Since I tackled the major hurtle of FAT, I figured protein sources would be a good topic to attack next. Second to fat, poor protein is one of the most misunderstood and falsely condemned sources of nourishment. Most “experts” in society consider protein one of those necessary but very limited food groups. Obviously, protein can be obtained from a large variety of foods, so rolling it all together can be troublesome. While meat is the logical first thought for most when it come to protein, modern society likes to tell us that we can get equally good nourishment from soy (cringe). Other sources tell us that it is preferable to get protein from a powdered concoction of dried whey and chemicals. Others (like Atkins) say that meat, meat, and only meat are the only acceptable sources of protein and that all carbs were created bad.
Proteins, on a strictly molecular level, are made up of amino acids in a linear chain. The sequence of amino acids in a protein molecule is defined my the sequence of the gene for that protein. There are 20 standard amino acids specified by the genetic code, though proteins can work together for certain functions and form complex proteins. Proteins are absolutely essential to every cell function within our bodies, many as enzymes that are catalyst for metabolic reactions.
While many plants and microorganisms can create all 20 proteins in house, but animals (including us) must get some of them from diet. The proteins we can’t create ourselves and must get from diet are called essential amino acids. We obtain these amino acids from different types of proteins in our diet. Through digestion, proteins are broken down for use in all parts of the body. Protein can be broken down into glucose if the body is in need of it, but it is the least preferable source of fuel for energy as it difficult to convert (unlike carbohydrates). This is also the reason that contrary to popular “wisdom” we don’t need to eat constantly to “keep our metabolism burning” so we don’t “cannibalize muscle.” The body naturally uses other forms of fuel first, breaking down muscle last. That being said, a long-term, low-fat, restricted calorie diet will lead to muscle burning.
The human body needs a diet that contains adequate amounts of proteins from the right sources (we will get to this in a minute). This is the reason a vegetarian diet can (not always) cause problems within the body. (Vegetarian diets, in general, also tend to be higher in carbohydrates and lower in fats, and both of these factors contribute to the potential problems with a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle).
Adequate protein is absolutely vital, especially in growing children, as the body uses it for:
- Immune function and support
- Building of cell membranes
- Cell and tissue creation and repair
- Transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body
- Producing hormones and enzymes
Complete proteins are high-quality proteins that contain the essential amino acids we need for basic body function. These proteins are more easily absorbed by the body and are found in meats, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy.
Incomplete proteins are a lower quality protein that do not contain all the necessary amino acids. These are found in grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
If you’ve been around my blog much, you know my feeling on grains and high carbohydrate foods. Animal-based proteins are superior proteins anyway, and should be a substantial part of a healthy diet. That being said, not all animals are created equal. If grains are bad for us (and they are), it isn’t the best idea to eat a bunch of animals that have been fattened up on genetically modified corn or soybeans in an attempt to get health. On an interesting side note here, they feed these high-carbohydrate foods to the animals to fatten them faster. Seems logical enough that those high-carbohydrate foods might have a similar effect on us. Not convinced? Check out the cows and the humans the last 50 years… both are becoming more and more obese!
The old saying “You are what you eat” rings true here. The confounding factor is that your dietary protein (meat) is what it eats, also. Besides the extra body fat caused by these grain foods, these poor animals get really large doses of toxins to store in this fat from all the pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics used in these grains.
For those of you who haven’t seen Food, Inc., (I recommend it!) commercially processed meats in America today (i.e. the kind you buy at the grocery store) are fed large amounts of modified, high carbohydrate feed to speed the process of getting it to slaughter. These animals are also usually kept in cramped, unsanitary condition and walk around in their own feces. Even chickens today are kept in dark houses and only live 28 days from hatching to slaughter. Their bodies grow so fast that their bones and organs can’t keep up and they can only waddle a few steps before falling over. While this may be enough to convert us all to vegetarians or PETA members, there are other, healthy options of obtaining animal protein.
Let’s look at beef for an example. Cows were meant to eat grass (they are ruminants). When cows do eat grass, they function without disease and when slaughtered, have over 5 times the nutrients of grain-fed cows. The problem is that cows who eat grass don’t gain weight and don’t sell for as much. In the name of fast profit, we have converted entire species of animals to diets they were not meant to eat. To find healthy sources of protein, you will have to get a little creative, but it is possible.