Protein on a Plant-Based Diet

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We’ve never treated a single patient with protein deficiency; yet the majority of patients we see are suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses directly resulting from trying to get enough protein

Dr. Alona Pulde & Dr. Matthew Lederman

What is Protein?


Protein is a nutrient found in food (as meat, milk, eggs, and beans) that is made up of many amino acids joined together, is a necessary part of the diet, and is essential for normal cell structure and function. Protein was first isolated in 1839 by a Dutch chemist, Gerhard Mulder, then named from the Greek word, proteios, which means “of primary importance.” This post will examine the modern day false obsession with protein and why a low protein, plant based diet, is the ideal diet for human health and longevity. This happens to oppose the widely accepted notion that a high protein, animal based diet is health promoting and essential for survival. It is also widely believed that a plant-based diet will cause one to be “deficient” in the macro nutrient. As you will see below, protein deficiency simply does not exist when adequate calories are consumed.
 

How Much Protein Do I Need?


It is widely believed that one can be deficient in protein, as with any nutrient, if not enough is consumed. The problem lies within the word “enough”; what is enough protein? As we at plantbased.ie repeatedly refer to, The World Health Organisation, the largest, non-commercial health organisation in existence, promotes a diet of 75% carbohydrates, with the remaining 25% from fat and protein. Secondly, leading doctors in the plant based field, such as T. Colin Campbell & Dr. Caldwell Esselstyne, advocate a diet of 10% protein as optimal for humans. Finally, human breast milk, arguably the one food perfectly crafted by evolution to serve our health and growth needs (the most significant growth period in any human’s life is in the new-born stage) contains only 1%-2% protein, the lowest of any mammalian breast milk content.

10% of dietary calories, should therefore be the universally accepted numeric value of protein required by humans. The world’s largest health organisation, respected medical professionals, and even nature all indicate or advocate a low protein diet as the optimal for human health. Any source or entity that claims humans need more than this tend to be selling some form of protein product or benefit financially from high demand & sales of this nutrient.


Protein Deficiency is a Myth


Kwashiorkor is the medical term for protein deficiency. The term first appeared in a study on childhood malnutrition, published by Dr. Cicely Williams in 1933. In fact, her original paper centered around malnutrition as a whole, and did not explicitly identify protein deficiency; it merely stated that in malnourished children, “some amino acid or protein deficiency cannot be excluded”. Like Dr. Atkin’s Diet revolution and carbohydrates, interpretations of this publication sparked a mass industrial & dietary movement on the nutrient of protein, which today is widely but wrongfully believed to be the most important nutrient. It is in fact equally important amongst the spectrum of other macronutrients, micronutrients, phytonutrients, water and fiber.

Even Dr. Williams herself spent the final two decades of her professional life attempting to debunk the protein deficiency misinterpretation on her own research, ”For the last 20 years I’ve been spending my time trying to debunk kwashiorkor” she was quoted as saying before her death. If one simply consumes enough calories, even exclusively from plants, they will achieve adequate levels of protein. Even white potatoes contain all essential amino acids & are roughly 8% protein. Australian man Andrew Tailor spent 2016 eating nothing but potatoes, lost 50kg, reversed his heart disease, and crucially, gained muscle mass in the process. He underwent full medical examination during and at the end of his mono-diet journey, and at no point was diagnosed with a protein deficiency.
 
 
 

Plant Protein vs Animal Protein



One may accept at this point that plants contain “enough” protein to sustain a healthy body, but then ask what is the difference between plant and animal protein sources if they both come down to amino acids – does it matter which I consume if I am consuming adequate calories? The answer to that lies not in the protein itself, but in what it is packaged with. Animal protein is packaged with – among other things – cholesterol and saturated fat. Research is continuing to link these elements to the chronic western diseases of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancers. Casein, the protein found in cow’s milk, is considered by Dr. T Colin Campbell to be “The most significant carcinogen we consume.

 
On the other hand, plant protein comes packaged with fibre, water, micro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, Phyto-nutrients – all of which are essential to the healthy functioning and longevity of the human body. Phytonutrients, water, and fibre are only found in plant foods. With most people in the western world choosing animal protein with the obsession of “getting enough”, plant consumption is compromised. As a result, 97% of people in North America are deficient in the nutrient fiber, and 75% of individuals are chronically dehydrated. Ironically, a study carried out in the U.S. showed that vegans consume an average of 70% more protein daily than they require. Protein consumption should not be the nutrient which cause the greatest concern; massive chronic fiber & water deficiencies need to be addressed with increased plant consumption.
 

Key Take-Away



Consuming “enough" protein on a plant-based diet for health is not a problem. Concern for protein deficiency on this diet is based on a misinterpretation of research which looked at malnutrition as a whole, and the multitude of deficiencies that come with simply not having access to enough food to avoid starvation (which equates to 2100 calories a day for males, 1800 for females, according to The World Health Organisation ). Secondly, when considering the harmful substances that animal protein is packaged with, such as saturated fat and cholesterol, plant protein could be viewed as superior. By default, plant protein comes packaged with other macronutrients, micronutrients, phytonutrients, fiber and water, all of which are essential to human health and have only a positive impact on one’s longevity.
 

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