Quantity, when it comes to protein, is generally not a problem. Most people eat more than enough. But do we eat the right proteins for health and wellness? Do we even know what the right proteins are? From the standpoint of evolutionary nutrition, the answer is clear: people evolved eating non-starchy fruits and vegetables along with nuts, seeds, eggs, wild game, and wild fish. Those are the proteins our bodies digest most easily, and those are the proteins that many people are rediscovering today. If you want to make them a part of your diet, then this Provision is for you. It will point you to sources and formulas for success.
It’s amazing to me that the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, last published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2005 says virtually nothing about protein. There are chapters on Food Groups, Fats, Carbohydrates, Sodium and Potassium, Alcoholic Beverages, and Food Safety • but there is no chapter on Protein and hardly any mention of recommendations (the word “protein” occurs only 15 times in the entire document).
What’s up with that? Here is their explanation: “While protein is an important macronutrient in the diet, most Americans are already currently consuming enough (Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range = 10 to 35 percent of calories) and do not need to increase their intake. As such, protein consumption, while important for nutrient adequacy, is not a focus of this document.” The focus of the document is, rather, to get people to eat less fat and to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. That is their recommendation for Americans who want to eat a healthy diet. Unfortunately, such neglect leaves Americans to fend for themselves when it comes to one of the most controversial areas of human nutrition. Nothing could be more widely disparate than the recommendations of experts when it comes to protein.
From Dr. Robert Atkins on the one extreme, who encourages people to maximize their consumption of protein, to Dr. Dean Ornish on the other extreme, who encourages people to minimize their consumption of protein, it’s hard to know how all these experts can be looking at the same data and living in the same world. At least one reason for the differences of opinion has to do with an often neglected aspect of protein: its quality. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans sidestep this issue on every front. Not only does the word “protein” occur only 15 times in the entire document, but the words “organic,” “pesticide,” “fertilizer,” “antibiotic,” “hormone,” “free-range,” “pasture-fed,” and “genetically-modified” never occur at all. That goes for fruits, vegetables, and all kinds of foods in addition to protein. I suppose they just don’t want to go there.
Since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are responsible for regulating the food industry, they would hardly want to imply that there might be something wrong with the conventional, mass-market food supply. Think of the trouble that would occasion! Especially since so many people are unable to afford the higher-quality foods. Until, of course, they get sick from eating the lower-quality foods. Then we all pay to either help them get well or to care for them through infirmity and death. The fact is, quality is everything when it comes to protein. Animal and plant protein alike are uniquely impacted by their environment.
The more contrived and hostile the environment, the lower the quality of protein. The more natural and supportive the environment, the higher the quality of protein. By eating at the high end of the quality continuum, one can stay healthy while eating as much protein as one desires. By eating lower on the quality end of the continuum, protein becomes more and more of a health hazard that needs to be therefore limited and controlled. The vast majority of protein eaten by people in the world today is of low quality. That’s why you so often see research findings and recommendations as to why we must avoid red meat or stay with a strictly vegetarian diet. Consider the case of the largely sedentary cow, who in 18 short months is born, moved into an overcrowded Contained Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), fattened with corn (which cannot be properly digested by cows) and hormones, kept in unsanitary conditions, treated with antibiotics, and slaughtered before it dies a premature death from all its mistreatment.
Such meat is riddled with suffering, toxins, antibiotics, hormones, and unhealthy fat. What else would one expect to find in the case of such meat! No one should be eating this at all. Even vegetable protein is subject to environmental degradation. The use of pesticides, fertilizers, and genetic-modifications impact the quality of vegetable protein, such as the tempeh and tofu made from soy beans, in much the same way as antibiotics, hormones, and CAFOs impact animal protein. How we treat our food in production determines how our food treats us in consumption. What goes into our food determines what comes out of our food in terms of health, energy, and well-being both for us as individuals and for society as a whole. There’s really a lot to consider that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 never even mention.
From an evolutionary point of view, there is no doubt that early human beings ate primarily fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wild eggs, wild game, and wild fish. It was only relatively recently that we added the products of agriculture such as grain, dairy, legumes, and starchy vegetables that need to be cooked. We were, after all, gatherers and hunters for a much longer period of time than we have been farmers and ranchers. When it comes to protein, what we started with is still the most perfect of proteins. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, along with wild eggs, game, and fish are the foods our bodies are best designed to eat. Although most foods contain protein, including most fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, the real jump in human evolution took place when we learned to hunt and fish. By virtue of the abundant calories that came from the proteins and fats in wild eggs, game, and fish, the size of our bellies shrank by 40% while the size of our brains increased by 300%. At the same time, we grew taller and healthier.
It wasn’t until the advent of agriculture that people started to suffer the ravages of infectious and chronic diseases. From an evolutionary nutrition point of view, agriculture was a step backwards rather than forwards. The problem, of course, is that we now have 7 billion people on the planet and there aren’t enough wild eggs, game, and fish to go around. So what’s a person to do? I think the best strategy is to eat local. If you know the person who raises or grows your protein, if you can visit that protein in the pasture or the field, then chances are you will get a sense of the quality and care that go into their production. One of the best proteins to eat is grass-fed bison or buffalo.
It is extremely lean, low-calorie, and laced with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. We met our bison ranchers at our local farmer’s market, and they, in turn, introduced us to a local chicken farmer. If you are going to eat meat, then eating meat that led happy and healthy lives, with a natural lifespan, is the way to go. Other lean and healthy meats, with an average of 15% fat, include deer, antelope, ostrich, and moose. For comparison purposes domestic meats, such as lamb, beef, chicken, and pork, average about 60% fat. I would avoid such meats as much as possible, especially those that come from conventional food sources. The point is that not all meats are created equal. Steaks may look alike on the outside, but on the inside they may be radically different. It’s the quality of the protein that determines whether or not you should eat that steak. Some steaks, like a well-marbled, corn-fed, CAFO-produced beefsteak, will destroy your health and wellness while others • like the same cut of free-range, grass-fed bison • will promote your health and wellness.
