In this article series Proteins – Questions Answered, we’ve been looking at clarifying some of the common misconceptions about proteins. In the last post we saw that the terminology nutrition scientists use is (purposely) misleading, clarifying the concept of superior or ‘higher quality’ proteins. As I outlined in the last post, higher quality, when it comes to proteins, does not equal better health. In this post we’re going to look at how this translates into animal based proteins versus plant based proteins and which one are actually superior – when it comes to our health.
To recap, animal based proteins have been classified as higher quality because they come as a more complete amino acid ‘package’ closely resembling the amino acid profile that our bodies need, and we utilize them very quickly. This is common knowledge and is hard to refute. But what I outlined in the last post is that we actually don’t want such a rapid assimilation of amino acids – efficiency, in this case, doesn’t equate to better health.
According to T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, “There is a mountain of compelling research showing that ‘”low-quality” plant protein, which allows for slow but steady synthesis of new proteins, is the healthiest type of protein. Slow but steady wins the race.”[i]
Although the supposed ‘lower quality’ plant proteins may not come as such a ‘complete’ package in terms of matching our proteins, as a group, they do contain all of the proteins that we need to thrive. We ensure that we get all of them by eating a varied plant based diet. Not only do we receive all the amino acids to keep us thriving, we also minimize the numerous health risks associated to eating meat.
We are seeing this myth slowly unravel before our eyes, but only the people who are willing to open their eyes to the truth of new information, are receiving the message. Even such popular medical journal publications such as Lancet have reported this false discrepancy. Published in a Lancet editorial “Formerly, vegetable proteins were classified as second class, and regarded as inferior to first-class proteins of animal origin, but this distinction has now been generally discarded.”[ii]
“We now know that through enormously complex metabolic systems, the human body can derive all the essential amino acids from the natural variety of plant proteins we encounter every day.” T. Colin Campbell
The Discovery of Endogenous Proteins
One of the key discoveries that changed how we understand proteins was that of ‘recycled’ proteins also known as endogenous proteins. Our bodies quite efficiently recycle and reuse about 100 and 300 grams of our own protein every day.[iii] Before we discovered this, it was generally believed that in order to absorb and utilize the essential amino acids in the diet, the diet must contain all the amino acids in certain proportions and presented all at the same time.[iv] This mistaken belief dating as far back as 1914, is still a core concept that continues to influence many of our health care professionals and so called nutrition experts to continue to promote animal based proteins as ‘complete’ proteins for better health – but this is simply not the case.
Studies conducted by Nasset show that regardless of the amino acid profile of the meal, the intestinal tract maintains a similar ratio of essential amino acids. The mixing of endogenous protein is how our bodies regulate the various concentrations of the amino acids available for absorption.[v]
Animal versus Plant Protein from a Health Perspective
Why eat animals when you can get everything you need to not only be healthy but to totally thrive from plants? Besides the dangers of eating too much protein – in excess of 10%, eating animal based proteins, in any amount can prove detrimental to health. Eating animal flesh is highly acidic, leaching alkaline minerals like calcium from bones. Meat is also extremely toxic with all of the antibiotics and artificial hormones fed to animals to make them grow faster and bigger (guess what they do to you when you eat them) and can exhaust the liver and kidneys having to work overtime to detoxify the body of these toxic and harmful substances. It also takes quite a lot more energy from our body to digest and break down meat, sapping our bodies of our vital life force. In addition, contrary to popular belief, it’s consuming animal flesh that spikes an insulin response in the body leading to insulin resistance and atrophy of the pancreas setting the stage for type 2 diabetes. And regardless of how ‘lean’ the meat, eating animals contains high amounts of fat and cholesterol, leading to all sorts of cardiovascular problems including heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke. This is totally aside from the incredibly clear and unmistakably conclusive research that Dr. Campbell discusses in his book, the China Study outlining the most comprehensive health study ever conducted, directly relating animal protein to cancer. Shall I keep going?
What I’ve mentioned is strictly from a ‘personal health perspective’. But are we so self-absorbed as a culture that we only think about ourselves with total disregard to the animals and the tremendous abuse they are undergoing or to the environment that is suffering the consequences of the meat and dairy industry? But I’m sure you’ve heard this all before. When we cause harm to the animals and to the environment, we directly cause harm to our own selves as well.
When we choose a plant based diet, the sum of that single decision has extremely far reaching consequences and we can know that we are playing our part in contributing to the health of our own bodies, our families, communities and to the health of this Earth.
When it comes to quality of proteins, the real debate, in my opinion isn’t so much the debate about animal versus plant based proteins but more appropriately about cooked versus raw proteins. Read on to the next article in this protein series to learn about how cooked proteins compare to raw proteins.
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,
Laura Dawn, Registered Holistic Nutritionist
[i] T.Colin Campbell The China Study page 31
[ii] Editorial, Lancet, London, 2:956; 1959
[iii] Dr. Douglas Graham The 80/10/10 Diet page 103