All nutrient groups are required for optimal health and survival. For humans, we need, Proteins ( animal or vegetarian  ), fats  ( butter, Olive oil ghee), carbohydrates ( vegetables, fruit and grains)  and water. How much of each food group we consume is always open to debate and non more controversial than protein.

There is a  protein debate going on amongst internet nutritionists. Everyone seems to agree on good carbs versus bad carbs and good sources of fats, but with protein, there seems to be some disagreement about the minimum requirements for optimum health. 

This has come about with some research that shows that the minimum daily intake of protein can be achieved by eating a variety of whole food plant-based (WFPB) and that ingesting meat or other animal-based products is not a requirement for attaining minimum protein status. WFPB diet includes whole grains, seeds and nuts, vegetables and fruits and fermented foods from plant Origins. The body can deconstruct the proteins into amino acids and then build tissue. Furthermore, these amino acids can be stored in the body for a few days like a big amino acid pool to draw on when needed.  

The key is consuming various plant foods as no one plant food contains all the essential amino acids.

Research is not exact, as there is no agreement on the optimum protein consumption for good health and the amount of protein required for seniors. 

 Dr  Michael Mosely,  a medical doctor and researcher, in his fast 800  books, states that the latest research shows that we generally need about 50 grams of protein per day for good body maintenance, growth and repair of tissues. ( see below )  Slightly more if senior or very active. He contends that it is easier for overweight people to lose weight on a more protein-based diet than a less protein diet, as vegetarians need to consume more food to obtain their protein requirements. Mosely also points out that proteins better help us control insulin levels involved in regulating fat and hormone production. 

Why is protein so important?

 Ingested protein is broken down into amino acids that can travel more quickly in the blood and form various tissues such as  Bone, muscles and ligaments, formation of blood vessels and the body’s connective tissue ( Fascia)   

Protein helps regulate insulin and blood sugar and provides a base for forming antibodies. Although amino acids are stored in the body, they must be continually be replenished as the body’s turnover is relatively high for growth and repair. 

Initially, it was thought that too much protein could lead to kidney disease, calcium loss, and weight gain, but recent research has shown that this is not the case and protein is very important as we age.

Research on Monkeys has found that their number one preference in foods is those plants that contain the most protein. If not enough protein is consumed, their appetite increases to eat more food until the protein receptors in their bodies are satisfied. In. In some cases, they can over-eat, leading to weight gain Sound familiar?

So who does one believe, and what is the right amount of protein for me? This, I think, depends on several factors. – age, digestive function, type and amount of protein and Bioavailability of foods. Bioavailability is the rate of absorption of nutrients.

 It is thought that at 70 years of age, one has lost about 25% of one’s digestive function compared with one’s levels at 25 years of age. The proof is in the record number of antacids consumed by seniors to assist with gastric reflux and other digestive problems. The root cause of this is a lack of digestive enzymes! Lack of digestive enzymes impedes the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Indeed, if this process is not optimal, it affects the friendly flora in our lower GUT ( microbiome), which significantly affects our Immunity and mental health. The GUT microbiome produces serotonin and Dopamine, which affects mood sensors in our brain.

Not all protein sources are equal, so some foods contain fewer amino acids. For example, let’s have a look at some food comparisons below. 

So let’s look at ways of obtaining 50 grams of protein per day by making some food comparisons. 

One medium boiled egg = 7-gram protein 

30-gram cheddar cheese = 7.5-gram protein 

100 gram cooked  puy lentils = 11-gram protein 

100 gram of tofu = 12.5 grams of protein 

15 gram of almonds = 4-gram protein 

Now compare the above with meat below-

 

75-gram chicken breast = 22.5-grams protein 

45 gram of tuna in oil = 11.5-gram protein 

100 gram of poached salmon = 24.5 grams of protein 

What is not included in the above figure is a protein in vegetables which obviously would be part of a meal—also not included in the Bioavailability of certain nutrients compared with plant foods. The statistics illustrate that obtaining protein from vegetarian sources to obtain the daily intake of 50 grams is a lot harder than from animal protein sources. 

This is not an issue for those who do not have a weight problem. They can keep eating until their protein receptors are satisfied, but for those overweight then, eating more food may be detrimental. 

For some other interesting figures. It has shown that the absorption (Bioavailability) of whey protein powder is about 17% in the human GUT, whereas eggs are about 43 %

So although It may be beneficial to look at the type of protein, the Bioavailability also must be factored in when planning food menus. Another factor that may influence is that iron in meat is more bioavailable than in plant foods (except Spirulina or other algae). 

So there is a good case for ensuring one has enough daily protein for one age and ensuring that the protein intake is in a more digestible form. (e.g. soups and stews) 

Now reading the above, It seems that I  am making a case for eating lots of animal protein. Well, this is not the case, as it has been demonstrated that vegetarians live longer lives with better health. Studies on the people who live in the “Blue Zones” illustrate this fact. Some research has shown that overeating protein in red meats can increase cancer risk as meats activate inflammatory pathways. So, where possible, eat vegetarian WFPB! 

I do not believe most of us can replicate living in the blue zones, with generations of blue zoners eating daily homegrown and home-cooked meals, doing 17 thousand steps a day, having active physical lifestyles and living lower stress levels environments. Not to mention inheriting good genetics. However, we can serve what is good on our plate and apply the best principles to our style of living.

Alas, many “blue zone “environments are now being invaded with modern transport, packaged and takeaway foods,  and more electronic goods that favour ease of labour. The result has been a reduction in longevity and health where these influences are happening.

My take. Eating Mediterranean Style WFPB is desirable for any age group and promotes good health.; In some cases, young menstruating women or seniors may need to manage protein intake by eating foods that are higher in protein and Bioavailability. One can lose weight by eating WFPB; however, if it is perceived that higher protein requirements are required to manage weight loss, insulin control and appetite, then ingesting foods to meet those requirements may be a good idea. 

Latest news: Since writing this article, I have listened to a podcast by Simon Hill https://plantproof.com/get-stronger-to-live-longer-with-professor-stuart-phillips

Simon is a qualified Nutritionist and has written the book “The proof is in the Plants.” 

In the interview on the podcast with Professor Stuart Phillips, a respected researcher and textbook author, there were some takeaways I would like to share – 

The big surprise was his assessment, according to him, that we should be ingesting between 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So a 75 kilogram senior male @ 1.6 gram per body weight will need 120 grams of protein per day! More like 1.6 if one is a senior.  

Now protein can be from plant or animal sources – it does not matter so long as the daily protein requirements are met.

Peter Farnworth N.D www.adelaidenaturopath.net.au