Protein Makes a Comeback – Basics, Dietary Guidelines and how to Avoid Extremes
Lean protein—the white meat of poultry, flank steak, eggs, and fish——- is a cornerstone of super nutrition. It can make the difference between optimum nutrition and malnutrition. Protein, which comes from a Greek word meaning “first,” is appropriately named because it is the most important of the macronutrients, found in virtually every cell of the body. Eating enough of the right kind of protein can transform your body into a fat-burning machine and give you extended energy, improved concentration, and appetite control.
Back in the 1970s, we were advised to eat as much protein as possible. Nutritionist Adelle Davis had us counting protein grams instead of calories. By the 1980s, however, we were loading up on carbohydrates in preference to proteins, wary of cholesterol problems we were taught would result from eating high-protein meat and dairy products.
The pendulum has swung one way, then another, and has finally landed in the middle—the point of balance. As we have come to recognize the hormonal effects of food, the merits of protein are being examined in a new light. However, rather than a “more is better” approach, we’re seeing the importance of balancing protein intake with carbohydrate and fat. We are learning that by increasing protein intake in relationship to carbohydrates, we trigger a favorable hormonal response.
As you will remember from an earlier post, protein activates the fat-mobilization hormone, glucagon, which assists us in losing weight, building lean muscle mass, stabilizing energy levels, controlling hunger, and so forth. When the 40/30/30 balance is achieved, appetite is normalized. Consequently, so is caloric intake, which diminishes as hormonal balance is established. This is not a high-protein diet, for the actual amount of protein consumed daily according to the 40/30/30 eating plan might remain the same as it was before—or even decrease. Many men can adjust the ratio simply by reducing their carbohydrate intake.
Because it boosts metabolic rate, increased protein intake can be especially beneficial to the slow burner, giving him more energy and better endurance. Increasing metabolism can help bum off stored fat and improve utilization of energy from foods.
Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body, comprising 50 percent of our body’s weight. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids—twenty—three of them When you eat protein-rich foods, your body breaks the protein down into its amino acid components, and then uses these building blocks to manufacture new proteins. Thousands of proteins are made from different combinations of these twenty-three amino acids. Some are used by the cells to build new tissue, others to construct antibodies, hormones, enzymes, and blood cells.
Of the twenty-three amino acids, eight are considered essential, meaning that they can’t be produced by the body, but must be supplied in the diet. These are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Two more amino acids, arginine and histidine, are essential in the growth period of life and sometimes, due to acquired or genetic factors, in adult life as well.
Protein controls the catabolic/anabolic cycle of the body. In the catabolic phase of this cycle, muscle tissue is broken down during strenuous physical activity, whereas it is built up in the anabolic phase. Increasing protein intake in the diet facilitates the formation of new muscle. Muscles contain more protein than any other structure of the body. Men need more of it—and more calories—because of greater muscle mass and because their metabolism leans toward the catabolic. In addition to these functions, adequate protein is needed for:
- Blood clotting
- Building new cells
- Energy production and endurance
- Formation of hormones
- Formation of the brain’s neurotransmitters
- Healthy hair, skin, and nails
- Maintaining strong immunity
- Muscular strength and tone
- Normal digestion
- Regulation of fluid balance
- Stimulation of metabolism
- Tissue growth and repair
A food is considered a complete protein if it contains all of the eight essential amino acids. Complete proteins include meat, fish, poultry, milk, and dairy products. Bee pollen and spirulina also fall into this category. Of the meats, liver and kidney have the highest protein value in terms of their amino-acid profiles.
It’s recommended that men take in about 50 to 75 grams of protein per day. Of course, individual needs vary, based upon nutritional status, body size, and activity level, as well as genetic factors. For example, athletes (especially bodybuilders) need more protein than less active men. To stimulate muscle growth, weight lifters should take in approximately 1 to VA grams of complete protein per pound of lean body weight, while endurance athletes require^to % grams of protein per pound of lean body weight.
High-protein meal replacement formulas are frequently used for weight loss and supplemental protein. Those containing casein should be avoided. Casein is a difficult-to-digest milk protein to which many men are allergic. Commercially, it’s used to glue wood together because of its tenacious adhesive quality. The casein content of cow’s milk is 300 times higher than mother’s milk and a byproduct of its bacterial decomposition is mucous production, yet another strike despite the fact that
it is a complete protein. Meat is a better choice for complete protein—meat from free-range chickens, wild game, and antibiotic- and hormone-free beef.
