Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Protein Myth?

Part of The Vegetarian Starter Kit talks about "The Protein Myth":

"While individuals following [a high protein diet] have sometimes had sort-term success in loosing weight, they are often unaware of the health risks associates with a high protein diet. Excess protein has been linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers" (4). 


I have spent my life ingesting a large amount of protein because I am hypoglycemic, which means that I need things that burn slowly so that I don't end up with extra insulin in my body. I was really disturbed by this fact.

So I did some more research. cross-posted an article from WebMD (okay, two trusted sources) subtitled: Find out how consuming too much protein can harm your body.  

"Medical research shows that consuming too much protein -- more than 30% of your total daily caloric intake -- could actually harm your body, says protein expert Gail Butterfield, PhD, RD, director of Nutrition Studies at the Palo Alto Veterans' Administration Medical Center and nutrition lecturer at Stanford University. 

She says that a diet containing excess protein can have the following adverse effects:
  • Adding more protein but not more calories or exercise to your diet won't help you build more muscle mass, but it may put your other bodily systems under stress.
  • Eating more protein and increasing total caloric intake while maintaining the same exercise level will build an equal amount of additional fat and muscle mass, according to a study published in 1992 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society."
Not awesome, but still this seems more to refer to people who are drinking protein shakes for every meal. So I kept looking. 

Davey Wavey (Seriously? Who would name their child that?), a certified personal trainer, states that protein isn't harmful, but too much protein, just like too much anything else, can be harmful. In his article 8 Side Effects of Too Much Protein Wavey writes:

"Protein isn’t particularly dangerous, but an over-consumption of protein may be associated with:
  1. Weight gain. Excess calories from excess protein may be stored as body fat.
  2. Intestinal irritation. Too much protein has been linked to constipation, diarrhea and/or excessive gas.
  3. Dehydration. Experts advise drinking a half gallon of water per 100 grams of protein.
  4. Seizures. Seizures have been linked to excess protein intake – but only if insufficient amounts of water are consumed.
  5. Increase in liver enzymes.
  6. Nutritional deficiencies. Just focusing on protein intake causes some high-protein dieters to overlook other nutrients. Ensure that your diet is balanced and nutritious.
  7. Risk of heart disease. This is a bit misleading. A healthy high-protein diet is not associated with heart disease. But if you are getting all of your protein from unhealthy sources that are loaded in unhealthy fats, obviously the risk for heart disease will increase.
  8. Kidney problems. Some believe that high protein and low carbohydrate diets – when done long term – can possibly cause kidney issues, but more research needs to be done."
Okay, again, unusual circumstances. Lets keep everything in moderation of course, right? So I kept looking and found an article on Today Health by Madelyn Fernstrom of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The article, Protein 101: how much do you need?, continued to make me feel better.

The author states that about 10% of your calories should come from protein. So, in doing some math, we can conclude that a normal person on a 2,000 calorie diet could drink 4 protein shakes and be just fine. Fernstrom also stated directly that unless you have a liver or kidney disorder (or are drinking nothing but protein shakes) that you can't really get to much protein as part of a regular diet.

Fernstrom then explains the differences between the two kinds of proteins.

"Your body needs all the amino acids. Depending on amino acid composition, proteins are either “complete” or “incomplete.” This is the real difference between the vegetable and animal protein sources. Animal protein has the complete profile of all the amino acids. Beef, chicken, veal, lamb, port, fish, eggs, are all complete proteins. Eggs are the most ideal protein — and the standard to which others are measured regarding “usability” by the body. Vegetable proteins are typically “incomplete,” meaning there are either missing amino acids or too few of them to maintain the body’s total needs. Vegetable proteins come from nuts, seeds, and legumes. Vegetable proteins need to be combined, but not necessarily eaten together, to make sure all amino acid needs are met"  

But she does make some suggestion on how to use vegetable proteins to make complete proteins: 
Vegetarians must use “complementary” vegetable proteins together to make a single complete protein source. For example, they need to eat beans with rice, a rice cake with peanut butter, or hummus, which is made with chick peas and sesame paste. Soy is a great low fat source of protein. Most protein bars use soy protein, casein or whey as their base. All are complete proteins. The same is true for protein powders.

Finally, she explains that adults have a whole month try make sure they are getting all their amino acids in. 

Okay, so this whole "Protein is not actually good for you" thing is mostly just propaganda. 

This is an interesting topic to explore as a vegetarian. 

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