- We must eat animal protein foods to get enough protein.
- A diet high in protein is healthy.
- Animal products contain all the essential amino acids; plant proteins are incomplete.
- Animal protein is superior to plant protein.
- Plant protein must be mixed and matched for a vegetarian diet to be adequate.
Do you remember the four basic food group charts posted in your classroom in elementary school? We were taught that a healthy diet is centered on milk and meat.1
“Protein was thought to be the most favorable of all nutrients, and lots of protein was thought to be the key to strength, health and vigor”.1 Most people still have a belief system around protein based on what we were taught as children, but is this accurate? In this article, I’m going to focus on Myth #1 and #2.
Protein Myth #1: We must eat animal protein foods to get enough protein.
About 70% of dietary protein in North America comes from animal foods. Worldwide, plant foods provide 84% of calories.2 Scientific studies done in the 1950’s to determine protein requirements demonstrated that adults require a minimum of 30 grams per day.3 The average American consumes 70-110 grams of protein daily, mostly in the form of animal products.
People who eat a plant-based diet generally consume 60-80 grams of protein daily.4 Plant foods have ample proteins that don’t need to be mixed and matched in certain combinations to be complete proteins.5 About one-sixth of our daily protein utilization comes from recycling our own body tissue.5 When your caloric needs are met in a nutrient-dense plant based diet, your protein needs are met. If a vegetarian diet revolves around white bread and other processed foods, the protein content can fall to low levels, so it is important to focus on vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Protein Myth #2: A diet high in protein is healthy.
“The dangers of high protein diets include such health conditions and diseases as cancer, hemolytic anemia (red blood cells are destroyed prematurely), abnormal liver function, renal tubular acidosis (too much acid in the body due to a defect in kidney function), kidney stones, and osteoporosis. Studies have also demonstrated increases in cancer of the blood… such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.6 Eating too many animal products and not enough vegetables can increase our risk of cancer.
Humans require a high exposure to all the phytochemicals found in unprocessed plant foods to achieve optimal health. Animal products contain no fiber and remain in the digestive tract longer, resulting in slower digestion and heightened exposure to toxic compounds.7
Animal products raise cholesterol and promote heart disease. Many people still believe that switching from red meat to chicken will lower cholesterol, but we don’t see in the scientific literature dramatic benefits for cardiac reversal by doing this like we see when a high vegetable, beans, and nuts diet is followed.8
Diets high in protein and meat leave an acid residue in the blood that leads to bone dissolution because it uses its stores of calcium to neutralize the excess acids created from too much protein.9
It is important to recognize that Americans eat too much protein, and our goal should be to reduce our consumption of it as well as processed foods, sugar, and oil. By doing so, you can enhance your life expectancy. By focusing on eating an array of colorful fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, we can fulfill our protein requirements easily.
- Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman, MD p. 136
- Group Start Program, Lecture 4, p. 9 (Nutritional Education Institute, Dr. Joel Fuhrman)
- Rose W. The amino acid requirements of adult men. Nutritional Abstracts and Reviews 1957; 27:631.
- Hardage M. Nutritional studies of vegetarians. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1966; 48:25.
- Hardage M. Nutritional studies of vegetarians. Journal of the American Dietetic Association p. 11
- Skibola C. Obesity, diet and risk of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Cancer Epidemiology. Biomarkers and Prevention, 2007; 16:392
- Jenkins DJ, et al. Effect of a very high fiber vegetable, fruit, and nut diet on serum lipids and colonic function. Metabolism 2001 Apr;50(4):494-503.
- Jenkins DJ, et al. The Garden of Eden--plant based diets, the genetic drive to conserve cholesterol and its implications for heart disease in the 21st century. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol 2003 Sep;136(1):141-151
- Group Start Program, Lecture 4, p.21