Eggs are also an excellent source of complete protein. They are one of the few food sources of the sulfur-containing amino acid, I^cysteine, which is essential for healthy skin, hair, and nails. Their cholesterol content should not be a concern, for high dietary cholesterol does not translate into high cholesterol in the body. Another bonus is that eggs have a high lecithin content. As a fat emulsifier, lecithin is a cholesterol-lowering agent. One can safely eat eggs every day, though powdered eggs should be avoided. The cholesterol in powdered eggs is oxidized and therefore toxic to blood vessels.
Since soybeans are a complete protein, the vegetarian would do well to make liberal use of tempeh and soybean products such as tofu in his diet. He should make sure, however, to supplement zinc to offset high copper levels in all soy products. Soy’s health benefits give the meat-eater a reason to incorporate it into his diet as well. The entire soybean family of plant chemicals provide protection against cancer, and any of the foods made from soy significantly lowers blood cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Other excellent plant protein sources include honeybee pollen and sesame seeds. Bee pollen contains all of the essential and nonessential amino acids. Its therapeutic effects include regulation of metabolism and oxygenation of cells. Many athletes and Olympic stars have found bee pollen to be very beneficial. As a supplement, 1 to 2 teaspoons can be taken daily with food or beverage. When starting supplementation, it is best to begin by taking a smaller amount (try half a teaspoon) and to increase gradually.
Another fine vegetarian source of complete protein is the blue-green algae spirulina. Along with bee pollen, spirulina is considered to be one of the world’s most perfect foods. It’s a rich source of natural protein (60 to 71 percent) that is more digestible than most foods because it lacks cellulose, a plant fiber that cannot be digested by humans. It is also rich in vitamins, minerals, and EFAs.
It has been estimated that the average man’s protein consumption represents only 12 to 18 percent of total daily calories. Therefore, for most men, the challenge is not so much one of adding more protein grams, as it is balancing protein intake with carbohydrates and fats—and, of course, upgrading the quality of all macronutrients. There are problems associated with both underconsumption and overconsumption of protein.
It has traditionally been taught that in order to properly synthesize protein, the body must be supplied with all essential amino acids simultaneously in the proper proportions. For example, plant foods do not contain sufficient amounts of all of the essential amino acids. They are, therefore, said to be incomplete proteins. Grains lack lysine and threonine, while beans lack methionine. By combining grains with beans at the same meal, the amino acid profile is complete.
This practice, however, is not in vogue anymore. Current teaching dictates that complementary proteins can be eaten during the course of the day rather than at the same meal. I am personally in favor of the current teaching for another reason: Eating grains and beans together can create an overload of carbohydrate, leading to excessive insulin production and its fat-promoting properties in sensitive individuals.
I’ve already stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy balance and avoiding dietary extremes, such as high-carbohydrate diets. Moderation should be extended to your intake of protein, as well. Since both excess and deficiency of protein can cause problems, the heavy meat-eater and the vegetarian alike can be in trouble. Vegetarians often develop problems that stem from deficiency, while heavy meat eaters may suffer from conditions related to toxicity.
Protein deficiency may lead to abnormalities in growth and tissue development. The protein-deficient man often has poor posture because he lacks the muscle tone and energy to stand perfectly erect. He may also have a diminished sex drive, constant food cravings, thinning hair, and brittle nails. The mental state is often characterized by irritability, depression, and confusion. A study of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students found that protein significantly inproved their ability to do mental tasks, while carbohydrates curbed this ability by making them more relaxed. This is most likely because proteins produce dopamine and norepinephrine, two chemicals in the brain that boost alertness.
The protein-deficient man may also be bloated and overweight due to insufficient albumin, a blood protein that makes urine collection possible. Inadequate protein can’t support albumin formation and water leaks out from the cells into the spaces between them where it can’t be excreted by the kidneys.
Insufficient protein can result in poor resistance to infection, impaired wound healing, and delayed recovery from illness. Antibodies are the body’s chemical “bullets” for the fight against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. An antibody is, by definition, a blood protein. Without enough dietary protein, antibodies can’t form and immunity is inpaired. Also made of protein are phagocytes, or “killer cells,” a form of white blood cell important to our immunity. So, too, are enzymes. Protein deficiency thus creates an inability to produce adequate quantities of enzymes. This adversely affects digestion, which in turn hampers the body in its ability to utilize other nutrients.
The deficiencies that can occur in a vegetarian diet are numerous, especially if the diet is vegan (devoid of eggs and dairy, as well as flesh products). Plasma and urine tests conducted at Aatron Medical Services reveal that vegetarians are commonly deficient in the amino acids lysine, methionine, tryptophan, carnitine, and taurine. The first three of these are essential amino acids. Lacking these, the body can develop immune and liver dysfunction, weight problems, and sleep disorders.
