Protein and its Needs

Figuring Your Body’s Protein Needs

Our dietary habits are so entrenched with animal meats as principle foods that the image of meat automatically appears when people hear the word “protein.” In less affluent societies, the principle protein is usually of the vegetable variety. Usually, that means beans or products made from beans, such as tofu, tempeh, or fermented bean products popular throughout Asia, such as miso or its byproduct, soy sauce (also called tamari).

Proteins are considered the building blocks of our human material. Found throughout muscles, tendons, organs, and blood, protein also makes up hair, skin, and nails.

Why we need protein

We need protein for:-

  • Immune function
  • Repairing tissues
  • Manufacturing essential enzymes and hormones
  • Energy when carbohydrates are not available
  • Growth (critical for children, teens, and pregnant women)
  • Preserving lean muscle mass

Protein is made up of long chains of amino acids, which are key factors in most of the processes and functions of the body. Most hormones, red blood cell hemoglobin, the antibodies of the immune system, and all enzymes have protein as a central component. Because your body is constantly making new proteins and because you don’t store amino acids in the same way that you do fats, you require an almost daily supply of protein.

Amino acids contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, just as is found in carbohydrates and fat. Of the 22 amino acids required to maintain good health, 8 are known as “essential amino acids” and can only be obtained from food. Other amino acids can be manufactured in your body from different substances. Additionally, some toxic substances such as urea are made as byproducts and must be eliminated by the kidneys. Ultimately, excess protein ends up creating greater waste loads for your kidneys to eliminate.

You don’t have to eat meat to get protein

The best sources of essential amino acids are whole grains, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits. The common protein sources of meats and dairy foods contain other substances that can lead to a number of health problems, including coronary heart disease. Even broccoli contains protein. In fact, there’s more protein in 100 calories of broccoli than 100 grams of steak! Below table compares some animal and vegetable proteins.

Comparing Proteins (Per 3.5 oz serving)

Food SourceProtein (grams)Cholesterol (milligrams)
Red meat24.9 gm92 mg
Chicken26.9 gm107 mg
Fish 26.7 gm41 mg
Brown rice8.0 gm0 mg
Tofu8.1 gm0 mg
Beans8.2 gm0 mg

The macrobiotic perspective on animal protein has no firm ruling. The idea is to re-create your health and sensitivity and discover your own limitations, what works best for your health, and what doesn’t. Animal protein is never recommended as a principle food, and whether it should be included in your diet — to any extent — depends not only on personal preference, but your condition and health goals.

If you have high cholesterol, diabetes, or heart disease and want to change these conditions, avoiding all animal protein and saturated fats is essential for your healing. If you are oriented toward regular spiritual practice, it may be a refreshing experience to go without for as long as you can, for the value of seeing how this affects your demeanor, energy levels, meditation quality, and so forth. On the other hand, if you’ve made a quick dietary transition from the standard American diet to a whole foods macrobiotic approach with no animal protein and find yourself frequently tired or having consistent cravings for meats, putting a small amount back in as a transition link may be helpful.

Although it may not be an ideal choice of food for some, you should respect the fact that some of people don’t fare well with strong restrictions from animal protein. Surely, we can all dramatically reduce our volume, but it should always remain a personal choice.

How much protein do we need?

Traditional Western nutrition has a long history of teaching that plant proteins are of a lesser quality than animal proteins. This was because it was believed that the essential amino acids weren’t present in plants in proportions that were ideal for human requirements.

For a while, it was suggested that vegetarians always consume grains and beans together, thereby getting what was thought to be the optimum requirement with each meal of complementary amino acids. However, in the last 25 years, further research has proved that diets based solely on plant proteins can be wholesomely adequate and offer recommended amounts of all essential amino acids for adults within the course of a day’s meals, as opposed to attempting to balance every meal with grain and bean combinations.

Despite what you hear in the media about our seemingly bottomless protein needs, the truth is that the human body actually needs very little protein for optimum functioning.

The current recommended daily allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, about 44 grams for a 120-pound female and around 55 grams for a 150-pound male. This amount isn’t written in stone, but recommended. The bottom-line assumption, without the charitable “safety factor” that nearly doubles the minimum requirement, is about 0.5 grams per kilogram per individual, per day. However, the average American habitually takes in more than 100 grams of protein daily — an amount that could result in debilitating long-term consequences.

