Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday Voice: A third red herring of the healthcare biz

Protein

By Jim Rix

Not infrequently when friends notice that my dinner plate is devoid of animal products and I tell them that I eat a plant-based diet, they ask “Where do you get your protein?” I look over at their plates, observe, say, a nice juicy piece of meat, and answer their question with this question: “Where did the cow that donated your steak get its protein?” Sometimes they figure it out but if they present a dumbfounded look, I reply, “That cow, as well as all large land mammals, like elephants and giraffes, is a vegetarian.” If they still don’t get it, I say “If there’s enough protein in plant foods to build these large animals, there must be enough to build a puny human being, don’t you think?”
    While protein is a necessary nutrient, we human beings require very little to be healthy. The World Health Organization recommends that men and women obtain 5% of their calories as protein. This would mean 38 grams of protein for a man burning 3,000 calories a day and 29 grams for a woman using 2,300 calories a day. This quantity of protein is impossible to avoid when daily calorie needs are met by unrefined starches and vegetables. For example, rice alone would provide 71 grams of highly usable protein and white potatoes would provide 64 grams of protein.
    Because this minimal requirement is easily satisfied (even with a plant-based diet), it is impossible, short of starvation, to suffer from protein deficiency. You know no one suffering from too little protein, do you? But you probably do know someone suffering from EXCESS protein, which is a real problem. When the body takes in more protein that it can use, the excess must be excreted. This puts a huge burden on the liver and kidneys. The standard treatment for liver and/or kidney failure is to put the patient on a low-protein diet and marry him to a dialysis machine until “death do us part.”


So, why aren’t we told that protein deficiency is a non-issue and advised that excess protein is a real problem and will in time make us sick? The answer is that this information is not profitable for the healthcare biz, which is greatly influenced by the meat and dairy industries, who do not want it known that their high-protein products are dangerous to health.
    Besides liver and kidney failure, excess protein causes other diseases like osteoporosis. “Wait a minute!” I hear you say. “Osteoporosis is thinning of the bones, which is obviously due to calcium deficiency.”

Could it be that calcium is also a red herring? Stay tuned.

Previous red herring: Sugar
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Copyright © 2014 by Jim Rix

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28 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jim, for reminding our readers that they don't have to eat meat to "get their protein."

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  2. As someone who overdosed on protein supplements in his youth, I can only applaud the reminder of this important message. Thank Jim.

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    1. Eric thank you for helping me emphasize that the real problem with protein is not deficiency but excess. Protein supplements are just as dangerous to our health as are animal products.

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  3. Not to pick nits, but vegetable proteins are usually "incomplete". Any particular one lacks amino acids that the human body can't synthesize. This is normally solved by eating a mixture of two or more veggies that, among them, do have all the amino acids we need. Beans and rice are a common example.

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    1. "Amino acids that the human body can't synthesize" are known as "essential" amino acids.8 of the 20 amino acids found in nature are "essential", that is, we must get them from food. You say beans and rice lack one or more of these amino acids. Can use specifically name one? I can't! I do believe that you have discovered another Red Herring – that the protein in animal products is somehow superior to the protein found in plant foods - a Red Herring to the liking of and no doubt promoted by the meat and dairy industries. And if you've received this misinformation from a medical doctor keep in mind that he/she is just a puppet of the healthcare biz.

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    2. Actually, I got the information from a book on vegan diets that I studied back in the 70s, "Diet for a Small Planet". It was quite specific about which essential amino acids were missing in which plants, and which combinations of vegan foods corrected the problem. I later confirmed the science from other sources. It's been more than thirty years since I looked at it, and I couldn't offer details without re-reading some stuff. Do you have any actual evidence that there are plants that do have "complete" proteins? I'd be interested to read about it.

