Questions and Answers about PROTEIN

Check out these common questions about protein, with my answers:

how much proteinQ&A

Question: What about “PERFECT PROTEINS?” Aren’t those the best?

Answer: No, not at all. A “perfect” protein just means it very closely matches human flesh. In fact, proteins from plants, where the body builds from the “raw materials” of amino acids (protein’s building blocks) yield more durable muscle mass. They aren’t “perfect” proteins, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior. Quite the opposite.

Eating the flesh of animals does “bulk you up” more quickly. It also breaks down more quickly.

boddy builderAnd eating the amount of animal protein that bulks up a bodybuilder also dramatically accelerates aging and increases disease risk.

(For a moment, stop looking at a bodybuilder or fitness competitor’s body, 99% of them who overload on animal proteins and whey protein powders. Look at their FACES. They look OLD.)

Question: Should I be worried about getting enough protein?

Answer:  Again, nope. The World Health Organization says 5% protein is adequate! Even an exclusively plant-based diet averages about 10%, especially if it contains decent amounts of greens, legumes, and nuts/seeds. Virtually no one in the world has a protein deficiency. We do, however, have deficiencies in many nutrients found in PLANTS.

R U sureWhat does the average American eat, relative to the 5% “adequate protein” recommended by the most legitimized health organization in the world? Fully 20% animal protein! This is more than any culture in the history of the world has ever eaten.

And the China Study (Cornell/Oxford collaboration) found, by tracking 6,500 people in China, that eating 20% animal protein is highly correlated to cancer, heart disease, and other risks.

Question: What if I feel better eating more protein?

Answer: First of all, consider this. The research doesn’t say, only A blood types have high cancer and other disease risk if they eat a lot of meat. It’s ALL blood types who do. The New York Times called The China Study the Grand Prix of Epidemiology. It’s the biggest nutrition study in history, and its main macro implication is, high animal protein diseases lead to all the diseases of the modern age.

If you “feel better” eating more protein, it’s only temporary. It has nothing to do with your blood type. Or what your ancestors ate.  That diet has made its creator a lot of money, but it’s been very well and soundly debunked. (Sure, you feel better “eating for your blood type,” but that is because the diet eliminates refined carbs for ALL the diets. Virtually all Americans eat lots of processed carbs, and you will always feel better getting off them.)

The easiest way to explain why the Blood Type Diet is a sham is to ask you two questions and let you mull it over. Use your critical thinking skills. First of all, are ALL your ancestors from the same place? How do people whose ancestors are from different continents prescribe their diet according to A, O, or AB blood? And, why did every one of the ancient cultures the authors refer to have ALL THE BLOOD TYPES? That’s right, ancient Asians had O, A, B, and AB blood. Ditto ancient Europeans. Hmmm. Makes you scratch your head, doesn’t it?

If you feel better eating a lot of protein, it’s because when you shift to eating a plant-based diet, your body immediately begins to detoxify. That process often initially involves weakness and fatigue. That’s simply a transition.

vegan energyI felt the same way when I stopped eating animals, a temporary malaise. Now I virtually never eat any animals (a bite of red meat now and then makes me nauseous, which I couldn’t have imagined back in the days I ate a burger for lunch every day). And I have never had so much energy. In my 20’s, I was exhausted by the things I now do on a daily basis, and love every minute of it! When I was 22, I was exhausted by the time I rented skiis, drove to the resort, and strapped on my boots. I did it to be with my friends, but secretly I wondered, “What’s fun about this?” That was my attitude towards much of my life! Now I ski 2-3 afternoons a week, after working out in the morning and doing my job all day, and I still have plenty of energy for my evening.

I’m just a case study. My experience isn’t everyone’s. I get that. I’m just using my own experience as an example. The principles in this answer are a synopsis of much reading and research, and they are solid and well documented. Unfortunately some of the Food Cults of the past few decades have you legitimately confused, conflicted, and overwhelmed.

Give any shift towards nutrient dense foods TIME. Be patient with temporary reactions that aren’t always comfortable. Proteins are needed to build and repair. But excesses of them rob the body of minerals. Excesses of them radically increase risk of cancer and heart disease and auto-immune conditions, due to fragments of undigested proteins floating in the bloodstream en masse, far more than the body can metabolize.

