What does your typical diet look like for one day? If you answered bacon and eggs for breakfast, turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch, and chicken fried steak for dinner, you're not alone. Basing every meal around an animal-based protein source is believed to be a necessary component in the human diet. Dr. Michael Klaper brings up an a key point regarding habitual consumption of meat. He states, "Not even mountain lions eat flesh three times a day. The tigers in the zoo, bona fide carnivores, don’t eat flesh three times a day. But we give ourselves permission for this nonstop flesh orgy — every five or six hours a piece of muscle disappears down our gullets." Undoubtedly, the vast majority of Americans believe this menu provides sound nutrition and high quality protein necessary for survival. This is no surprise, since from a young age, we ate what our parents told us to and followed what we were taught in school. As adults, we base our food choices on these learned principles, as well as taste preferences, convenience, and social acceptance.
Our choices may also be influenced somewhat by the latest news reports, although many times these reports contain erroneous facts generated by large and powerful profit-motivated industries. We hope this article will give you valuable insight into how our nutritional recommendations were established, so that you can make wise choices when it comes to providing healthful meals for your family.
Our nutritional beliefs (especially regarding meat and protein) are formed without giving them much thought. Likewise, these food choices become automatic when repeated on a daily basis. Our beliefs are then handed down to our children and grandchildren. Knowing what our dietary standards are based upon is of utmost importance. Very few people are familiar with the economic forces which drive the sale of animal-based diets. By following the recommended guidelines, we have "lost the ability to decide for ourselves what — and how much to eat. Those decisions are made for us by animal food producers who control our buying choices with artificially-low prices, misleading messaging, and heavy control over legislation and regulation." This is why it's vital for us to know how to separate facts from the myths. Basing a lifetime diet on misconceptions and flawed recommendations results in poor health and shorter life expectancy for not only ourselves, but also our children and grandchildren. Dr. Alan Goldhamer summarizes it well by saying, "As a result of the aggressive marketing efforts of the meat and dairy industries we have been miseducated about the 'necessity' of including animal products in our diet."
We are thankful that Dr. John McDougall has taken the time to examine these beliefs, most notably regarding protein, one of the most controversial topics of all. In his article, A Brief History of Protein: Passion, Social Bigotry, Rats, and Enlightenment, Dr. McDougall walks us through history, explaining how protein recommendations were established. Dr. McDougall begins by saying,"Nutrition is an emotional subject and nothing arouses people's passions more than the subject of protein in their diet." Widely divergent opinions on whether more protein or less is best, and on the merits of animal vs. vegetable sources, have been debated for more than 150 years. And for all that time solid scientific research has clearly supported the wisdom of a diet low in protein – favoring vegetable sources. So far, however, the scientific facts have fought a losing battle against popular opinion – which values high-protein diets based on animal foods."
Dr. McDougall's Article Helps us Understand Basic Information Regarding Human Protein Needs:
"The primary importance of protein in our foods is to serve as a source of building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids which build all the proteins in nature. We can make some of these, they do not have to be in our foods and therefore referred to as non-essential amino acids. Others we cannot synthesize and must be obtained from our foods, these are referred to as essential amino acids. Plants make all 20 amino acids. The body has highly efficient systems for reutilizing and conserving amino acids, and as a result, the need for protein (and amino acids) in our diet is very small. As children we use a significant portion of our dietary-derived protein for growth, but adults use it purely for maintenance. The amount lost is minute - less than 10 grams (one-third of an ounce) a day. Human growth is very slow, thus the demands are small. Unlike fat, protein cannot be stored. When it is consumed in excess of our needs, protein is broken down mostly by the liver and partly by the kidneys and muscles. Consumption in excess of our needs overworks the liver and kidneys and can cause accumulation of toxic protein by products."
How Were our Protein Recommendations Established?
"One of the earliest proponents of high protein diets was the distinguished German physiologist Dr. Carl Voit (1831-1908). After studying laborers who consumed approximately 3100 Calories daily, he concluded that protein intake for people should be 118 grams per day – this value became known as the 'Voit standard.' How did he reach this conclusion? He believed that people with sufficient income to afford almost any choice of foods – from meat to vegetables – would instinctively select a diet containing the right amount of protein to maintain health and productivity. Other European and American authorities made similar observations about the eating habits of working men with sufficient incomes to afford meat and came to similar conclusions – ultimately recommending diets high in protein (100 and 189 grams of protein a day). No experiments were performed on the human body to reach these conclusions. Information on the diets of vigorous individuals living during these times and following low-protein vegetarian diets was largely ignored. The healthy active lives of hundreds of millions of less affluent people laboring in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America on diets with less than half the amount of protein recommended by Dr. Voit (and almost no meat), were overlooked when experts established protein requirements that still affect us today. What do more than one billion people living in the 21st century choose? McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut – need more be said about people's innate wisdom to make food selections in their best interests?"
