When I say the word ‘protein’ what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it chicken, steak or fish? If so, you’re not alone, and in fact, we’ve been taught to think this way. The majority of the population automatically associates animal meats to protein without even batting an eyelash.
Even since protein was discovered in 1839, people have held this particular nutrient on a pedestal and have long since associated it to animal-based protein. Some say this “high regard” originated due to the cultural bias at the time – eating meat was for the ‘civilized’ man; the status quo for the ‘upper class’.
But how did animal based proteins become synonymous with “superior” or “high quality” protein and what new information is changing how we (people genuinely concerned about health and wellbeing) look at ‘quality’ of protein? These are some of the questions I’m answering in this article series Proteins – Questions Answered in attempt to clarify this unnecessarily confusing topic of dietary proteins.
The Misconceptions About High Quality vs. Low Quality Proteins
Let me set the premise here. We have been misguided to believe that “high quality” proteins equals better health. We’ve also been misguided to believe that if something is good then more must be better.
In very simple terms, food proteins of the highest quality are those that provide, upon digestion, the right kinds and amounts of amino acids needed to efficiently synthesize our new tissue.[i]
This concept of high quality is referring to the ‘efficiency’ or the speed at which the proteins we eat are used to promote body growth. That’s why so many people (mistakenly) believe that eating meat builds muscle. It is true that animals share the most similar amino acid profile that humans need in terms of protein requirement, and we use these proteins very ‘efficiently’ – very quickly. Because animals have the most ‘complete’ amino acid profile that matches ours, we’ve become convinced that animal protein sources are the ‘best’ for us. These animal proteins that are deemed to be most efficient are equated to ‘high quality’. But like I said earlier, we’ve erroneously associated ‘efficiency’ and ‘high quality’ to mean better health and that’s why these terms have become so misleading.
We now know that this close amino acid profile ‘match’ and the speed at which we synthesize proteins from animal proteins may be a key drawback to our health, but the bias in favor of animal proteins still persists none-the-less.
Why might it be against our best health interests to consume animal proteins? If we’re equating speed of protein synthesis to ‘good health’ we may be fooling ourselves. Consider this: by speeding up our body functions through speedy synthesis of proteins we actually accelerate aging. Can you now see the potential correlation between pushing our growth accelerators and chronic disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis?[ii] There is more evidence surfacing now, more than ever, linking animal protein consumption to chronic, degenerative diseases. But there’s too much money at stake (pun intended) to disseminate this information to the general, mass population.
Revisiting the second premise, the old American adage that ‘more is better’ we may be wreaking havoc on our health by getting as much of the ‘high quality’ animal protein as we can. With our nations health at an all time low, and meat consumption at an all time highs, it’s no wonder that so many people who gravitate to the raw, living foods lifestyle we’re formerly extremely sick people. Luckily, as I’ve personally witnessed time and time again, people are regaining their health by stepping off the conventional ‘meat-eating’ diet path and discovering what true health actually means.
I just want to note that personally, I’m open to all possibilities and new information. I don’t, by any means, hold on to any one “truth” about anything. I’m presenting new information that I’ve found both helpful and interesting and still remain open to any new information that may upgrade my currents thoughts and beliefs.
Stay tuned for our next myth-busting protein question: Are plant based proteins as good quality as animal based proteins?
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,
Laura Dawn, Registered Holistic Nutritionist
[i] T.Colin Campbell The China Study page 30