If you do eat animal proteins, eat only range fed and organic. This will massively increase your grocery bill, whereas legumes and whole grains, with 10 percent protein (which is ideal for digestion) are very inexpensive.

eat bloodQuestion: What about “eating right for my blood type?” Aren’t O blood types supposed to eat lots of animal protein, and A types do well as vegetarians?

Answer: I have written more extensively on this subject on the site. ( read it HERE) Let me give you the nutshell version of why experts like Dr. Joel Fuhrman have thoroughly debunked the junk science that underpins this fad diet. Before you get emotional about this because you feel better “eating for your blood type,” let me point out that EVERYONE will feel better eliminating processed foods, and thankfully, the D’Adamos tell ALL of the blood types to eliminate processed carbs.

But the entire philosophy is based on where your ancestors came from. What to do about people whose mother and father are from two different continents / cultures? And what about the fact, just think about this, that ALL of those cultures had A, B, AB, and O blood types? It all falls apart here.

Certainly people are all different and there is no “one size fits all” diet. If you are very emotionally attached to meat, eat it. Just eat very little of it (there is NO “type” who shouldn’t eat disease-preventative, low-environmental-impact raw plant foods, none!). And eat clean meat. (It’s very expensive.)

Question: Tell me one more benefit to not over-consuming animal protein, to pinkie push me into eating more legumes and nuts and seeds and greens!

Answer: I confess I made this question up. No one has ever asked it of me before. It’s a totally opportunistic fake question designed so I can tell you THIS:

food moneyWhen the economic bubble supporting meat and dairy bursts, you’re not going to be able to afford meat or milk. It takes 20 pounds of plant food to yield one pound of beef. That’s why no other culture in the history of the world has eaten as much meat as we do! (Yes, some cultures who lived on the water ate LOTS of fish, or whale blubber. But this was long ago, when fresh fish nutrition wasn’t heavily counterbalanced by terribly polluted waters.)

Do the math. If one pound of plants costs $1, then a pound of meat, with NO PROFIT for the rancher, should cost $20/lb.! Oops, we forgot to factor in that that same pound of beef also requires 1,000 gallons of water! You read that right. One thousand gallons.

So, when the U.S. government stops propping up meat and dairy with subsidies, people will be FORCED to stop eating it, unless they have a ranch with all the raw materials and can raise beef and pigs and chickens themselves.

We might want to just get used to eating low on the food chain now.

and the oxalate controversy rages on……

We got lots of interesting email in response to my rebuttal to the wildly exaggerated and completely undocumented article posted by one “Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist” that tells people not to drink green smoothies and says they can “devastate” your health.

Heidi, a “low oxalate” blogger / site owner wrote a response. I like to look at all viewpoints and appreciate that she listed lower-oxalate greens for those who wish to concern themselves with this issue. She has eliminated some health problems by carefully reducing oxalates for 20 years. Those include turnip and mustard greens, dino kale, curly kale, romaine, cabbage, and collards.

Hopefully Heidi has been creative to keep lots of greens and raw roods in her diet while controlling for oxalates. If not, we eliminate one compound causing a problem and dozens of other compounds desperately needed and hard to find in other sources.

I disagree with Heidi that it’s a good idea to boil greens, as has been passed around the internet as a solution to the “problem.” George Mateljan surveys the literature well and concludes that this does not significantly reduce oxalates. And of course we know boiling destroys most of the food’s other best properties—enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.

I do not disagree that there are a few people who are not metabolizing greens well, and I absolutely agree that improving gut health is key to reversing many conditions. Greens have many critical properties that other foods do not, and these nutritional benefits are desperately needed by virtually everyone. So I’m very reticent to embrace the idea that we eliminate an entire class of foods—or we nuke them to death—because a few people have degenerative gut issues wherein an “anti-nutrient” becomes indigestible and even harmful.

As counterpoint, if you have become alarmed, you owe it to yourself and your health to read another viewpoint. Author Victoria Boutenko, my friend and companion in green crime, has written this extremely detailed, source-rich article on all the research that oxalates are FRIEND RATHER THAN FOE. I covered the more neutral ground of referencing the macro study that concluded the evidence does not support oxalates being harmful, nor does it support that cooking greens neutralizes that compound.

