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The Protein Debate: I Say Let Nature Decide

Our Misguided Obsession With Protein

Dr. Padma Garvey/The Plant-Based Doctor Mom

The Protein Debate: I Say Let Nature Decide

Recently I was reading some guidelines from various sources regarding the proper amount of protein in our diets.  This particular set of guidelines was for pregnant women with diabetes.  To my utter astonishment, the guidelines stated that the proper distribution of calories between protein, fats, and carbohydrates is not known.  Essentially they punted.  Previously, guidelines for women with diabetes in pregnancy had encouraged them to eat anywhere from 20-40% of their calories in protein.  Organizations from American Diabetes Association to American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have recently backed away from this but are unwilling or unable to give people some real guidance on the matter.  Added to that are the popular  ‘high protein’ ‘low carb’ diet plans that promise weight loss even though they also tend to cause heart disease, diet-related cancers, and problems with intestinal bacteria. 

Thankfully, nature gives us a pretty good clue about how much protein we really need.  By age two, we reach half our adult height.  From birth to age one, we triple our body weight.  At no time in our lives, will any of us grow as much or as fast as we do during the first two years of life.  This is without a doubt, the period in our lives when we require THE MOST protein in our diets.  After age two, our protein requirements steadily decrease.  Some studies have even shown that senior citizens require less protein as they get older, and that those seniors that eat a high protein diet tend to have problems with certain cancers and kidney failure.

Nature created an ideal food to give a baby during a period in life when maximal protein is required, breast milk.  Since breast milk is nature’s ideal food for a human during maximal growth, the amount of protein in breast milk is a good guide to how much protein we need as an adult.  We would need less protein as an adult than the amount in breast milk.  The amount of protein calories in breast milk is 6% of all calories.  So there you have it.  At a time in our lives when we need the most protein, nature says it should be 6% of our caloric intake.  Our protein requirements will be less than 6% as an adult.  This goes along with the finding that the healthiest people in the world consistently eat a diet rich in unprocessed foods, high fiber, plant-based, and low in fat.  When you analyze the diets of the true Mediterranean diet circa 1930,  or the Okinawan diet you see that their diets are low in fat, high in fiber, and mostly plant-based. 

So given this, you may feel better about leaving the chicken, tuna, or cheese off your salad and adding some garbanzo beans instead.  You will not die of protein deficiency and, in fact, you will likely live longer and healthier.

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