Some studies suggest that the minimum requirement to prevent the loss of lean body mass is only about 35 grams of protein, which amounts to about 1.25 ounces of protein per day for the average individual. Keep in mind that a very active individual may require more. This low amount can easily be met from plant-based foods — where protein in varying amounts can always be found.

According to the recommended daily allowance, minus the safety margin, you should have approximately 10 percent of your total calories as protein, approximately 50 to 60 grams of protein daily.

Most plant-based foods, with the exception of fruit, provide a minimum of 10 percent of calories from protein, with vegetable greens contributing nearly 50 percent. Most plant-based diets contain as much as 40 to 60 grams of protein daily. This should be ample protein for your needs.

Problems with excess protein

I maintain that the typical Western diet is too rich in protein, especially animal protein. If that’s the case, what are the consequences of too much protein? Here are a few:

Waste product creation

When protein is metabolized, due to its nitrogen and sulfur content, it can’t burn cleanly. Toxic byproducts from these elements must be eliminated through the kidneys, adding additional burdens to kidney and liver function.

Elevation of insulin levels

When you eat protein, just as insulin has to process sugar, it also has to process protein. In The Good Carbohydrate Revolution, authored by Terry Shintani, MD, MPH — a physician supporting a whole food dietary approach — he writes that enzymes in the digestive system break protein down into amino acids, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. The sudden elevation of amino acids signals the pancreas to produce insulin in order to bond with the amino acids and escort them into the cell structure, just as it does sugar.

Protein may not stimulate sugar levels to rise; however, its increase within the blood demands more insulin from the pancreas. Some studies have shown that protein stimulates the need for insulin, in certain cases, more than sugar. The caution here is to not think that protein is an adequate substitute for whole carbohydrates in order to control pancreatic overload.

Calcium loss

The increased risk of osteoporosis is another overlooked problem from protein indulgence. A protein molecule, being a long string of amino acids that resembles beads, is digested by being broken apart so the amino acids can enter the blood. Instantly, the blood goes beyond a safe acid range. To neutralize this potentially dangerous excess, it needs alkaline minerals, such as calcium.

The body is now forced into an immediate balancing act. When sulfur-laden amino acids are introduced into the blood from animal proteins, they’re routed through the kidneys, where they are reduced into sulfuric acid. Because this byproduct is dangerously acidic to kidney tissue, the body withdraws calcium out of the bloodstream and discharges it into the kidneys to neutralize the sulfuric acid. Now, to replace the calcium in the bloodstream, the body extracts it from your bones. Ultimately, the more protein consumed, the more calcium sacrificed from your bones.

Excessive fat/saturated fat and cholesterol in animal protein

High fat intake has long been known to be the cause of many conditions that aren’t the inevitable consequence of aging: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, excessive clotting, cholesterol plaque, and connections to breast, prostate, and colon cancer. Some meat products are actually higher in fat than they are in protein: hot dogs, 75 to 83 percent fat; steak, 55 to 65 percent fat; and chicken thigh (excluding the skin), approximately 48 percent fat. The concern for saturated fat is in how it elevates LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol, increasing heart disease risk proportionately.

A common misunderstanding about cholesterol, considering that it’s found in every cell of animals, is that lean meats have as much cholesterol as fatty meats. Traditionally, although there were very few strict vegetarian cultures, most never ate the volume of meat that we do today, typically using it as a condiment, flavoring agent, or small side dish, as opposed to a principle food.

Quality concerns

Other concerns arise with a diet high in animal protein, such as the effect hormones given to animals have on hormonal diseases; gout, a disease resulting from excess protein; pollutants found in meats from the environment and chemicalized feed; as well as parasites and numerous infectious diseases that often contaminate meat.

These concerns are basically an argument of quality; however, the argument of excess — from fat, cholesterol, and too much protein — can orchestrate its own havoc. Plant proteins pose very little risk and also provide necessary fiber.

