The Truth About High-Quality Protein

2 Sep

In my practice, protein is one of the most controversial issues I face with clients.

It’s a touchy subject for many because in  people’s minds, protein usually equals meat.  And meat is something that people can become very defensive about; either their right to eat meat, or the injustice of people eating meat.

That isn’t my concern.  My concern is health through nutrition.

So, let’s uncover the truth about high-quality protein: it will probably surprise you.

You’ve probably heard talk about different sources of protein being higher or lower quality.  And, if you have, no doubt you’ve heard that red meat is the best-quality protein people can eat; this is why vegetarian protein is so often doubted.

Basically, there are 8 essential amino acids that our body needs to produce tissue proteins.  These must be provided by our diet; that’s what the word “essential” means in this context.  If any one of these amino acids are lacking, the synthesis of new protein will slow down or even stop completely.

Quality protein, therefore, is supposed to provide the right types and amounts of amino acids.

We actually know the very best source of protein to provide these replacement proteins.  Maybe you can guess what it is?

Human flesh.

Since we don’t recommend cannibalism, animal meat is the next best option because their proteins are similar to ours.  This source of protein is used efficiently and, therefore, labelled as high-quality.  Plant proteins can be lacking in one or more of the 8 essential amino acids, and so have become known as lower quality protein.

The problem here is that efficiency in promoting growth of new proteins sounds very beneficial, but is a completely different idea that the idea of, say, health.  Wellness.  Optimum health.

In fact, research is mounting to show that while plant proteins provide a slower, steadier synthesis of new proteins, they are actually the healthiest source of protein.  And, even though one plant food may be lacking in an amino acid, we now know that the body is able to derive all essential amino acids from the natural variety of plant proteins that we consume.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that the whole protein thing has been overemphasised for a long time.  Man’s right to meat became twisted into marketing claims and enhanced daily recommended intakes – back in the 19th century, scientist Carl Voit found that ‘man’ required 48.5 grams of protein per day, but recommended an intake of 118 grams daily because of cultural bias.  Historically, the civilized, upper-class, rich person has eaten a lot of meat while the lower-class, poor people ate bread and potatoes.

Once that bias has begun, it’s very difficult to stop.

Chances are that if you are following a healthy, balanced diet, you are receiving an adequate protein intake without focusing on it especially.  This is good news for vegetarians and vegans, but also food for thought for meat eaters.

As a meat eater, you should ask yourself if you are fully aware of the health implications of a diet high in red meat.  Red meat intake has been linked with various health problems ranging from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.

Are you risking your own health because an 18th century bias decided that animal produce was superior?

I’d love to hear your comments on this!


2 Responses to “The Truth About High-Quality Protein”

  1. Jillybean September 2, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    Thanks Katie! As always a brilliant post. I agree with your sentiments. Funnily enough just this week my husband and I have decided to give up meat for a bit. Partly becuase we both adore veg and vegetarian options and partly becuase we hate the way animals are often treated. Organic meat is much more expensive and therefore we can save a lot of money.

    Moreover I have been suffering with acid reflux for some weeks and have been interested in the growing popularity of the alkaline based diet. Given that meat is considered highly acidic I believe that a break from meat will be a huge health benefit to us as a family. Not to mention a little easier on the environment too! What’s your thoughts on the acid/alkaline debate? Perhaps a blog on this subject? Thanks againg,

    Jill x

    • Katie Williams September 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

      Hi Jill

      Thanks for your comment!

      I’d be very interested in hearing your results with cutting out meat for a while – have you considered keeping a food & feelings diary and posting it online? It would definitely make interesting reading.

      Thanks also for the idea about the acid/alkaline debate – that’s a great idea for a blog post. I’ll have a post up answering that question this weekend, but you’re on the right track by cutting out meat.

      Perhaps we could do a blog post on your results in a few weeks?

      Have a great weekend!

      Katie x

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