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Protein:  How much do you Need?

{Food Pyramid break-out}You must have protein to heal.  Next to water, protein is the body's most plentiful substance, the primary source of building material for muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and organs like the heart and brain.  All body tissues depend on protein.  Blood can't clot without protein.  Protein and its precursors, amino acids, work at hormonal levels to control elemental body functions like growth, sexual development and metabolism.  The most basic enzymes, those for immune function and antibody response, are formed from protein.


How much protein do you really need?  

People are so individual that experts can't agree on how much protein is best.  Protein requirements differ according to you health, body size and activity level.  The official RDA for adult men and women is 0.8g for each kg of body weight per day, about 55 grams of protein for a 150 pound person.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says adults need 2.5% of calorie intake in protein.  The World Health Organization sets adult protein needs at 44.5% of calorie intake.  The National Academy of Sciences recommends 6%.  The National Research Council says 8%.  The FDA says protein should make up 10% of you total daily calories.

The human body cannot make protein, it must be obtained through diet.  But since protein is available from a wide range of foods, usually only people with severe malnutrition are protein deficient.  The protein deficiency health threat is over-stated in wealthy countries.  The only people who might have trouble getting enough protein are vegans who eat no animal foods.  Eating protein-rich plant foods like lentils, tofu, nuts, peas, seeds and grains as healthy people do in less industrialized countries, should provide plenty of protein.  Signs that you might be protein deficient are low stamina, mental depression, low resistance to infection and slow would healing.  (In children, extremely low protein means higher disease risk, stunted mental and physical growth, and inflamed joints.)  Surgery, wounds, or prolonged illness use up protein stores fast.  At times of high stress, you may want to take in extra protein to rebuild worn-out tissues.



For Americans, the problem is normally too much protein.

Experts say that Americans eat too much protein for good health.  Unlike carnivorous animals, whose body systems are adapted to a meat diet, humans who consume more than half their calories as meat are at risk for fatal protein poisoning (a serious watchword for dieters on the new extra high-protein "zone" diets.)  The National Academy of Science s recommends that Americans reduce their protein intake by 12-15% and switch from animal to plant protein sources.

Of all the body's cellular engines (fats, carbohydrates and protein), protein is the least efficient.  To burn it the body must boost its metabolic rate by 10%, straining the liver's ability to absorb oxygen.  Protein does not burn cleanly either, leaving behind nitrogen waste that your body must eliminate, a taxing process on you kidneys.  It's why excessive protein consumption is linked to urinary tract infections, (overworked kidneys have to expel expel nitrogen through urine).  For diabetics, the extra workload increases the risk of serious diabetic kidney disease.  John's Hopkins Hospital now treats and cures severe kidney disease with a very low protein diet and amino acid supplements.  Their studies show that eating a moderate or vegetarian protein diet may prevent kidney disease, even renal cancer.

bulletToo much protein is linked to high cholesterol levels, converted by the liver and stored as fat.
bulletToo much protein irritates the immune system, keeping it in a state of overactivity.
bulletToo much protein causes fluid imbalance, so calcium, other minerals are lost through urine.
bulletToo much protein is linked to arteriosclerosis, cataracts, kidney stones and arthritis.
bulletToo much animal protein contributes to osteoporosis and some cancers through mineral loss.



Does your body know the difference between animal and vegetable protein?  Does your body work differently for the type of protein you eat?

Amazingly enough, it does.

Animal source proteins have been considered superior in the past because they are:

  1. High in Protein.  Actually they have too much protein, which is stored in the body as toxins or fat.
  2. Complete Protein.  Nearly every animal food, including dairy products, contains all eight amino acids.  But they also include inorganic acids which are unhealthy for humans.
  3. Thought to supply larger, easier absorbed iron and zinc than plant foods.  A benefit off-set by the cholesterol, fat and calories that meat also supplies.

