“Everything that’s popular is wrong” – Oscar Wilde
This is one of my favorite quotes, I find myself coming back to it again and again. It simply reminds me to question everything and it has proven incredibly useful when it comes deciphering health and nutrition information. I’d argue that you can’t be truly successful in the wellness world without a sense of open mindedness, yet an unwavering ability to disregard that which doesn’t make sense to you, no matter how many people are doing it. So much of the mainstream information is flat out wrong at best, and harmful at worst.
Owning your health is not being afraid to question the status quo and what you’re being told. I bring this up because I want to question a commonly held belief this week. I’ve been experimenting with a more plant-based diet recently and the number one comment I get is this: What about protein? Isn’t it hard to get enough?
You can get plenty of protein from plants
When it comes to macronutrients, it’s not hard at all to get your recommended daily intake of protein, if you’re eating whole foods. The RDA for protein is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. To put it in perspective, there are 39 grams of protein in a cup of chickpeas and 20 in a cup of almonds. Protein in itself is likely not lacking in a wholefood plant-based diet. It’s a total myth that protein is hard to get in any diet that is based in whole foods!
Protein isn’t the issue
The deficiencies we see in vegans and vegetarians are on a micro level not a macronutrient level. They can be lower in certain amino acids that are more commonly found in animal proteins. Vegan/Vegetarians also can be lower in Vitamin D, B-12, Zinc, Iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids. This is the reason some vegans/vegetarians experience low energy, NOT lack of protein overall!
Are we eating too much protein?
When it comes to mainstream ideas about protein intake, it’s quite likely things are backwards. Most people probably get too much protein. In a cup of chicken, there are 44 grams, almost the entire RDA for an adult female. Most people I know far exceed that amount of animal protein in a day. If anything, most people need to cut back. On top of that, the boom in popularity of protein powders has increased our protein intake even further. The typical protein powder can contain anywhere from 20-80 g per serving. I do use protein powders but typically for a reason like a cleanse protocol or someone who has higher protein demands. Additionally, many protein powders have been found to contain environmental toxins like heavy metals. (For my recommendations on plant based protein & protein powders see my article here) For the average person it may not be necessary and can actually do harm.
A few of my concerns with overdoing protein….
May increase cancer chances
Protein serves as the building blocks for our tissues and organs which means it promotes cell division and duplication. In a balanced system this is fine but cell duplication in excess IS cancer. Never in our society’s history have we consumed more protein than we do now and cancer rates are at all time highs.
You can’t absorb more than a certain amount
Most people overload on protein because they think it will help them build muscle. This isn’t exactly the case. Your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein per meal, around 20-50 g, anything in excess is being processed out. By overdoing it, you’re wasting your body’s resources and likely your wallet’s.
Excess amounts turn into sugar
Protein is broken down into amino acids that help to build tissues. However, when your body reaches the thresh hold for protein absorption, it can’t store amino acids. In order to handle the excess proteins, your body must convert them to sugar. Sugar is then converted to glycogen to be stored in the liver or turned into fat when the liver is “full”. Basically, if you’re over doing the protein, you’re essentially eating sugar!
Incredibly hard on the kidneys
When the body processes protein, it creates waste bi-products that need to be eliminated through the kidneys. When you have an excess amount of protein intake, you can easily overload the kidneys. Over time, this creates back up and ultimately causes kidney disease. Do put your organs in danger by consuming an unneccesary amount of protein just doesn’t make any sense!
When it comes to diet, we’re conditioned to believe we need to go out of our way to acquire our daily intake of protein and it’s simply not true. Where we got this idea I’m not sure! Clinically speaking, the only populations who do tend to suffer from true protein malnutrition are the elderly and teenage girls who aren’t eating enough.
In this case, Oscar Wilde’s wisdom rings true. Remember, don’t ever be afraid to examine and breakdown popular beliefs. You never know what falsehoods you’ll uncover.