Russell Henry Chittenden Published his Scientific Findings
Yale University Professor of Physiological Chemistry, Russell Henry Chittenden, published his scientific findings regarding human protein requirements in his book Physiological Economy in Nutrition. "Professor Chittenden believed Dr. Voit had cause and effect reversed: people did not become prosperous because they ate high protein diets, but rather they ate meat and other expensive high protein foods because they could afford them. One hundred years ago he wrote, 'We are all creatures of habit, and our palates are pleasantly excited by the rich animal foods with their high content of proteid (protein), and we may well question whether our dietetic habits are not based more upon the dictates of our palates than upon scientific reasoning or true physiological needs.' Professor Chittenden explained the deleterious effects of diets high in protein and meat – consequences too few practicing doctors know about today. He believed that any protein intake beyond our requirements could cause injury to our body, especially to the liver and kidneys."
Professor Chittenden's first experiment was on himself. He consumed one-third the protein that Dr. Voit recommended. During this time, he remained in excellent health and noted that he was less fatigued. His arthritis and headaches had also disappeared. Subsequent scientific studies tested the "adequacy of diets lower in protein than commonly recommended." Three studies were conducted, each consuming between 61-64 grams of protein a day. All participants remained in good health. The athletes in the study improved their performance by 35 percent. "Following these studies, Chittenden in 1904 concluded that 35–50 grams of protein a day was adequate for adults, and individuals could maintain their health and fitness on this amount. Studies over the past century have consistently confirmed Professor Chittenden's findings, yet you would hardly know it with the present day popularity of high protein diets."
Studies Were Conducted on Rats
"Many people have the idea that animal foods contain protein which is superior in quality to the protein found in plants. This misconception dates back to l9l4, when Lafayette B. Mendel and Thomas B. Osborne studied the protein requirements of laboratory rats and demonstrated nutritional requirements for the individual amino acids. They found that rats grew better on animal sources of protein than on vegetable sources. So, investigators at that time suspected that the vegetable foods had insufficient amounts of some of the amino acids essential for the normal growth of rats. Because of these and other animal-based experiments, flesh, eggs, and dairy foods were classified as superior, or 'Class A' protein sources. Vegetable proteins were designated inferior, or 'Class B' proteins. Subsequent research has shown the obvious: the initial premise, that animal products supply the most ideal protein pattern for humans, as they do for rats, is incorrect. The dietary needs of rats are considerably different from those of humans, mainly because rats grow very rapidly into adult size as compared to people. Rats are fully adult after 6 months; whereas a person takes 17 years to fully mature. This difference in need is especially clear when the breast milk of both species is examined and compared. The protein content of rat breast milk is 10 times greater than the milk intended for human babies. Baby rats double in size in 4.5 days; an infant doubles in size in 6 months. The obvious reason for the different needs is because rats grow very rapidly into adult size as compared to humans; therefore requirements for protein to support that growth are very much higher."
Dr. William Rose Studies Amino Acid Requirements in Humans
In 1942, Dr. William Rose studied the amino acid requirements for humans. "When an essential amino acid was given in insufficient amounts for approximately two days, all subjects complained bitterly of similar symptoms: a clear increase in nervous irritability, extreme fatigue, and a profound failure of appetite. The subjects were unable to continue the amino acid deficient diets for more than a few days at a time." From these studies, Dr. Rose determined a "minimum level of intake for each of the eight essential amino acids. He found small amounts of variation in individual needs among his subjects. Because of these unexplained differences among people, he included a large margin of safety in his final conclusion on minimum amino acid requirements. For each amino acid, he took the highest recorded level of need in any subject, and then doubled that amount for a 'recommended requirement' – described as a definitely safe intake. It is important to realize that his higher requirement is easily met by a diet centered around any single starchy vegetable. Even in children, as long as energy needs are satisfied by starch, protein needs are automatically satisfied in almost every situation because of the basic and complete design of the food. These investigations were completed by the spring of 1952, resulting in sixteen papers in The Journal of Biological Chemistry that are considered classic contributions in the history of nutrition for the benefit of human beings."
Dr. Rose's amino acid requirements are listed under the "minimum requirements" column here. From the chart, it is clear that vegetable foods contain more than enough of all the amino acids essential for humans.
"Many investigators have measured the capacity of plant foods to meet our protein needs. Their findings show that children and adults thrive on diets based on a single starch; and they grow healthy and strong. Furthermore, no improvement is obtained by mixing plant foods or supplementing with amino acid mixtures to make the combined amino acid pattern look more like that of flesh, dairy, or eggs."
