Friday, 21 February 2014

The protein question!

One year ago I cut dairy from my diet and have experience only positive effects since. Over the following months I morphed into a whole food, plant based mammal, also known as a Vegan. Vegans don't eat dairy, cheese, meat, fish, poultry or eggs, to make it simple they don't eat any food that began as an animal.
When I mentioned to people that this is the way I eat, more times than not the reply is "Where do you get your protein from?" This question demonstrates that most people don't understand basic nutrition. You see the question shouldn't be "where do you get your protein from?", but rather "where do you get your B12 from?"

We've been lead to believe that we require a lot more protein than we actually need. We also believe the only sufficient source of good protein is in animal produce. This in not true but it has been the message that government and food corporations have pressed on us. 

Last summer I was visiting a local farm with my wife and two children. It is a nice family owed plot where you can pay in and roam the grounds watching the animals and the farming process. My 2 boys love it, especially when the tractor rolls past with the hay bails loaded on the back. They love the tractor so much that we always follow it. The tractor grinds to a halt and the driver pick forks a bail or two of hay over the fence to a big bull. He chomps away and all is good. As I stood and watched this I couldn't help wonder why nobody asks "where does this bull get his protein from?"
He probably weighed in excess of 2,000 lbs and he spends all day chewing grass and eating hay. As he walked his sheer muscular mass and power where as noticeable as a dentists drill in a un-novocained oral cavity. This was a clear demonstration that mammals eating a plant based diet have no problem with protein utilisation. 

Animals consume plant sourced protein. They break protein down into amino acids in their gastrointestinal tract before assimilation, if they didn't they would die, see here. They reconstruct the amino acids into chains which are called proteins. So all the animal protein you think you need, is built from amino acids which were once plant proteins, if you cut out the middle man (the animal) in this case the bull, you'll also cut out all the saturated fat, bacteria and antibiotics that plants don't contain. This will ensure better health and reduce your risk of heart disease and cardiovascular problems significantly. 

Animal proteins found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs are built more intricately than plant proteins. This means the breakdown process takes a little longer and therefore requires more energy expenditure on our behalf. More time and effort spent on a metabolic process such as digesting meat will increase free radical damage and the inflammatory process. Animal proteins are always accompanied with saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones and bacteria, while plants usually aren't. 

People talk about complete proteins without knowing what a complete protein is. There are thousands of variations of protein and as far as I am aware there is no categorised complete protein, however there are essential protein and I think this is where people get confused. 
A protein basically is a chain of amino acids. There are 22 different amino acids and 9 of these are considered essential for human consumption. Essential amino acids means these must be consumed because they are used to make specific proteins we require for human function and health. If one essential amino acid is missing we will be unable to construct all the specific proteins we require. We may be able to construct an alternative protein but this will have some draw backs. If one or more of the 13 non essential amino acids are missing, we can use an alternative to construct a protein to do the same job with out any draw back, therefore they are non essential. 

I think most people think that a 'complete protein' is a steak or a chicken breast and without these in your diet you will be doomed by ill health. If my story about the bull cow doesn't destroy this myth then I think you will be doomed by ill health. 
Evidence based research using longitudinal studies on humans, yes that's correct, studies on humans, have clearly shown that the most health promoting way to eat is a whole food, plant based diet. This will ensure you get all the micro and macro nutrients you need (including all 9 essential amino acids), along with phyto-nutrients and antioxidants which will stave off disease like cancer by combating free radical damage, while your risk of heart disease fades away due to low consumption of saturated fat and animal proteins which raise insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a  major contributor to western disease such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer to name the most common. 

I tweeted this picture last week and I think it sums up western society pretty well. 

We have no problem with people eating fast food which is heavily documented to contain animal faeces 100% of the time! We have no problem with the fact that a single hamburger can contain meat from up to 200 different animals. We can turn a blind eye to the fact that the chicken we eat is farmed in conditions where they don't have enough room to spread their wings, where they get their beaks cut off to prevent them pecking each other's eyes out. We can ignore the fact that some fast food companies can not legally call their nuggets 'chicken nuggets' because the birds have been genetically modified to grow large breast and therefore can no longer legally be called chicken. We don't mind the inhumane feeding habits of pumping food into their stomachs, a lot of which gets regurgitated onto the floor with their faeces which is then collected and fed to the cows we eat, a revenue saving exercise. That's all okay, we can handle that! 
We don't see the guaranteed health risk of smoking and the inevitable disease it will cause. And as for binge drinking and hangovers,,, well we are Irish! Again this is all OK and seen as a way of enjoying yourself.

But if you mention that you are vegetarian or vegan, the sheer shock and astonishment. That can't be healthy! Where do you get your protein from? People can't wait to point out the inadequacies which simply don't exist with this type of diet. 

Society it seems has no notion that what you put into your body will affect its health and performance in the short and long term. It has been shown with clinical trials and longitudinal human studies that cancer rates match identical with ingestion of animal proteins, yet if you go into any hospital in the western world where there are terminally ill cancer patients you'll find them being fed animal protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

People see me as being skinny and at risk of ill health because of the way I eat. I am 36 years of age and I left school almost 20yrs ago. I weighed 72kg when I graduated from school and I weigh 74kg today. I've never weighed more than 75kg and on the day I left school I had a 32" waist which I still have today. I've ran marathons, raced ironman triathlons and I've had 2 antibiotics in the 20yrs since I left school, I exercise almost every day and I eat tonnes of fruit and vegetables, yet somehow I have to defend the way I live because people think I'm at risk of ill health because they don't understand what protein actually is. "We have an obsession with animal protein and unless that changes our species will be doomed with ill health." 

The world health organisation has issued a statement suggesting that society will get more sick if it doesn't end its obsession with consuming meat. The same organisation also suggest that the number one action any person can take to reduce their carbon foot print is to develop a plant based diet. Forget about buying a Prius and not brining it to a car wash, just eat plants. Livestock are responsible for 20% of the green house gases this planet produces. They also require a huge amount of fresh water which we are being warned is running scarce, and land, which 9 times out of 10 was forest before farm land. We buy feed from countries which can not afford to feed its children, and we use that feed to grow cattle for our consumption.
For every 9 calories you put into an animal, you get 1 calorie in return. That's why animal protein is so much more expensive than plants.

A plant based diet is the healthiest way to eat, that's why I chose to eat that way. It's also the most ethical way to live and the only diet this planet can sustain. I'm not a hippy or a tree hugger and I'm certainly not out to make people feel uncomfortable about eating. I'll leave you with the slogan from the Irish Independent newspaper. 

"Before you make up your mind, open it"

Some very simple Google searching will prove these statements to be true. Below is as list of resources which will enlighten and educate you but proceed with caution because these resources might make you healthier too, "God Forbid" says that atheist. 


The china study
Engine 2 diet 
Salt, Sugar, Fat
The omnivores dilemma
Meat is for pussies
80 10 10
Eat and Run
Finding Ultra

Movies on Netflix

Forks over knives
Food inc
Fat sick and nearly dead
Food matters

Ted Talks

Dean Ornish healing through diet
Dean Ornish the worlds killer diet


Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!