Lots of us raised on a meat eating diet come across vegetarians and the vegetarian diet sooner or later.
And we ask "Where's the protein? "
And vegetarians and vegans who are usually slimmer and healthier than their meat eating cousins are totally fed up hearing that question so here we'll cover the ever present question "Where do you get your protein from?"
What's Protein Anyway?
Have you heard that most of the body is water? It's around 65% and what is left over is protein 20% and Oils and Fat 12% and the 3% left over! Data
So it's clearly important.
If the body is a bag of water the skin is what the bag is made of so let's start our protein story with the skin.
The skin is the biggest organ of the body and is largely made of long spiral protein molecule called collagen which also adds strength to our bones. Similarly our hair and nails are made of the protein keratin.
Not all of our proteins are like this – building our structure, some proteins are enzymes so they are action molecules and help us to digest our food.
What Is Protein Made Of?
All Proteins are chains of atoms. These are made up of smaller atoms called amino acids.
There are 20 different little amino acids that are essential in our diet. There are no essential proteins – just essential amino acids and they are found in all foods.
To be healthy and well-nourished we need all the essential amino acids along with nutrients like essential fatty acids and the lifesaving vitamins and minerals.
And so long as we get all the essential amino acids and fatty acids, vitamins and minerals we'll be fine.
It is only Because the body needs amino acids we say that we need protein in our diet
If we eat foods with protein in them the digestive acid in our stomach breaks the protein down into its amino acid building blocks and these little atoms then enter the blood stream and get used in different parts of the body.
These might then be used by the body to make whatever proteins it wants – we make proteins actin and myosin for our muscles and we make digestive enzymes so we can digest our food.
We make whatever protein we need from these wee little aminos (rhymes with amigos)!
If I felt a little controversial today I would go on to say that we don't need protein at all – we just need a big enough bunch of amino acids, but that's for another day.
So that's protein – it’s a bunch of little aminos carrying nitrogen into our body.
Where To Find Protein?
Everybody knows where to find protein – in meat of course! So here's some numbers showing food on the left against Protein amounts per 100g serving. These are not carefully selected just a few obvious foods to look at. I do admit that Brie is one of my favourite foods so that may have something to do with the selection.
French brie 21
Soya beans 17
Cheddar Cheese 23
Peanut Butter 28
Beef Fillet Steak 20
Turkey Breast 22
Cod fish 17
There are 1000s of foods available at the link below
Simply put Cheese has more protein than Beef or Bacon and to my surprise Peanut butter – not often thought of as a "health food" packs even more protein power than most other foods – vegetarian or not.
Protein is not the reserve of some foods only. Pretty much all foods have sizable amounts of protein and whether you are or are not a vegetarian is not the point. Simply put meat is not a good place to get protein. Whether or not you want to eat meat or fish or whatever is another question – but protein is not and cannot be part of the discussion.
Eat meat if you like it or eat meat if you think it is more "manly" or "American" or whatever.
But protein is not the issue – for that I'll have my peanut butter and cheese sandwich.
Where are we after 700 words?
Protein is all through the world of food and some Nutritionists who have studied this matter have concluded that it is almost impossible in a Western diet to eat enough calories and not get enough protein.
The old superstition that some proteins are better than others belongs to the past as does the completely unscientific idea that vegetarians have to blend foods in a special way.
This nonsense was made up by a non-scientist trying to reassure her readers that eating vegetable protein was all they needed.
It is and the invention has been apologised for, by her, so we can all move on now.
But how much should we eat?
Is it true that since Some protein is good more is better?
If you think that since it makes sense to drink a few cups of water a day then many more cups would be even better you would dilute the electrolyte minerals in your blood that you would pass out and maybe die. This does happen in marathons and some amateur events and is very sad.
Too much protein burdens the kidney and liver at least and probably the immune system too. There are mixed opinions at present on whether it causes bone disease but if you overconsume meat you will under consume vegetables and fruit.
Roughly speaking we need about 60g of protein a day and we are often eating 100 to 120 gm.
This may just be a clue to why advanced western nations are experiencing a tidal wave of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer and much poorer countries are not.
We are digging our graves with our knives and forks.
Protein is innocent though, it is our silly ideas and food advertisements that are at fault.
Healthy food is almost never advertised. If you see an advert is usually for a food like substance in a box.
You know all the ingredients on the label? Real food does not have ingredients; real food is ingredients.
The Whole Meat Thing
Right across the English speaking world – the US, Canada, UK and Australia there is almost a "Cult", a belief system that we must eat meat – lots of it and often.
I am not trying to persuade people to stop being cult members! But if all you want is protein and to be healthy then you can get that from Vegetables, fruit and grains with help from cheese and milk if you wish.
OK Alex Where do you get your protein from?
Cheese, kidney beans, lentils, Tofu – normal unglamorous food that vegetarians eat. No fake meats or special measures.
And I love vegetarian curry, stews and an occasional pizza. NO need at all for will power of going without. Only thing I recommend going without is the false information puffed out by those selling you on crazy unbalanced and unscientific diets such as Atkins, South Beach and so called "Paleo".
Nobody needs a high protein diet any more than they need a high fat diet or a high carb diet.
Lots more to discuss in future weeks and please feel free to share this post with you friends and to ask questions and comment below in the Comments form.