The Impact of Frances Moore Lappe' Incorrect Teachings-Diet for a Small Planet
"A popular book among vegetarians, Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappe' published in 1971, started a revolution that has had a positive impact for the past three decades on the lives of millions of people. Unfortunately, Ms. Lappe' failed to understand the basic scientific literature on human protein needs and the sufficiency of plants foods before she wrote her influential book. She believed plants contained 'incomplete proteins' with insufficient amounts of certain essential amino acids to meet the needs of people. As a result of this misunderstanding, she placed great emphasis on combining vegetable foods to create an amino acid pattern which resembles that found in animal foods. This emphasis is unnecessary and implies that it is difficult to obtain 'complete' protein from vegetables without detailed nutritional knowledge. Because of her complicated and incorrect ideas people are frightened away from vegetable-based diets. The impact of her incorrect teachings of more than 30 years ago affects nutritional policy even today."
"In the tenth anniversary edition of her book (1981), she (Frances Moore Lappe') retracted her statement and basically said that in trying to end one myth—the inevitability of world hunger—she had created a second one, the myth of the need for protein complementing."
"You may think this is a trivial matter; however, incorrect information on our protein needs can have grave consequences on your health and your family's health. With the American Heart Association teaching that plants fail to supply complete protein you are almost certain to receive incorrect, potentially damaging, medical advice."Dr. McDougall has confronted several of the world's leading authorities on human protein requirements regarding this incorrect teaching; however, they have "shown no interest in making overdue corrections to their incorrect teaching."
What are Our True Protein Requirements?
Dr. McDougall's article emphasizes that "Sixty percent of people alive today and most of the people who have lived in the past have obtained their protein from plant foods. They have lived successfully; avoiding all the diseases common in our society. Even today plant sources provide 65% of the world supply of the protein we eat. The picture one often sees of 'protein deficient' children in famine areas of Asia or Africa is actually one of starvation and is more accurately described as 'calorie deficiency.' When these children come under medical supervision, they are nourished back to health with their local diets of corn, wheat, rice, and/or beans."
Since 1974 the World Health Organization has recommended that "adults consume a diet with 5% of the calories from protein – this would mean 38 grams of protein for a man burning 3000 calories a day and 29 grams for a woman using 2300 calories a day. These minimum requirements provide for a large margin of safety. This quantity of protein is almost impossible to avoid if enough whole plant food is consumed to meet daily calorie needs. For example, rice alone would provide 71 grams of highly useable protein and white potatoes would provide 64 grams of protein for a working man. For a pregnant woman the WHO recommends 6% of the calories come from protein – again an amount of protein easily provided by a diet based on starches, vegetables, and fruits."
Human Breast Milk = 5 to 6.3 % of Calories from Protein
"Your greatest need for protein is when you grow the most. The greatest time of growth in a human being’s life is as an infant. We double in size during the first 6 months. The ideal food for a baby is mother’s milk. Therefore, breast milk is the 'gold standard' for nutrition – during your time of greatest need for all nutrients, including protein. Five to 6.3 percent of the calories in human breast milk are from protein.This is the maximum concentration of protein we will ever need in our food supply. Knowing this value tells us that at no other time in our life will we ever require more protein. Consider the protein content of the foods we consume after weaning – these are even higher in protein – rice is 9%, potatoes are 8%, corn is 11% and oatmeal is 15% protein."
Contrary to popular belief, our protein requirements are much lower than what we have been taught. These standards are based upon flawed data and myths generated by powerful profit-driven industries. It is extremely important for us to know this, since our current epidemic of poor health is associated with this dangerous way of eating. Overwhelming amounts of scientific evidence show a clear relationship linking the consumption of animal products with illness. Studies show that both heart disease and cancer rates rise and fall in direction proportion to the percent of animal fat that is consumed in the diets of those populations. As the percentage of animal fat rises, so does the incidence of disease. The consumption of an animal-based diet also contributes to: obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, infertility, osteoporosis, childhood illnesses, gastrointestinal disorders, early puberty, and a compromised immune system, just to name a few. Instilling fear of becoming protein deficient has not only led to an epidemic of chronic disease, it has crippled our nation's economy. In developed countries, it is nearly impossible to be protein deficient as long as sufficient calories are being consumed. "More than a half-century of creative marketing by the meat, dairy, egg, and fish industries has produced fears surrounding nonexistent deficiencies "
Dr. McDougall concludes his article by stating: "Even though all the scientific knowledge accumulated over the past 100 years clearly shows our bodies were designed to live best on a diet lower in protein than dictated by common belief, we continue on the same disastrous dietary path."
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