Where Is Your Protein Coming From?

With each passing day I am more and more concerned over the quality of meat in our food system.  I have not eaten red meat in 25 years (wow, I’m old) but I have still kept some forms of animal product in my diet.  As I have tried to research how much protein I really need, I get mixed messages

The first red flag that comes up is the number of studies that are conducted or funded by organizations that have a vested interest in the outcome.  I tend to be skeptical when the dairy association comes out with reports saying how great dairy is….see where I’m going?

Protein requirements for each person is going to vary due to many things including age, gender, body mass, activity level, type of training, etc.  Research has also shown that timing of intake must be considered as well. But something that has become of increasing concern to me that I have been questioning as of late is what I am reading about not only the QUANTITY of protein that is recommended, but also the TYPE. The more research I do, I am developing concerns related to how these things might affect health and well-being.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a simple primer on protein that explains what it is, the different types of protein that exist, and basic recommendations for the amount to consume on a daily basis.  It’s pretty broad.  According to their recommendations, a 19-year-old man and a 70-year-old man have the same needs.

Other organizations and researchers have developed recommendations based on body weight. Those are usually somewhere in the ballpark of .8-1.0 gram per kilogram of body weight.  It seems like a lot, and if you’re not making good food choices, it’s hard to get that much consumed in a day.  This is where so many people begin to rely on supplementation.  That’s another topic in itself!

The CDC guidelines go on to give detail and suggestions on protein type.  Most of it includes animal based proteins, a little bit about legumes, and then there is a TINY note at the bottom about vegetable based protein consumption.  My red flag goes up here.

Much of the research that I have been doing about the TYPE of protein to consume stems from reading The China Study.  It is a synthesis of longitudinal research comparing typical Western (United States) and traditional Eastern (China) diets.  Among many interesting findings, the most startling centers around the difference in the quantity and type of protein Easterners consume and the low cancer and heart disease rates that are associated.  Basically, the traditional Chinese diet is very low in protein and almost all of it is vegetable based protein.

Hmmm. This is something I haven’t really heard before. Why have I not heard this?  Well, my guess is because this research is just pure research. It’s not backed by anyone with vested interest and there is no money to commercially promote and share the information. Broccoli farmers do not have millions of dollars to produce commercials, billboards, or the like to educate you about these issues.  They don’t even get subsidies from our Farm Bill!  So, unless you are seeking it out and do the research yourself, this isn’t really mainstream information – YET.

So, although I don’t have guidelines or recommendations to share, the one thing I can recommend at this point is for you to read The China Study. From there you can begin to examine the hundreds of cited studies and sources on the effect of animal based protein.  Then you can determine your own thoughts on the issue. There are certainly critics of this book, but the science is pretty compelling.

I certainly am not trying to dictate any particular diet.  I know guidelines and recommendations exist to direct the general population with basic amounts and it’s really up to each of us to determine what works.  Sometimes we have to rely on how we feel and perform based on what we are eating.  It’s not always scientific studies that can tell us these types of things.  I know that when I feel and perform my personal best that I have been eating accordingly.  I will say though, I do not consider myself to consume very much by way of animal based protein but the research I have found is cause for alarm.

What are your thoughts on this issue? I would love to hear them!

Check out this recent New York Times Op-Ed, “Meat Makes The Planet Thirsty” by James McWilliams.

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