The subject of protein is quite fascinating, especially where it comes from and its use in the body. The first common misconception is that the only way we can obtain protein is by eating other animals as they are primarily protein.
While animal flesh is a good source of protein, it is not by any means the only source. What it does contain are all of the essential and non-essential amino acids. You can find amino acids-the building blocks of protein-in all plant material. The problem is that for all intents and purposes, no one plant contains a full compliment of all the amino acids.
Let’s regress for a moment.
It is important to know the makeup of protein. All protein is made up of its building blocks, the amino acids. Amino acids are molecules, like sugars and fats but more complex in form. Amino acids are categorized as essential, non-essential, or conditionally essential. Essential here means we can’t make them and therefore must ingest them via the food we eat. Non-essential means we can make them, and conditionally essential means when we don’t make them we must eat them.
The breakdown is as follows:
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
While protein is the building block of muscle, it can also be used to produce energy (when carbohydrates are lacking in our diet). Most importantly, protein is the foundation material for every enzyme in every cell in the body. These cellular enzymes are most commonly referenced when we talk about digestion and the essentiality of making all of our digestive enzymes in order to properly break down the food we eat to get it ready for absorption in our digestive tract.
What is not commonly understood by most people is that in addition to digestive enzymes, the cells of our body assemble a vast array of different enzymes, all with specific cellular purposes. Without the presence of all of the necessary amino acids in each of our cells, these protein enzymes can’t be assembled. If a cell can’t make all of its enzymes, it cannot accomplish all of its different functions. Western health care professionals call this loss of function disease. In reality, it is malnutrition.
An essential concept to understand at this juncture is the following: “even if the cell has all of its amino acids and can make all of the enzymes it is directed to do by its DNA, it cannot activate or catalyze the enzyme without the proper mineral.” An inactivated enzyme is useless. And so, we get back to the same concept. Most, if not all organ malfunctions are due to cellular malfunctions. While there may be the occasional genetic error, the malfunction can usually be isolated down to inadequate amino acid or mineral supplies. In a word, malnutrition.
Today, the American public is the most overfed and yet still malnourished society on the planet. We eat plenty of animal protein.
What we are not getting is a full compliment of all of our minerals with which to make our amino acids work when they are assembled into proteins.
I feel we are relying far to heavily on animal protein for our amino acids. The average individual needs no more that 10 to 20% of their nutrient intake as animal protein. A full compliment of all the amino acids can be obtained from combining beans and rice together. 60-70% of our diet should be vegetables, and 10-20% should be fruit, legumes, and grains. All of these foods contain amino acids in different amounts and arrays. Eating a broad array of foods and particularly eating in season will go a long way in assuring you get all of your amino acids. I am not by any means advocating a vegetarian diet. I like my meat. I wonder how much of my desire for meat is programmed and how much is instinctively driven? Should you wish to temper your desire for meat, you might imagine how much you would be eating if you had to catch and kill it yourself and had no way to preserve it. I imagine you would be eating a lot less. I like to fish, but am not the world’s best fisherman. I would certainly starve if I had to rely solely on my fishing skills to provide me with food. I would be eating a lot more seaweed than fish.
There is an important concept to understand when it comes to dieting. Protein is easier to molecule to convert to energy than fat. When you go on a diet that restricts caloric intake and you feel hungry, your body instinctively protects its fat stores. It will first use up sugar stores and then look for protein. The process of utilizing protein for energy also stimulates the release of water. So, most weight loss in a restrictive food intake diet is water and protein. You feel hungry and not very energetic. It is far better to never feel hungry when dieting and simply eliminate all ‘refined’ sugar and grain products from daily consumption and do slow extended exercising regimes such as walking.
I hope this section has given you a better prospective of the meat in your diet.
In good health, Rick Wagner, C.N., M.S.