A Vegan Doctor Addresses The Protein Question
Source: Free From Harm
By: Holly Wilson MD
Nearly all of what I treat in the Emergency Department is diet related. We have eaten ourselves into a state of sickness, and it is fueled by misinformation. This is nowhere more clear than in the endlessly circulated protein myth; most of us have been indoctrinated into a belief system which holds the misconception that our only sources of protein are animal-derived. Although animal flesh, eggs and milk are sources of protein which we can utilize, they are in fact inferior to plant-based sources. And ironically, many of the animals we consume for their protein are themselves herbivores. Animal-based sources of protein also have a well-documented association with a myriad of preventable diseases. The list is long, and includes hypertension, type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, coronary artery disease, ischemic strokes, and an array of autoimmune diseases. Interestingly (and tragically), early exposure to cow milk has been implicated in increasing the risk of developing type 1 diabetes (juvenile-onset).
What is protein?
Before making recommendations about plant-based sources of protein, I would like to first address the issue of protein in general. What is protein? The name is of Greek origin, ‘proteios’, which means ‘of prime importance’. Amino acids are organic compounds that form proteins by being linked together. There are 20 in total, of which 8 (or 10, considering the classification system you are using) are considered ‘essential’. An essential amino acid is one which the human body cannot produce on its own, and must be obtained from diet. The functional units of muscle tissue are protein fibers, and enzymes are also considered proteins.
The scientific literature shows that it’s better to get our protein from plant sources. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., author of ‘The China Study,’ the largest epidemiological study to date on human nutrition, wrote: “There is a mountain of compelling research showing that plant protein allows for slow but steady synthesis of new proteins, and is the healthiest type of protein.” There are also many record-holding vegan athletes and bodybuilders who demonstrate that not only can we survive, but optimally thrive on a plant-based diet, getting plenty of protein and all other nutrients necessary for peak physical performance. Robert Cheeke (bodybuilder), Carl Lewis (track and field), Steph Davis (mountain climber/base jumper), Brendan Brazier (triathlon athlete) and Patrik Baboumian (world record-holding strongman), just to name a few, all excel on a plant-based diet.
How much protein does a person need?
The question of optimal protein intake was addressed by a joint panel of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations University. Findings were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in an article titled ‘Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition’ co-authored by Vernon R. Young and Peter L. Pellett. They carefully examined requirements at various stages in life, as well as plant versus animal sources of the essential amino acids. It is recommended that adults, both male and female, consume 0.80 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. There are 2.2 pounds per kg, so a person weighing 140 pounds weighs approximately 64 kg. This would mean that they would need to consume approximately 51 grams of protein per day. An example of a typical vegan menu (divide into separate meals) which would meet this requirement: One cup of oatmeal (6 grams), 5 ounces tofu (11 grams), one cup broccoli (4 grams), one cup cooked brown rice (5 grams), 4 tablespoons almonds (7 grams), one cup chopped kale (2.9 grams), one cup cooked beans (12 grams), and one cup avocado (2.9 grams).
The truth is that people commonly eat more animal protein than they can process, and even vegetarians (those who abstain from flesh but consume milk and eggs) often consume too much as well. Excessive animal protein is incredibly toxic to our bodies. The liver’s ability to convert excess nitrogen to urea is saturated, and the blood becomes acidic. This can cause you to lose a significant amount of water (leading to dehydration), muscle mass, and bone calcium.