We had a few comments on facebook or on the blog that someone who drinks green smoothies got kidney stones. I know people who eat some whole foods and got cancer, too. It’s a major logical fallacy to leap to the conclusion that because you eat one healthy thing, that healthy thing is causing a disease. Even if you started green smoothies two weeks before you get a kidney stone, that doesn’t mean anything. Kidney stones take a long time to build up before they release and begin to cause pain—and possibly damage. Although I cannot rule out that a nutritious food played a role in oxalates binding to calcium, I think far more likely culprits for the vast majority are long-term indulgence in soda, salty foods, and animal proteins—and low water consumption. Please read George Mateljan’s meticulous reviews of oxalate research and conclusions, and/or Victoria Boutenko’s report below.

Before you change your diet to eliminate or massively reduce the highest micronutrient foods on the planet from your diet, the foods that are the crux of the primate diet worldwide (we share more than 98% of their DNA), you ought to read this documentation suggesting that greens may actually prevent kidney stones. We already know they prevent many, many other modern health risks.

Read Victoria’s report HERE.

Can green smoothies “DEVASTATE” your health?

Sarah the Healthy Home Economist online recently posted an article about how green smoothies can “DEVASTATE” your health.  The content was so unsubstantiated that at first I refused to respond to it. But Amanda said, “She has a big audience and people are freaking out about it.”

Sarah cites the oxalates phenomenon, wherein a natural compound (oxalates) occasionally bind to calcium to cause kidney stones. (She infers, without citing evidence, that other more serious health consequences could also be possible.) Greens have oxalic acid in them. Sarah makes several logic leaps and concludes that no one should be drinking green smoothies.

I’m not going to promote her blog article by pointing to it here. She rates her content for how controversial it is. Controversy generates more readers, I guess. It also has the potential to do harm, if what you’re saying is (a) undocumented, (b) contrary to hundreds of studies about the benefits of greens, and (c) featuring a bizarre and untenable conclusion.

Just because someone posts stuff on the internet does not automatically endow that person with credibility. Her argument locks in on a detail — that greens are high in oxalic acid — and misses the larger picture.

Only one source is listed at the end of her article and none are quoted or referenced. The source is a PhD’s book on oxalates and autism and “chronic disorders,” but she never quotes the author or anyone or anything else, so I’m not sure how many of her claims came from this one guy, or what.

I don’t bet the farm on one book or one source. There are quite a few other sources that show that some of the anti-nutrients in our most nutrition-dense foods, actually work together synergistically for our health, rather than against it. I’ve done quite a few blog series on anti-nutrients such as oxalates, goitrogens, purines, and phytates, concluding that none of the anti-nutrients should generally cause people to avoid foods containing them.

Note that at the end of the article, Sarah says to eat greens, if you like them, but not very much. Always cook them, she says, and eat them with butter.

Wow! Really?

Let me quote Dr. Norman Walker in his book Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices: What’s Missing in Your Body?

“Spinach should never be eaten when cooked unless we are particularly anxious to accumulate oxalic acid crystals in our kidneys with the consequent pain and kidney trouble. When spinach is cooked or canned, the oxalic acid atoms become inorganic as a result of excessive heat and may form oxalic acid crystals in the kidneys.

“When the food is raw, whether whole or in the form of juice, every atom in such food is vital ORGANIC and is replete with enzymes. Therefore, the oxalic acid in our raw vegetables and their juices is organic, and as such is not only beneficial but essential for the physiological functions of the body.

“The oxalic acid in cooked and processed foods, however, is definitely dead, or INORGANIC, and as such is both pernicious and destructive. Oxalic acid readily combines with calcium. If these are both organic, the result is a beneficial constructive combination, as the former helps the digestive assimilation of the latter, at the same time stimulating the peristaltic functions in the body.

“When the oxalic acid has become INORGANIC by cooking or processing the foods that contain it, then this acid forms an interlocking compound with the calcium, even combining with the calcium in other foods eaten during the same meal, destroying the nourishing value of both. This results in such a serious deficiency of calcium that it has been known to cause decomposition of the bones.”

So according to Dr. Walker, what Sarah is telling her readers to do is really terrible advice.

One of my favorite sources is George Mateljan, because his staff, and his book The World’s Healthiest Foods, review and quote a tremendous amount of empirical data before making claims. Each section contains an extensive bibliography, and the conclusions are scientific and objective.