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    3. I have not read “Diet for a Small Planet” because back in 1971, when it was published, I was a ravenous omnivore not interested in adopting a plant-based diet. So I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that it was highly influential and bestselling book by Frances Moore Lappé. But more interesting I also found out from Wikipedia that: “Lappé admitted in the 10th anniversary 1981 version of the book that sufficient protein was easier to get than she had thought at first: ‘In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein ... was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought. With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diets very heavily dependent on [1] fruit or on [2] some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on [3] junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.’ But while Lappé was correct that combining would indeed result in a more meat-like protein profile, some nutritionists have said that it is unnecessary: Individual plant foods contain all the amino acids required by humans, in amounts which satisfy growth and maintenance.” Good job, Chuck, in remembering the details of Lappé’s “protein complementarity” hypothesis 40 years later. But if I read the above correctly, Lappé no longer believes that it’s necessary to mix and match plant foods to get adequate protein which she now refers to as a “myth”.

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    4. Chuck
      The evidence that plants contain adequate protein can be found in "The Starch Solution" by John McDougall M.D. Chapter 7: When Friends Ask: Where Do You Get Your Protein?

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  4. "Diet for a Small Planet." Now there is a classic! That was my one reliable diet reference when I became a vegetarian back in the '70s. I've been a vegetarian for nearly four decades and a vegan for more than two decades, so I can vouch it contained some great information.

    I'm not up on the latest science on the matter, but I've always adhered to the belief that it was VERY important to eat foods that were strong in certain essential amino acids in combination with foods that were weak in those amino acids. Brown rice paired with soy products are the staples in my diet, followed by oats with just about any combination of brown or green veggies. Beans with corn also seems to work.

    Beyond essential amino acids, medical advisers have always told me the most critical aspect of a vegan diet is adequate vitamin B12, which reportedly comes only from animal sources or from foods enriched with B12. When training for ultra-running events and long-distance mountain bike races I found my B vitamin levels dropped quickly, so I started using an electrolyte product called "Emergen-C" and topping most of my pasta dishes with nutritional yeast. That always seemed to keep B levels high.

    The only plant I've heard of that possibly has "complete" protein is lupine. I don't yet know all the facts on that by I'm working on a research project about it as I have time. The Vikings reportedly snacked on fresh lupine buds, and carried with them snacks made of flour ground from dried lupine, and I am pursuing the idea that the famed Viking vigor may have been fueled by a plant, of all things, instead of the copious amounts of meat most people assume they ate.

    If anyone has any up-to-date facts on B12 sources for vegans, or on the amino-acid completeness of lupine, please share.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. "Diet for a Small Planet." Now there is a classic! That was my one reliable diet reference when I became a vegetarian back in the '70s. I've been a vegetarian for nearly four decades and a vegan for more than two decades, so I can vouch it contained some great information.

    I'm not up on the latest science on the matter, but I've always adhered to the belief that it was VERY important to eat foods that were strong in certain essential amino acids in combination with foods that were weak in those amino acids. Brown rice paired with soy products are the staples in my diet, followed by oats with just about any combination of brown or green veggies. Beans with corn also seems to work.

    Beyond essential amino acids, medical advisers have always told me the most critical aspect of a vegan diet is adequate vitamin B12, which reportedly comes only from animal sources or from foods enriched with B12. When training for ultra-running events and long-distance mountain bike races I found my B vitamin levels dropped quickly, so I started using an electrolyte product called "Emergen-C" and topping most of my pasta dishes with nutritional yeast. That always seemed to keep B levels high.

    The only plant I've heard of that possibly has "complete" protein is lupine. I don't yet know all the facts on that by I'm working on a research project about it as I have time. The Vikings reportedly snacked on fresh lupine buds, and carried with them snacks made of flour ground from dried lupine, and I am pursuing the idea that the famed Viking vigor may have been fueled by a plant, of all things, instead of the copious amounts of meat most people assume they ate.

    If anyone has any up-to-date facts on B12 sources for vegans, or on the amino-acid completeness of lupine, please share.