Because vitamin B12 is found only in animal products, vitamin-B 12 deficiency is common among vegetarians. Pernicious anemia is the classic sign of B12 deficiency, but other symptoms can include dementia, depression, paleness, and numbness and tingling in the extremities. Vegans should consider supplementing with 500 micrograms of vitamin B12.
Less well known is the fact that vegetarians are often zinc deficient. This mineral is critical for proper immune and reproductive functions, and for maintaining stable blood-sugar levels. The typical vegetarian diet is high in copper. This can give rise to such conditions as skin problems, yeast infections, lowered immunity, depression, lack of mental focus, and, in extreme cases, schizophrenia.
Roger, a twenty-five-year-old graduate student had begun eating a vegetarian diet after reading a very popular diet book in the late 1980s that touted food combining and vegetarianism. For several years he felt marvelous. He had more energy and more mental clarity. Then slowly but surely, his energy levels reached a plateau and began to slip. He also began to experience recurring colds and bouts of flu.
After reviewing his high-carb, low-protein diet history, I immediately added fish and chicken to his eating program on a daily basis. Roger also agreed to include at least four eggs a week in his diet. His energy picked up almost immediately. And his bouts with colds and flu have subsided to one cold or so a year.
Protein is used to build new cells to replace those that are constantly lost from day to day, such as skin and hair cells. Stresses, such as injury, surgery, hemorrhage, and prolonged illness cause a loss of body protein. Supplemental protein may therefore be indicated at times of stress; however, excessive protein intake may cause fluid imbalance and other problems.
When Is Vegetarianism Appropriate?
In consideration of metabolic type, ancestry, and blood type, I believe it’s fair to say that a vegetarian diet is not appropriate for the majority of men. A man with type-0 blood who is a slow burner of Northern European heritage cannot maintain health on a vegetarian or even a semi-vegetarian diet. However, he may find, as other types have, that such a meatless diet is effective as a short-term therapeutic regimen, particularly if it incorporates plenty of fresh vegetable juices. Vegetables contain a number of unique substances that possess healing properties, including carotenes, flavonoids, and chlorophyll, as well as thousands of phytochemicals. But most important, vegetables —especially vegetable juices—provide high levels of minerals needed by the body to form electrolytes and reestablish home ostasis.
Since all other nutrients, including protein, require minerals for their activity, saturating the body with minerals from fresh vegetable juices (and, ideally, taking Trace-Lyte) in times of illness becomes a priority. Because juices provide no fiber, however, it’s also necessary to consume fiber- rich whole vegetables, as well. Fiber helps to detoxify and build up the body. Once the body is built up to the point where digestion is normal, due to restoration of pH balance provided by the electrolytes and the alkaline ash of the vegetables, extra protein is needed to build new tissue and complete the healing process. Providing high-protein foods prema turely, however, simply adds to the body’s toxic burden. Without the digestive ability to break the protein down into its amino acid components, the protein will putrefy and thus postpone recovery, rather than assist it.
If high-protein foods of animal origin are not added back to the diet of the recovering man at the appropriate time, when his metabolic rate, blood type, and/or ancestry dictate a need for it, he will deteriorate. Because of these factors, some men will do better on a maintenance diet of lean meats eaten more frequently; others will fare better on lighter proteins like fish and foul eaten less often. Most men should avoid dairy. I feel confident in saying that all men should incorporate some animal products into their diets—even just a few eggs a week. Diets of healthy peoples around the world have traditionally been composed of highly nourishing foods and devoid of junk food and empty calories, but they have all included some animal products. This was confirmed by Dr. Weston Price (himself a vegetarian) in his classic study of the diets of indigenous cultures in the early 1900s.
The healthy man may benefit from incorporating fresh vegetable juices into his diet on a routine basis and may even wish to use them exclusively for a day or two to cleanse his system and help replenish his alkaline minerals reserve. Such a mono-food diet, however, should not be extended beyond a few days because of the inherent lack of macronutrient balance.
Seventy-two percent of the protein consumed by Americans comes from animal products. Consuming excessive amounts of meat in the absence of fiber-rich carbohydrates will cause constipation and putrefaction of protein with resulting toxicity. A high intake of animal protein has been linked to osteoporosis and kidney stones. The link found here is in the effect of excess protein on calcium metabolism When protein intake is increased from 47 to 142 grams daily, the excretion of calcium in the urine doubles.- Alkaline minerals (primarily sodium and calcium) are needed to buffer the acid ash left from consumption of meat. Usable forms of these minerals are obtained primarily from fruits and vegetables, which are sparse in the Standard American Diet. According to Senate Document #436, published in 1936, 99 percent of Americans are mineral deficient!