He says that a review of the peer-reviewed research reveals that the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is small and does not outweigh the ability of those foods to contribute significant calcium to the diet, since spinach is rich in calcium.

So, one of the primary recommendations of most the sources I’ve read, to avoid stones forming in the body, is to get plenty of calcium from plant sources.

So, the high calcium content in spinach may actually inhibit the formation of stones, even though spinach is also high in oxalates. This is at least some logic or evidence, then, underpinning my theory that there are far more synergies than we currently know about in whole, raw plant foods leading to their clear, incontrovertible place (based on volumes of published research) as the necessary mainstay in our diet. We know that people the world over who eat mostly whole, raw foods simply don’t get sick. We don’t always know WHY.

So screaming that the sky is falling about one compound—in an entire class of our most nutritious foods—seems not only unwise, but even irresponsible, if you have an audience and give nutrition advice.

The jury is still out on so many of the issues Sarah the Healthy Home Economist takes strong, unilateral stands on. For instance, what really causes oxalic acid buildup. (She quotes ZERO evidence that greens do.) Whether greens are high in oxalates are only ONE issue related to whether they cause kidney stones. What if they also have dozens of other nutrient compounds, and fiber, that PREVENT stones from forming? A relevant example would be Mateljan’s review of the published, peer-reviewed literature on spinach, oxalates, and calcium as mentioned earlier.

After I investigated this issue, I wrote this in Chapter 1 of 12 Steps to Whole Foods:

“The research is not clear that restricting foods such as spinach helps prevent stones in those who have previously had them. Many researchers believe that dietary restriction cannot reduce risk of stone formation. In fact, some foods that were assumed to increase stone formation because of oxalate content (like black tea) have appeared in more recent research to have a preventative effect.

“Further, cooking has a small impact (about 10%) on the oxalate content of foods, with no statistically significant lowering of oxalates following blanching or boiling of greens. It appears that the nutritional advantages of eating raw greens continue to far outweigh any benefit of cooking them.”

And yet, with slim evidence, if any, Sarah says green smoothies can “devastate” your health and advises at the end of the article, “Skip the Green Smoothies!”

She undertakes no discussion of the true baddies that cause kidney stones:

Soft drinks

Sugar

Animal proteins

Salty foods (or any refined salt)

Oxalates in spinach (also strawberries, soy, and many other foods) can be difficult to digest for a tiny percentage of the population who are suffering from a few very rare disorders (absorptive hypercalciuria type II, enteric hyperoxaluria, primary hyperoxaluria). But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. If you don’t have these disorders, and 99+% of those reading this don’t, greens are not just good food—they are powerful good medicine!

Leafy greens are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, and cooking them as Sarah instructs kills 100% of their enzymes, and most of their vitamins and minerals, too.

Sarah the Healthy Home Economist uses hyperbolic words to terrify people that eating nutrient dense foods could kill them, but she cites no research whatsoever. She implies that cases of painful sex are on the rise (where does that data come from? Is there any data?) and that oxalates are a “possible culprit.”

There are no references to check, and the bigger issue to me is, if people develop kidney stones, or crystalline deposits in other parts of the body, are greens the real culprit? How would you isolate that factor? Show me the study that did.

It’s terribly unlikely that greens are why we have lots of kidney stones, since almost nobody in America eats very much green food.

And in addition to thousands of testimonials we’ve received, my own research (175 subjects) shows massive health benefits to the green smoothie habit, as published in my bestselling book, The Green Smoothies Diet. In that research, not one person reported kidney stones as a side effect of starting the daily green-drink habit. And yes, we asked.

Nutritionally, crystalline deposits are likely caused by highly acidic foods, especially salt, and not drinking lots of water.

So let’s minimize or eliminate the baddies, listed above. Let’s eat more of the foods that have been linked by hundreds of studies world-wide, to ideal weight and minimized disease risk.

(Dr. Joel Fuhrman does this best, in Eat to Live, quoting literally hundreds of published studies showing the benefits of eating plant foods. This is highly recommended reading.)

Let’s don’t kill greens with cooking, and slather butter on them.

If you’re worried about oxalates, let’s not “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” because people who don’t metabolize that anti-nutrient well need the nutrition in the leafy greens as much as anyone, if not more. Instead:

Let’s rotate greens, use a wide variety in our green drinks—not just spinach. Amanda says a friend of hers had oxalate issues and one took a calcium-magnesium supplement and the pain went away. Several experts I have read suggest getting more calcium from plant sources.

