Protein, Protein, Protein. It’s all about the protein nowadays isn’t it. You can’t step foot into a supermarket without being bombarded with ‘High Protein’, ‘Rich In Protein’, ‘Protein fuelled’ food marketing messages nowadays. It seems we’re being told that anything with ‘protein’ in is automatically good for us. But what’s the no BS truth on ‘Protein’. Well read on to find out.
Over the past 20 years heart and kidney disease related deaths have more than doubled. Alongside this, our consumption of meat, sugar, saturated fat and trans fats has increased. Coincidence? I think not.
The high amount of sugar in our diets has led to an increase in high blood pressure and uric acid amongst the population, which can damage the kidneys. Furthermore the increase in meat consumption has led to an increase in consumption of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol commonly found in animal products, especially red meat. This can reduce the function of the kidneys.
High levels of protein can also place a strain on the kidneys as acidity levels rise, increasing ammonia production which can damage the kidneys. We are simply consuming too much protein nowadays. Anything above 100g-120g daily for the average individual is simply too much and unnecessary. If you’re a pro bodybuilder, lifting weights 6 days a week, then yes your protein requirements will be higher. But the majority of the population aren’t bodybuilders.
So, consuming large amounts of protein regularly can negatively impact our health in the long run. So does that account for all forms of protein? Are all forms of protein equal? The simple answer is, no.
We are consuming too much ANIMAL PROTEIN. The body metabolises animal protein much differently to plant protein (think tofu, beans and nut sources of protein).
Plant protein sources place far less stress on our kidneys than animal protein. The same goes for sources of protein from fish. When consuming these sources of protein it causes a hyperfiltration response in the kidneys which places tremendous strain on them. This is where the kidneys have to produce extra urine due to increases in ammonia. So, why does animal protein cause the overload reaction while plant protein doesn’t? Researchers discovered that after giving subjects a powerful anti-inflammatory drug along with animal protein, the hyperfiltration response disappeared, suggesting the hyperactive response was triggered by inflammation.
Consuming high amounts of animal protein may also play a role in cancer risk. IGF-1, insulin-like growth factor 1, is a cancer-promoting growth hormone that is released in excess when we eat animal protein. This is presumably why those who eat less meat, egg white, or dairy proteins have significantly lower levels circulating within their bodies within weeks of making the dietary switch. This lowering of IGF-1 levels is thought to be why the blood of men and women eating plant-based diets suppresses prostate and breast cancer growth significantly better than those eating a standard diet.
So what should you do? I’m not saying to completely ditch all animal products, unless that is what you want to do, but I would analyse just how much animal produce you are consuming and consider tapering back your consumption.
Just because the supermarkets and the adverts on TV are telling you to consume as much protein as possible doesn’t mean you should. Yes, protein is important, it helps to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals and it’s also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. But don’t go overboard and vary your sources. You could reduce your consumption of animal based sources and opt for beans, pulses, quinoa, hemp seeds, chia seeds, nuts, tofu, peas and hummus, to name but a few high protein plant based foods, instead.
Not only are plant based foods generally healthier for you, they’re nearly always cheaper, lower in calories, and better for the environment.
Ultimately, healthy eating comes down to having a balanced, varied diet. Rich in fruits, vegetables, fibre, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and adequate protein levels. Don’t put too much emphasis on any food group and try not to obsess about how much animal protein you’re consuming. Opt for more veggie sources, it’s healthier and I guarantee you’ll feel better. We don’t consume enough plant based foods nowadays, so try it!