“So where do you get your protein from?”
It’s one of the most commonly asked questions from omnivores to vegans. Thanks to the big protein push by food marketers over the years, suddenly there’s collective belief that we all need exorbitant amounts of proteins to be healthy.
This number can certain vary depending on an individual’s age, gender and activity levels. But even then, the RDA metric should be embraced as a generalized guideline.
Taking a neutral stance to the protein debate, Daniel Pendick unveils some interesting points on the Harvard Health Blog. He references a meeting among 40 nutrition scientists in Washington D.C. called the “Protein Summit” intended to discuss research on protein and human health. The summit, however, was sponsored by beef, egg, and other animal-based food industry groups.
So what was the outcome of the summit gathering (sponsored and organized by animal-based food industry groups?) You guessed it. Eat more protein.
In fact, some of the nutritional scientists at the summit went on to support the consumption of double one’s RDA for optimal protein intake. While these insights¹ remain controversial, it’s important to note that this summit took place in 2007 – almost a decade ago. New science continues to debunk the myth that more protein is better.
Quality versus Quantity
While it may come at a surprise to most people, it’s a scientific fact that protein is found in all plant foods. The underlying facts that debunk the protein myth are a matter of quality versus quantity.
For instance, 20-40% of the calories found in beans, broccoli, and spinach come from protein. That rivals the percentages of calories from protein found in most types of meat. Even fruits like strawberries and oranges provide 8% to 9% protein content.
Well summarized in Daniel Pendick’s Harvard Health Blog article:
“Research on the optimal amount of protein to eat for good health is ongoing, and is far from settled. The value of high-protein diets for weight loss or cardiovascular health, for example, remains controversial.”
Slaying the protein myth, Rich Roll, plant-based ultra endurance athlete, puts it best:
“Proteins consist of twenty different amino acids, eleven of which can be synthesized naturally by our bodies. The remaining nine – what we call essential amino acids – must be ingested from the foods we eat. So technically, our bodies require certain amino acids, not protein per se. But these nine essential amino acids are hardly the exclusive domain of the animal kingdom. In fact, they’re originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants.”
If that doesn’t do it for you, consider the ketogenic diet and the fruitarian diet, both of which are low protein and have been successfully embraced (and sustained) by some of the world’s top performing athletes.
Proponent of the ketogenic diet, Peter Attia M.D. endures 4+ hour bike rides while regularly pumping iron in the gym on a diet of approximately 80-90% fat, 5-10% carbohydrates, and only 5-10% protein.
Michael Arnstein, also known as “The Fruitarian,” wins some of the most gruelling and competitive 100+ mile foot races powered almost entirely by raw fruit. While the fruitarian diet is technically labelled “80/10/10” (consuming a calorie intake of 80% carbohydrates, 10% fat, and 10% protein,) some fruitarians goes as far as 90/5/5, and thrive.
Although it sounds cliché, the old adage, “quality versus quantity”, couldn’t be more accurate in defining our protein needs. In essence, opting for amino acid rich sources of protein is a winning approach.