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    1. It would be really convenient if lupine were a complete protein. It grows profusely in the open space across the street. When the seed pods are ready, midsummer, I'll give it a try. Ever tasted the stuff, Moto?

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  6. Chuck, yes I've tried fresh lupine on a test basis, and while I can't report any superhuman traits from it I can say it didn't seem to do any damage. My wife and I were married in Iceland on the Summer Solstice a few years ago, so we were basically in the lupine capital of the universe and had to try some during the two weeks we were surrounded by thousands of acres of the stuff. Since then I've also had tofu made from lupin beans instead of soybeans, and it was very good.

    A word of caution about eating fresh lupine seeds: some types reportedly have a toxicity to them, and some people who are allergic to peanuts also react to lupine. The preferred way to eat "lupin beans" is out of a brine jar, not unlike capers. The beans are often used as a replacement for soybeans throughout the Mediterranean region and Europe, and were reportedly a staple of the ancient Roman diet.

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    1. Paul, James T. Carney is somewhat of a Roman scholar, and I have emailed him whether he knows anything about lupine's having been a staple of the ancient Roman diet.

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    2. Carney sayeth: "Lupini beans grow well in Southern, Mediterranean climates, particularly in Italy.They certainly were a staple of the Roman diet. They are still used in Italy today, although at least one source I checked showed them being used as a special dish."

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  7. Morris, scholarly input would be most appreciated. I have read conflicting accounts and am unsure as to whether the Romans took lupine north and it was adopted by the Vikings and other Scandinavians, or if the northerners took it south. Also cannot find scientific verification of the "complete" amino acid profile that "lupin" or "lupini" beans are reputed to have.

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    1. Googling "Lupin Beans" I find that they have: Protein - 42.6%; Oil(Fat) - 18.7%; and Carbohydrates - 27.3%. At 24.6%, I suspect they have complete amino acids. However they are more like a nut than a starch which should be enjoyed is a treat and not as a primary source of calories.

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  8. And Chuck, Paul, anyone, what about Jim's contention that protein deficiency is not a health problem but that protein excess IS?

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  9. And, Jim, in all fairness, while you're waiting for a possible reply from Chuck or Paul (or anyone) about your contention that protein excess is a health problem, please say more about that problem, beyond the statement that "When the body takes in more protein than it can use, the excess must be excreted. This puts a huge burden on the liver and kidneys." Is the burden on the organs mentioned the extent of the problem, and how "huge" is the burden? And do you include under "health problem" the burden on our "healthcare" system? Thanks.

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    1. That kidney failure is a consequence of excess protein has been known for a long long time. Here's something from your Alma Mater that was written more than 100 years ago - In his book, Physiology Economy in Nutrition, Russell Henry Chittenden, former President of the American Physiological Society (APS) and Professor of Physiological Chemistry at Yale, wrote in 1905, “Proteid (protein) decomposition products are a constant menace to the well-being of the body; any quantity of proteid or albuminous food beyond the real requirements of the body may prove distinctly injurious…Further, it requires no imagination to understand the constant strain upon the liver and kidneys, to say nothing of the possible influence upon the central and peripheral parts of the nervous system, by these nitrogenous waste products which the body ordinarily gets rid of as speedily as possible.”

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    2. Wow! Great, Jim, that you found that from a Yale professor a century ago. Thanks for sharing it. The pushing of hamburgers is beginning to appear to deserve to be classified a severely punishable crime, and we haven't even mentioned the destruction of rainforests to grow beef....

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    3. Not just hamburgers my friend but what say you to ALL ANIMAL PRODUCTS?

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  10. Jim, I took a little while to look at the references you dug up on complementary proteins. They look credible. I have many questions, e.g.
    - Lappe is quoted as discounting the idea in the current edition of 'Diet for a Small Planet". I'm astounded there IS such a thing, of course. Question: what does she advocate, nutritionally, in the current edition?
    - She is not, I believe, a physiologist. Does this dismissal of concern about complete proteins reflect a consensus in that field? I saw one reference that suggested perhaps it is, but it was quoted by a hostile witness. I don't have enough knowledge to guess.