And, eat some good fats with your green smoothie, like avocado or coconut oil or flax oil, to increase calcium absorption. One of my favorite lunches is a quart of green smoothie, with some homemade guacamole and “corn chips” (organic corn tortillas, quartered with a pizza cutter and broiled on both sides, no oil or salt needed).

Oprah, raw food, and parenting (part 1 of 2)

When my girls and I were on our way to California for me to teach classes in San Diego and Fullerton recently (see photo below of the Fullerton class at BellySprout), one of my daughters brought Oprah up. “Mom,” she said, “Oprah is really amazing and accomplishes so much. But she keeps gaining weight. She loses it, but then she gains it all back again. Why is that?”

We puzzled over it as we drove and I realized something very important related to the Introduction to 12 Steps to Whole Foods where I address parenting children to eat well at some length.

That is, we tend to go back to what we learned as children. Oprah can avoid ever spending time in her kitchen and can dictate exactly what she wants to eat, because she’s been rich enough to pay a full-time cook for many years. So the #1 and #2 reasons I’m given to avoid shifting to a high-raw, plant-based diet don’t even apply to her. Those are (1) “I don’t have time to cook” and (2) “I can’t afford to eat right.”

But she was powerfully influenced by the Southern U.S. diet she was raised with: fried everything and lots of animal protein. Even having tremendous advantages of money and a hired help hasn’t been able to overcome that programming!

So it is with us. Let’s look at the positive side of that. If we raise our children to eat mostly vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, they certainly may stray. (I did for the first half of my 20’s, and you can read my story on the site.) But our children will always have the positive associations that came with eating according to correct principles throughout their childhood. (If you start now despite your children being half-raised, that’s still so much better than NEVER providing those learning opportunities.)

For me, the positive associations weren’t about those healthy foods I was raised with being comforting–my mother wasn’t a “food is love” person like some moms. She spent minimal time in food prep, wasn’t a good cook by anyone’s standards, and didn’t bother with artful presentation.

But I learned that I had energy and a positive mood, avoided illness, and stayed at an ideal weight back then when she fed us lots of raw fruits and vegs and legume/whole grain main dishes–and dessert only rarely, made with whole wheat and the sugar/butter cut in half. I feel sorry for people who never learned that in their childhood as I did! And so, after deviating for a number of years and not liking how I felt or looked, I came back to the “straight and narrow path” of eating simple, whole, plant foods. It’s a lot easier to RETURN to it than it is to INVENT it from scratch as an adult.

audience in Fullerton CA

foods that help digestion . . . part 5

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl:   What are foods that help digestion? Some raw foodists eat raw meat.   Raw meat and milk have enzymes, so aren’t they good foods?

Answer:   We’ll leave the Oxford/Cornell China Project out of this discussion, which shows that animal protein causes many diseases.   (The primary author of that pivotal study, Dr. Campbell, told me he did not study predigested or fermented milk products, such as kefir or yogurt.)   Raw milk has over 35 enzymes.   If you’re going to use dairy products or milk, raw certainly has those many advantages over pasteurized.   One very old study showed the highest morbidity (death) rate in newborns drinking pasteurized cow milk, a much improved rate for those drinking raw milk, and higher still for those who were fortunate to be breastfed by their mothers.

However, you run many bacterial risks with the way milk and meat will be raised, handled, and transported to you.   Meat in particular is troublesome, and I would not recommend eating it raw, even if you go to all the trouble of finding truly range-fed, organic chickens or beef.   The shockingly lax U.S. standards for poultry allow virtually anything to be legally given labels like “natural” and “range fed.”   We can obtain live enzymes through plant food, much more safely.

That said, I believe much evidence shows kefir or yogurt to be an excellent food with its natural probiotics.   If you can find a source you trust of raw milk, and can obtain kefir grains, you can use the raw milk and predigest the casein proteins with the action of the live kefir grains.   Raw goat milk is preferable to cow milk, with its smaller fat molecule that is not mucous forming like cow milk is.   (Vegans can make kefir with coconut liquid.)

I’m visiting my grampa in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, for the rest of the week and may be offline.   (He is in a home, and I am flying out with my aunt.)   After that I’ll talk about what enzymes supplements to take.   Happy Thanksgiving!