I, for one, choose the latter even though it is more expensive. In many situations, and especially in many social situations, it is not possible to eat local, wild eggs, fish, or game. They either aren’t available or aren’t served. In those situations, choices become harder to make. Is it better to eat a lean cut of turkey or chicken breast, for example, that has been raised in overcrowded and inhumane conditions or is it better to switch to vegetable protein such as tempeh or tofu? I do a little of both, but increasingly I tend toward vegetarianism when there is no healthy animal protein option. In such cases, it makes more sense to eat lower down on the food chain, since we are not only what we eat. We are also what we eat eats, and what we eat eats eats. The higher up we eat on the food chain, the more we have to be concerned about every step along the way.
Dr. Andrew Weil recommends getting getting 10 to 20 percent of calories from protein. He also recognizes the quality issue for both animal and plant proteins. “A small number of farmers,” he notes, “specialize in producing more healthful meat from animals raised organically and certified to be free of hormones or antibiotics. Some of these animals spend all of their lives grazing in the wild rather than being fattened in feed lots and, as a result, are not only leaner but also have a much better profile of fatty acids in their fat.” Dr. Loren Cordain suggests that we can afford to get even more of our calories from protein, up to 35%, if the protein is lean and of high quality. Dr. Cordain also discourages the eating of plant proteins from legumes and grains, since neither were in the diets of our evolutionary ancestors and since both can cause a variety of health problems. In an ideal world, Dr. Cordain asserts, we would eat nothing but non-starchy fruits and vegetables along with nuts, seeds, free-range eggs, grass-fed game, and wild fish. That is what I strive for, whenever possible. (To learn more about this way of eating, visit www.ThePaleoDiet.com.)
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Faced with the choice between conventional meats and vegetable protein, I side with Dr. Weil. Eat the edamame, tofu, and tempeh. Conventional meats use such an enormous amount of energy, generate so much toxic waste and methane gas, have such a poor nutritional profile, and are treated so inhumanely during their brief lifetimes that they are to be minimized or avoided altogether. This goes for dairy products and farm-raised fish as well as for conventional meats. The whole system of generating these food stuffs will ultimately collapse under its own weight, since it is made possible only with government subsidies and cheap oil. Once we run out of those, we’ll be back to local food sources for sure. Why wait? Discover your own local food sources by going to farmers’ markets, talking to your neighbors, reading local papers, or visiting www.LocalHarvest.org. Once you find one local food source, you will be introduced to many others.
There is a local-food network that you may know nothing about, but it is alive and quite the phenomenon. In all cases, avoid adding salt to your protein (animal or plant). Salt was virtually unknown to our ancestors and wreaks havoc with human health. Using herbs, spices, and bulbs (such as garlic) will keep protein from being bland even as they introduce their own healthful properties. Because of genetic differences, and because of the challenges involved with digesting protein, there is no one perfect protein for all people. Many proteins, especially the plant proteins of agriculture, generate allergic reactions or food intolerances that need to be identified and respected. What works for one person may not work for others. Most people, however, do well on a diet that includes protein from free-range eggs, wild fish, and grass-fed meat. If you’re not opposed to eating meat on personal or religious grounds, I encourage you to make these proteins the staple proteins of your diet. Coaching Inquiries:
What proteins do you eat on a regular basis? Do you consciously look for free-range eggs, grass-fed game, and wild fish? Do you know what local food sources are available to you? How could you befriend these sources and share them with others? What foods are you allergic to or intolerant of? How could your protein consumption contribute to both your well-being and the well-being of the planet? To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session. LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week) Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
Your Vital Veggies Provision was great. I can attest that veggies become as addictive as junk food can be, but with all the health benefits. If I don’t get my veggies after a while I notice my vitality dropping.
Let’s start off by saying that I am loving these nutritional Provisions. You are really speaking my language.
There are a couple things I’d like to say. First of all, in reference to the water bottle debate, I used to carry the same plastic bottle around for weeks at a time. That all changed when I attended a seminar and found out about how bad plastic actually is for you. This led me to New Wave Enviro. Their stainless-steel, 40-oz. container is light, safe, and mobile. To learn more visit www.enviroproductsinc.com.
Now let’s talk about veggies. The cornerstone of every nutritious diet. I love your analytical approach to buying produce and your comment about not going down the bread and cereal aisle for years. That’s funny stuff.
I know what you mean about telling the cashiers about what the produce is and what the nutritional content is. I am the same exact way. Without sounding arrogant, I feel sometimes like I am a walking encyclopedia of nutritional knowledge. Of course, this approach rarely goes over well with the recipient of my banter, but it makes me feel good though.
I get excited and fired up just thinking about organic produce, let alone eating it. Well, on that note, I’ve got to roll. Have a great day and keep it organic!
So, what is the deal with eating raw potatoes, or beans (like snow peas) and other legumes for that matter? I know plenty of people who eat these raw. What makes you say they are inedible in that form???? (Ed. Note: We will cover the nutritional problems with uncooked beans and starchy vegetables in an upcoming Provision • I promise!)
Erika’s comment about the well-meaning Congressman hit my hot button. Let’s forget the “gubament” and engage others in discussions of free market solutions. We need effective compassion and action, not kvetch!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services