    Thanks for the new information. About harm from excess protein: I've seen many discussions of this, and all of them have said the excess is simply burned, as if it were a mere carb, and is a waste of an expensive nutrient rather than actively harmful. I have no idea which idea is right.

    I probably won't find out. Since my wife is a dedicated carnivore, even strict vegetarianism would be a logistical headache. I settle for keeping my meat consumption to about 3 ounces a day, and freely add eggs and cheese to my veggy meals. Not perfect, but neither am I.

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    1. I do not know what Lappe now advocates because I have not read any her books. I assume you are “astounded” at her retraction. However, I commend her for correcting the misconception (“myth”) that plant foods have incomplete protein which she promoted in her first edition.

      As for the discussions you’ve seen which minimize the dangers of excess protein, I suspect they were promoted by the meat and/or dairy industries or at least their representatives were on the panel. It wouldn’t be profitable for them, would it, if the facts became known that protein deficiency is virtually nonexistent and that excess protein is quite harmful? (This is precisely my point that the seemingly universal concern over protein deficiency is a bona fide Red Herring of the Healthcare Biz).

      I reiterate the conclusion of Lappe’s retraction “if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.” This is true whether it’s a plant-based diet, a meat-based diet, or a combination of both. The problem with a meat-based diet is: that it has excessive protein; carries unwanted baggage like cholesterol and saturated fats; and is deficient in many nutrients like carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals which are all found in abundance in plant foods. Since plant foods have sufficient protein and you must eat them to get the nutrients missing in meat anyway, why not simply eat a plant-based diet and avoid the harmful baggage that comes with meat? Some food for thought.

      I too have had “significant other” issues over diet. Maybe that’s why I’m pretty much a hermit these days.

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    2. No, I'm not especially surprised at the retraction. My astonishment is that that book is still in print after forty years.
      My information that excess protein is simply burned has come from so many sources over so many years that no conspiracy theory is plausible. I've read probably a couple of dozen discussions of our excess protein consumption, and yours is the first that has claimed that it is actually physically harmful. Which is not to say you're wrong - I simply don't know.

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  11. There is certainly no conspiracy. It’s just business. Like any good salesman, the meat and dairy industries will tell you what is necessary to sell their products. And they have a lot of money to do so. The trick is to be able to tell the difference between their advertising and science. Here are two websites I rely upon for the straight scoop www.pcrm.org and www.nutritionfacts.org. Give them a try. See what they have to say about eggs for example. However I should warn you that this might cause used to stop eating them.

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  12. Sorry to have been missing out on this enlightening discussion: We are still digging out from an ice storm that put limbs through the roof and ceiling and left us with with five dump truck loads of debris around our house. Winter in the sunny south, go figure.

    Chuck, not sure about the damage done to a healthy system by excess protein but can tell you from personal experience it is a problem for those who have suffered through serious renal failure and recovery.

    Jim, thank you for listing the two websites. If you keep going with the "red herring" theme I would be interested in what you come up with on B12, especially in regard to us vegans.

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  13. Vitamin D and vitamin B12 are the only nutrients not found in plant foods. Vitamin D is a hormone synthesized from sunlight and consequently a non-issue. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the gut of all animals and stored in their tissues. Since humans now live in an antiseptic environment many no longer have this bacteria in their intestines and must rely on external sources either animal products or supplements for their vitamin B12. B12 deficiency is rare because humans are able to store vast quantities in reserve. Only those humans who eat a strict plant-based diet more than three years are at risk. Even then B12 deficiency is rare. Also the consequences are minor neurological sensation like tingling in the hands and feet. B12 deficiency is easily remedied with a daily supplement of 5 µg B12. Because B12 deficiency is the only deficiency of a plant-based diet it has become the last bastion of diehard meat eaters. I for one would rather take this innocuous supplement than risk heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other negative consequences of the rich Western diet.

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