High-protein meat based diets have been promoted by our top health professionals for generations. Huge swathes of populations have depended on these protein guidelines for reliable, evidence-based, health advise. Naturopath Nutritionist, Jessica House, separates fact from fiction as she debunks some of the theories around protein in our diets.
Myths are a staple diet of mankind and have been for centuries, especially those surrounding
food; the formula-milk myth, the bread-fibre myth, the calorie myth... the list goes on.
There are many 'facts' we are told about the nutritional value of our food that because of the authoritative voices spouting them, such as doctors or a newspaper, we see as binding, gospel truth.
The myth I am putting on the table here is the complete protein myth. What exactly is it? It is the idea that meat is the most effective and bountiful source of protein and therefore our bodies need it; that we need to eat meat for optimum health. It is often the first reason of objection to vegetarianism, veganism or a plant-based diet from our meat-eating friends.
The problem with this kind of imperative language is that is effectively removes our power of choice. You have to eat meat, is either the overt message or the subtext that comes with this ubiquitous myth.
It is true that protein is very much essential. The word protein comes from the Greek ‘prōtos’ which means ‘the first one’. Protein is a fundamental structure; an essential part of all living organisms. It is made up of amino acids, the bricks of the structure.
The question is, when building your fundamental structure, do you want use the bricks from an old, already built house - the grouped animo acids from animals? Or, do you want new, simple, easy-to-build bricks - the simple amino acids from plants?
The complete protein theory (or myth) states, paradoxically, that you should use the old bricks from the old house to build a new, strong, clean structure. To drop the metaphor, it is saying that unless we eat food that contain all the 9 essential amino acids in one meal we cannot have the building blocks necessary to create a ‘complete protein’ and we will there become deficient.
You might also have heard that plant protein is ‘incomplete’ compared to meat protein, and that plant foods have to be carefully combined to make a ‘complete’ protein. As far as science goes, this is little more than an urban legend, propagated in 2001 by the American Heart Assocation (AHA). When challenged for its inaccuracy by John A. McDougall, who insisted they back up their assertion with evidence, the AHA could not do so. Thus the myth of a complete protein - attainable only through eating meat - was never scientifically proven. Yet the myth is perpetuated to this day.
Take a look at the numbers for yourself. This information has been publicly available on the USDA for decades and shows common plant based foods with all 9 of the essential amino acids.
Fruits, nuts, vegetables and pulses are much simpler for the body to break down and rich in dynamic energy, electrolytes, vitamins and minerals. Tip: the organic variety are likely to enhance and sustain the planet for generations to come and who doesn’t want to be able to point at their tummy and say to their grand children “no animals were harmed in the making of this”?
Here’s to your choice!
Thinking about going meat-free? Seeking the support of a nutritional therapist is highly advised. To receive the latest info, support or to book an appointment with Jessica, click here.
Naturopath Nutritional and Herbal Medic Therapists providing programmes designed to restore health & optimise wellbeing.