Beans: A healthy, affordable protein choice

Browsing at a local outdoor Mexican market while in Central Mexico, I noticed more than 15 varieties of beans on a display table; large beans, medium-sized beans, small beans, flat beans, fat beans, colorful beans, dull-colored beans, speckled beans — the choices were plentiful. The man behind the stall table told me that some beans were best as side dishes, others as flour, some for soups, and others most suited when combined with grain.

Typically, beans are soaked overnight with a slice of carrot or ginger in the water, and then the soaking water, along with the carrot, is discarded the following morning before cooking, because the water contained the starches responsible for gas. Then the beans are boiled in fresh water, and this water, after coming to a rapid boil, is also discarded. Again, fresh water is added, and the beans are brought to a second boil and then cooked in this water for 2 to 7 hours, depending on the dish and type of bean.

Beans can enhance different dishes: Add a sprinkling of cooked chickpeas to a salad; cook some beans with onions and spices for a side dish; create a puree dip for chips or as a spread on tortilla or chapatti; combine them with rice or any other grain, like the famed New Orleans dish, red beans and rice; use them as a main ingredient; add them to any soup recipe; bake and serve them with vegetables in a casserole dish; roast some beans (frequently done with chickpeas) for a satisfying crunchy snack.

Legumes

Beans are a part of the legume family, which includes peas and peanuts. Here’s a list of common legume family members:

  • Adzuki beans
  • Black beans (turtle)
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Black soy beans
  • Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo)
  • Fava beans
  • Great northern beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils (red, brown, and black)
  • Lima beans
  • Mung beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Split peas (green and yellow)

Bean product alternatives: Tofu and tempeh

There are also a number of bean products other than legumes to consider in a healthy diet. A couple of excellent examples are tofu and tempeh.

Tofu is staple food, eaten in small quantities throughout Asia for the past 2,000 years. Tofu is known for its good nutrition and culinary versatility. It has a cheese-like quality and is laboriously made by curdling “milk” made from boiled soybeans with a natural coagulant. It’s notorious for its bland taste, but tofu blends with and absorbs flavors from other foods. Rich in B vitamins and a vegetable protein source, tofu is often portrayed as a meat substitute. Although it has many advantages, tofu’s phytoestrogens have become a concern in some research as substances that may feed cancers. Some research has even linked excessive amounts of tofu to dementia.

However, this is a typical Western obsession: We are introduced to a healthy food and then discover 896 ways of eating it. Ever order miso soup from a Japanese restaurant? You’ll only see a couple of cubes in the soup doing a backstroke. You don’t see huge slabs of it served as a side or main dish, and you won’t see soy milk used as a replacement beverage for milk. More is not always better. So now we have this nutritional backlash where many nutritional researchers are saying, “Soy is bad!” Yes, perhaps — if you eat it every ten minutes. But traditionally, it was used very sparingly. In such volume, tofu, I believe, can be a very healthy addition of bean-related protein to your diet.

Originating in Indonesia, where it’s still eaten regularly, tempeh is a press cake of dehulled, cooked soybeans that have been mixed with a vegetable culture and usually incubated for two days. It qualifies as a naturally fiber-rich and easy-to-digest fermented food full of protein, calcium, iron, B vitamins, soy isoflavones, monounsaturated fats, and saponins (soap-like foaming chemical compounds). It contains no cholesterol and has a coarse, chewy quality that offers a welcomed variety of texture to meals. Frequently, it is marinated (in lemon juice, soy sauce, or rice wine) and then baked or fried and used in stews sauces, wraps, soups, or casserole dishes. Sliced thin and baked, it offers a satisfying crunchy taste.

Avoiding a trip to the bean complaint department

Hands down, the biggest bean complaint is what I call “The Cowboy Syndrome,” better known as acid indigestion, an air attack, to break wind, a fart, or to offer a tooter. Frankly, by any term, it’s all the same: a rude indicator that your food combinations, volume, or acid intake needs to be adjusted. It’s not just an odor problem; in most cases, that’s secondary. It’s an indicator that your digestion is compromised.

Most gases emitted from the body are mixtures of ordinary environmental gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. The mixture depends on many different factors, but chiefly relates to food digestion. Common gut bacteria that produce hydrogen and methane can also contribute to the problem. Supposedly, bacteria feed on partially digested foods and, based on chemical compatibility, release gas during the digestive process of fermentation.