Yet, even medical opinion about protein is changing.  An important study by Baylor College of Medicine shoed that men on diets high in soy protein had a drop in cholesterol, compared to men on diets high in animal protein.   The study concluded that we should replace up to 50% of meat protein with vegetable protein for health.  Most nutrition researchers now recommend eating meat in 3-ounce low-fat servings. 

Research shows that eating lost of high protein animal foods may cause the body to extract calcium from the blood and excrete is, which can cause osteoporosis.  Further, excess protein may cause calcium to be transferred from the bones to the soft tissues of the body in an attempt to neutralize protein acids.  A 1990 international study in China confirmed that osteoporosis is rare in Chinese people with a plant base protein diet.  It only appears in Chinese cities where people are living more western lifestyles.  In contrast, Eskimos, who have a heavily meat-based protein diet, with twice the RDA of calcium, have the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world. 

Chinese research also shows that as the amount of animal protein in the diet rises, so does coronary disease and cancer, even after accounting for the fat that accompanies the protein.

Women may need more protein than men per pound of body weight to attain the same level of health.  Women's depression, PMS, menopause symptoms, and chronic fatigues often disappear when protein is increased.  But protein from meats tends to be high in fat, so protein for women should lean in favor of seafoods, whole grains, beans and other legumes.



Can vegetable protein satisfy your body's needs?

Eating a wide variety of plant protein foods is the secret.  While vegetarians typically eat less protein than non-vegetarians, most vegetables are over the recommended 8% protein, so their diets still meet or exceed the protein RDA.

Protein is formed from combinations of the 22 amino acids.  Protein from food is slowly released into the bloodstream; it combines with the amino acid pool in our blood, allowing maximum use of amino acids.  In the past, experts held that vegetable proteins had to be carefully combined so that all essential amino acids and proteins were available at each meal to create complete protein.  Today we know this is not necessary; since the body breaks proteins down into amino acids and redistributes them, food combinations with incomplete proteins have the same effect as a complete protein.

Plant foods easily team up to make complete proteins in a process called protein complementarity.  Beans and rice are a good example.  Soy foods provide protein complementarity with whole grains and legumes.  Many beans contain equal or more protein than beef.  Black beans are a good protein source that also alkalizes excess acid.



Vegetable protein sources are some of the healthiest foods you can eat:

Whole grains, nuts, seeds, sprouts, grains, legumes, and soy foods are good sources of protein and essential fatty acids.  Dark green, leafy vegetables, like kale and chard, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, have easily absorbed protein content plus EFA's.  Blue-green algae, spirulina and chlorella are also concentrated plant protein sources. 


Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, amino acids and minerals, and one of the best immune-enhancing supplements available in food form.  Chromium-rich, nutritional yeast is a key food for improving blood sugar metabolism, and for substantially reducing cholesterol.  It helps speed wound healing by boosting production of collagen.  Its antioxidant properties allow skin tissues to take up more oxygen for healing.  Its B vitamin and mineral content improves both skin texture and blemishes.  Nutritional yeast flakes and aloe-vera gel make an effective cleansing facial mask.


Sprouts are an ideal plant source of protein, rich in almost every nutrient, vitamins (especially fat soluble vitamins like A, K, D and E), enzymes, essential fatty acids, and minerals, (like iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and chromium), and are all natural anti-oxidants that strengthen immune response and protect the body from toxic chemical buildup.


Flax, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, almonds and chia are my favorite nuts and seeds for protein.  Nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors.  It's why they last so long and can sprout after decades.  But enzyme inhibitors make them harder to digest.  Soaking nuts and seeds overnight and spilling off the water is a way to deactivate the enzyme inhibitors to make nuts and seeds easier to digest for healing.  Roasting or heating also deactivates enzyme inhibitors.



Human health thrives on a balanced diet.  Strict vegans who eat no eggs or dairy foods should eat plenty of legumes and grains to insure sufficient amino acids.  People on very low calorie diets or those who exclude whole food groups should pay special attention to their protein content.

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