Overconsumption of acid-forming foods, such as meat, forces the body to rob its own storehouses —taking sodium from the muscles and calcium from the bones and teeth—to provide alkaline minerals to neutralize the acid caused by excess protein consumption.
Paul and Mike were twenty-something weight-lifters who wanted to get real “mean and lean. ” They each began following an extremely high-protein diet, consuming 8- ounce steaks twice a day. They believed that combining this with their weightlifting would stimulate fat burning and build muscle mass. In a little less than a month on this overdose of protein, both came to see me on the recommendation of a friend. Paul had suffered a stress fracture in his right wrist, and Mike complained about his whole hody feeling tight and his lower back constantly aching.
It appeared that both these men were forcing their bodies to rob their bones for calcium and their muscles for sodium. I immediately switched them to the 40/30/30 plan and put them on Trace-Lyte Electrolytes. I also advised both of them to choose fat-free cottage cheese to help replenish calcium and sodium reserves. Within eight days both reported feeling better, with a leveling of mood swings, and relief of lower back pain.
A high intake of animal protein has also been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. While excessive intake of saturated fats contained in animal products can be a risk factor in the development of coronary-artery disease, lack of EFAs, overconsumption of sugar, and macronutrient imbalance are perhaps more important, though less recognized, factors. A word about cholesterol: Cattle of today store a different kind of fat in their muscles than did the animals of the past. These animals were range-fed on grasslands, but today they’re fed grains and injected with the growth hormone, stilbestrol. Whereas the grass-fed cattle accumulated a fatty acid called oleic acid in their muscles, today’s beef cattle store a different kind of fat, called stearic acid, which contributes to the elevation of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
THE TRACE MINERAL CONNECTION
Most people assimilate only a small percentage of the protein they take in, generally about 20 percent. Most people are also deficient in trace minerals needed for electrolyte formation. There is a relationship between the two previous statements. Read them again. Trace minerals enable the body to use proteins. By returning the needed minerals to our soils and our bodies, electrolyte balance would be reestablished. We would assimilate a greater percentage of the protein we eat and therefore need less of it. In the face of trace-mineral deficiency, homeostasis is disrupted due to electrolyte imbalance, body pH is thrown off, and digestion is inpaired, limiting our ability to produce enzymes to break down protein and other nutrients. According to Gillian Martlew, N.D., author of Electrolytes: The Spark of Life:
Filling up with protein or large amounts of separate amino acids unaccompanied by electrolytes saturates the body with harmful waste products. This is caused by the incomplete conversion of protein to amino acids. In this situation, the body creates uric acid instead of new tissue, and is then forced to use more minerals trying to neutralize it…. The enzymes needed for digestion are created from amino acids with the help of electrolytes. Minerals enable proteins to be broken down into their component parts (amino acids),which then become bioavailable—available for body use.
Protein, then, is essentially useless and toxic to the body in the absence of electrolytes needed to produce the enzymes necessary to break it down into amino acids. It is highly recommended that all men include supplemental trace minerals in the form of a true electrolyte formula (containing liquid minerals in crystalloid form) in their diet on a regular basis.
POINTS TO PONDER
Throughout the decades, we have been urged to include large amounts of protein in our diets, and then to cut back on protein in favor of carbohydrates. Fortunately, in recent years scientists and nutritionists have begun to appreciate the beneficial aspects of protein when it’s consumed in proper balance with carbohydrates and fats. Increased protein intake boosts metabolic rate and activates glucagon, the body’s primary fat-mobilization hormone.
For a protein to be considered complete, it must contain all of the twenty-three essential and nonessential amino acids—the building blocks of proteins. While meats and dairy products are well known as good sources of complete proteins, there are many foods not derived from animals that can supply all of the necessary amino acids. These include soybeans, sesame seeds, and spirulina, a type of blue-green algae, and they are all excellent sources of protein for the vegetarian male who does not take in protein from animal products. A full range of essential and nonessential amino acids can also be consumed through food combining, in which complementary proteins are eaten during the course of the day to complete the amino acid profile.
As you strive to balance your intake of protein with carbohydrate and fat, remember that protein is
basically useless in—and even toxic to—the body without enough of the minerals that are essential to protein assimilation. These minerals, in the form of electrolytes, produce the enzymes that are needed to break down protein into its constituent amino acids, which are then made available to help run and repair the body. So it’s a good idea to include supplemental trace minerals in your dietary regimen.