My personal experience attributes these lower eruptions to poor food combinations or several other factors in the list that follows. Become conscious of these and you’ll enjoy good digestion and feel better.

Use sea salt when cooking beans: Add sea salt when the beans are four-fifths cooked. Use 1//2 to 3//4 teaspoon of sea salt per cup of dry beans (1 cup of dry beans makes 3 cups of cooked beans). Cooking the salt allows it to bond with a starch called raffinose, which is found in grains, beans, and vegetables, to reduce or eliminate gas factors.

Remove dairy products from your diet: For many deficient in the enzyme lactase, dairy foods can cause gas, especially in combination with whole grains and fibrous vegetables.

Control overeating tendencies: The common practice of overeating tends to increase acidity and intestinal fermentation. Eating before bed and to excess is a surefire combination toward producing some very memorable music.

Avoid simple sugar and grain combinations: Mixing lots of fruit with your oatmeal or having a glass of fruit juice with your rice and vegetable meal is one of the most common mistakes people new to whole food diets make. Some people are even sensitive to grain and bean combinations. Desserts should not go on top of your meal. Wait a bit. Have some tea or maybe take a brief walk, but piling something sweet right on top of a meal is a recipe for disaster.

Watch your bean volume: Don’t try to make up for lost bean time and pile them high on your plate. Begin with a small volume and gradually work your way up to slightly bigger volumes over a period of weeks or months.

Chew as if your life depends on it: Digestion begins in the mouth, particularly with carbohydrates (beans are also a carbohydrate), which use alkaline enzymes in your saliva to initiate the first stages of digestion.

Avoid mealtime tension: Becoming upset or emotionally distraught negatively influences your digestion. When you don’t feel present at meals, you rush and forget to chew.

Cook certain foods thoroughly: Foods from the cruciferous family (cabbage, greens, and broccoli) need more heat for better cell wall breakdown, a touch of sea salt, and thorough chewing for maximum digestion.

If you follow these recommendations and still find yourself with a bit of gas, you can relieve your discomfort with natural home remedies. Many cultural folk medicines recommend alkaline medicines to reduce acidity and buffer any excess. Some of those remedies are umeboshi plums, a tart apricot-like fruit that is pickled in salt for six months; charcoal powder, usually taken with water; and baking soda, often dissolved in a glass of water.

Protein production from a global perspective

From a global perspective, relying on bean and bean products as a vegetable source of protein is not only more healthfully beneficial, but more compassionate to our earth than depending on animals as a staple protein source. The production of beef and other animal protein consumes vast amounts of natural resources, such as water, fossil fuels, and topsoil, and pollutes our air and water at the same time.

According to the Water Education Foundation, 2,464 gallons of water are required to produce 1 pound of beef in California. This is the same amount of water that you’d use to take a seven-minute shower daily for six months. In contrast, 25 gallons of water are needed to produce approximately 1 pound of wheat. The U.S. Geological Survey says that 40 percent of fresh water used in the United States in 2000 was used to irrigate feed crops for livestock. Only 13 percent was used for domestic purposes, including taking showers, flushing toilets, washing cars, and watering lawns. Either transitioning to a plant-based diet or minimizing the amount of meat in your diet is by far the most important choice you can make to preserve water.

It requires more than 50 grams of grain to create just 1 gram of edible beef protein. We remove animals from their natural habitats and feed them foods that contain large amounts of herbicides, pesticides, petroleum, and artificial fertilizers. Even the gross amount of feedlot waste creates its own pollution problems. Animal waste lowers the pH of our water (making it more acidic) and contaminates our air; and the gases emitted contribute to global warming.

Emphasis on the value of fish as a protein source is depleting vast numbers of species and making us more dependent on aquaculture — fish farming — which has grown into a billion-dollar industry. Approximately 30 percent of all the fish consumed annually are raised on these farms. Most fish farms are rife with pollution, disease, and suffering, specifically from parasitic infections, diseases, and injuries. This comes from tons of fish feces, antibiotic-laden fish feed, and diseased fish carcasses. Most aqua farms squander resources; it can require nearly 5 ponds of wild-caught fish to produce to spawn just 1 pound of farmed fish.

The single most important act you can do to protest these industries is switch to a macrobiotically oriented plant-based diet.

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