficient. Let’s take a look.

Asparagus is 27% protein.

Broccoli is 20% protein.

Kale is 16% protein.

Cucumbers are 11% protein.

Oranges are 7% protein.

Bananas are 4% protein.

When it boils down to it, nearly every fruit or vegetable you eat will meet your daily requirements. What it even more important is the amount of the protein your body is able to assimilate and utilize. Meat and dairy protein often goes to waste because it is indigestible. This sits in the body for days and putrefies until it releases as toxins into the blood. Plant-based protein however, is easily digested and protein is utilized within hours. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, you really don’t need as much protein as you thought.  You only need between 5-10% of your daily caloric intake to be from protein. There is no such thing as under-consumption of protein, but there is a high correlation between over-consumption of protein and nearly every health ill you can imagine. So, if you have to have one of these, I would definitely err on the side of under-consumption. Even if you are an athlete or highly active, you don’t need any additional protein. And all of the protein you do need is best achieved on a plant-based diet

What I’m trying to say is… you don’t need all of that protein bro. In fact, you would be better suited coming home to a bowl of fruit.

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