Protein, The Ever Essential

Protein, the essential foundation upon which we are built, literally! Skin, muscles, organs and tendons are all made up of protein. Proteins also make a hefty contribution to the creation of hormones, enzymes; the neurotransmitters in our bodies that relay messages to and from our brains as well as a multitude of other complex and necessary molecular functions.

Every breath; every heart beat is possible because of protein. So it lends a bit of logic to the adage that you are what you eat….in many, many ways.

When we think of protein we automatically envision eggs, meat and dairy however protein is also found in every living plant. At least 14% of the calories in plants are derived from protein and in some cases certain plants (like broccoli) contain more protein per calorie than steak!

There are notable differences between plant based and animal based proteins however and they are worth more than a cursory glance.

Plant proteins contain fibre; are more alkaline (body friendly) and for the most part are completely cholesterol free.  Animal proteins contain zero fibre; have more sulpher containing amino acids which make them more acidic (less body friendly) and contain cholesterol.

In general plant based proteins are considered a healthier option for human consumption which makes a strong case for vegetarians and vegans alike.

I myself am at least a quarter carnivore. I enjoy fish and chicken and Sunday morning bacon and eggs with my husband. I confess, on occasion I have also been know to drool over a juicy, medium rare prime rib.  By and large however I stick to the cleaner animal based proteins such as eggs, fish and chicken as they’re easier on my digestive system.  They provide a sense of ‘full’ without feeling ‘heavy’ in the gut like beef does. This is because different types of proteins, whether plant or animal based, are digested differently by the body. For this reason it is safe to conclude that yes indeed, not all proteins are created equal.

Whether you source your protein from a purely plant based diet or an omnivorous one is a matter of personal preference…no judgements here!

I will however impart a cautionary note on the not so healthy additive proteins such as soy, whey and casein. Where as yes soy, whey and casein are high in protein (Whey is a co-product of steaming and straining milk and casein is a protein that makes up 80% of milk’s compoition. They are the basic components used in the creation of cheese, protein additives, health shakes, meal replacement bars and body building/muscle building supplements) they are also very high in glutamate, a non-essential amino acid. Glutamate is the stuff that gives MSG (monosodium glutamate) a bad…no scratch that…a dangerously toxic name. Additionally casein has the stimulatory affect on the production of estrogen in the body (it’s a naturally occurring growth hormone; it’s function is to stimulate the growth of nursing calves!).

The question then becomes whether organic sources of soy and field fed cows producing organic milk is better or safer? Is it worth the dollars and cents difference?  Sadly no. Whereas many companies tout the superiority of their soy, whey and/or casein products the fact of the matter is that the concentration of glutamate, whether from soy, whey or casein is intrinsic to the natures of soy, whey or casein regardless of the growth medium of the crop, lack of chemical exposure or the diet of the cow.  It is what it is and an organic stamp of approval doesn’t make it healthier in this case.

For this reason I will strongly suggest avoiding additive proteins that are, or contain soy, soy isolates, whey or casein. Instead if you feel the need to supplement protein or the need to supplement has been identified try choosing a plant based option such as hemp or make the necessary adjustments in your diet to include more protein rich veggies, legumes and nuts. Things like broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, quinoa, almonds and organic oatmeal are all high in protein.

I’ll be covering the topic of glutamate and the many names it goes by very shortly. Be aware that government approved labelling practices allow MSG to be labelled differently if it’s concentration is less than 99% pure. As a heads up, terms such as ‘natural flavour’, ‘isolate’ and ‘hydrolyzed protein’ are all pseudonyms for MSG and glutamate. There are literally hundreds of approved names to disguise MSG. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a few glutamate related diseases and disorders to contemplate until I get there: Alzheimer’s, ADHD, Excitotoxicity and Cancer to name but a very, very few.

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