Get protein in your foods
How This Helps
The word ‘protein’ has its source in Greek “preteos”, meaning the thing of most importance .Protein is obviously a vital component of our body and works from multiple facets to keep use alive.
Science and Research
Protein in Diet:
I am a vegetarian from the age of 12 years and it was right from that time when I have been facing the question about my source of proteins in food. This question may appear to be simple, but there is a lot hidden behind the simplicity. Why is it so that nobody asks about my source of beta- carotene or fiber? I was always surprised with the fact that protein is the nutrient that generated serious concern about my diet and health and that too from strangers. It was not just the question of protein in diet but my own concern of being the question repeatedly that increased my interest in nutrition. The result was that I got myself enrolled at the Bastyr University and achieved a graduate degree in nutrition. It has been 15 years since I am left eating animal protein and it is now time that I feel is the right time for me to answer the question from the right perspective and with necessary citations.
This particular question about the source of protein went to a new level when I went for a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. The event was like walking 20 to 30 miles every day and I came to know that thru hikers are of the notion (the majority of the hikers actually do follow this way of nutrition) that foods rich in protein are important to build up the muscles as well as recover them. Not only that, the food option for hikers is pretty limited as we have to eat that we can carry. So, there is no way to enjoy soy burgers or marinated tofu steaks with tasty cashew cheese.
It was only after going through The China Study that I came to know the reason for so much concern about protein in our diet. The presence of protein as a nutrient was discovered in the year 1839 and since then it has been under the limelight and also considered to be the most sacred among other nutrients . The 19 th century world considered protein and meat synonymous and this cultural association are still with us. Serving meat during main meals has become the symbol of wealth as well as health. Right from the discovery of the presence of proteins, it was believed that one must consume twice the required amount of protein in order to sustain a healthy life. That was probably because of the cultural bias that more is always better .
The paragraph above sets the stage or the historical scenario on which many people and even the nutritionists build their perspective on health and nutrition these days. We will just have to step back a bit to find out the scenario that is totally different. Look at the healthy people from Asia, South America and Africa who consume fewer amounts of animal protein as compared to the population in the
western world and they have fewer complications related to overall health . Animals like the giraffe, hippopotamus and elephants do not consume animal protein and yet they weigh hundreds of pounds! Every plant food consists of the entire spectrum of amino acids . What does a human baby feed? Nothing but breast milk! The diet of breast milk consists of just 5% protein and that is the amount of protein required for an adult human being is that same 5% (as recommended by World Health Organization) . If we look from this particular perspective, the complete vegetarian diet (with fruits and vegetables) that can meet our calorie needs actually contain 10% protein .
The Recommended Daily Allowance of protein for an adult in the United States is 0.8 grams per kilogram of the body weight and this means a person weighing 60 kilograms (132 lbs) will need 48 grams of protein in his or her diet. Let us consider a 2000 calorie diet, in which 4 calories will come from a gram of protein and this will sum up to 11% calories from the protein group (this will be about 9% for a 2500 calorie diet). This particular recommendation of 10% of the calories from protein (i.e. 0.8 grams per kilogram) is actually reviewed 14 times by expert scientists . A single (average sized) potato contains 8% protein and when you just add half cup of beans (with 27% protein in it) with it, you can get the required amount of protein without having to go for any animal product. The inclusion of animal protein in the diet results in the increase of protein intake to the 17% of the calories (according to the Standard American Diet) we are actually exposing ourselves to the risks of facing the adverse effects of animal proteins. Not only that, we are also rejecting the goodness of plant food which are far more nutritious as compared to animal protein .
If you need to know about the implication of the above mentioned facts., you will have to continue reading the rest of this report. It is the fact that hikers need more calories and thus we are inclined towards eating more foods (including carbohydrates, fats, proteins) no matter in what form they come to us. Present findings on nutrition facts reveal that we hikers are not at the risk to fall victim of protein deficiency while on or off the trail. The hard truth is that it is a pretty hard task for the body to break down the consumed protein and that is almost same as hiking 25 miles a day. We cannot store protein (like we can do with fats and carbohydrate) and this particular nutrient is not an efficient fuel. The liver and kidneys require breaking down, neutralizing and filtering the excess amounts of amino acids (produced while breaking down the animal protein) and thus are forced to work harder . Along with this tiring job of the organs, our body also loses some water due to the process of protein metabolism . So, it is pretty clear that the entire process puts extra strain on our body instead of just feeding the working muscles.
I came to know about a wonderful metaphor that fits perfectly with this perspective. It is very much like maintaining house after it is built. Maintenance of the house does not mean building more walls, ceilings, and floors. It means paying for other utilities as well as keeping the building clean and in good condition. Proteins are similar to the walls while carbohydrates are similar as keeping the power supply on.
I can recollect an incident while I was on the hike through the North Cascades. I took a protein shake for lunch and my body reacted violently as my metabolic activity made the body busy in breaking down the protein and thus, I had no more energy left to walk even a few steps. My digestive tract used up all the available oxygen in my body and thus, hardly any oxygen was left for the brain and muscles. The result was that I started feeling drowsy. I took the lesson from this incident and I never carry protein powder while I hike. I prefer other energy boosters like dehydrated hummus, ProBars, refried beans, Clif Bars, walnuts or chia seeds and I consume throughout the day in small quantities.
The big meal at night helps me to recover from the strain of the day while I rest. This big meal too is not protein rich either as I choose to take the combination of the necessary macro and micro nutrients along with bioactive compounds and antioxidants. This is what you can call a whole food of whole meal.
I do not deny the fact that protein’s role is important in maintaining the necessary functions of the body and it also works in muscle recovery. But I have learned and thus, believe that protein is not the prime factor. Whatever we eat contains protein and the source is thus not limited. see, you can find protein in every food you eat; you just have to know the amount of protein your food contains and then you will never worry about having a shortage of protein for your body.
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