We can only understand the intensity of our protein obsession as a part of a broader set of dietary battles.
The tendency to think about what we consume in terms of nutrients, rather than real whole ingredients, means making the same old mistakes about nutrition in a new way.
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If you are worried about the amount of protein in your diet, you are probably eating more than enough.
Many people think if a meal has protein in it, it is full of health and goodness. Food companies are profitably adding to anything they can. You can now buy protein bars, protein shakes, protein noodles, protein bagels, protein cookies and even protein coffee.
Protein, along with fat and carbohydrate, is one of the three basic macronutrients, and probably the most important.
Protein contains nitrogen, without which we cannot grow or reproduce. Protein contains nine amino-acids that we can only get from food. Without them, our hair, nails, bones, muscles and immune system would be severely weakened.
According to official guidelines, a minimum of 0.8g of protein a day per kilogram of body weight is recommended. Yet, the average person in the US and Canada gets a full 90g a day, 20% more than the recommended amount. The average European consumes 85g of protein a day, and the average Chinese person 75g.
We hope our protein-enhanced food will lead us to better health, yet singling out protein can lead to an unbalanced view of health.
Certain people, such as athletes, may require more than the minimum recommendation of 0.8g per kilo of bodyweight. The problem is that when we think more protein is better, we don't know when to stop. This fixation with protein can ultimately become a form of an eating disorder.
Adding extra protein beyond our needs tends to shorten our lifespan. It can also harm people with underlying kidney or liver problems.
Ultra-processed whey is not the same as salmon, either in nutrition or in the experience of eating it. Salmon will be high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, whereas whey protein is low in vitamins, most minerals and fat-free.
Many view vegetable proteins such as lentils and peas as "low quality" compared with meat, eggs, and dairy, even though they contain all essential amino acids in smaller amounts. With a varied diet, this shouldn't matter.
Our protein needs do not remain the same over the human lifespan. 0.8g per kilogram of body weight may be enough for a young adult, but from age 50 onwards, protein requirements increase as we progressively lose muscle.
Most people who can afford a high-protein plate already eat enough protein. But economic circumstances force many people into protein malnutrition, as noticed among elderly people admitted to hospital. The deficit of protein is indeed part of a problem - that the wrong people ask if they are eating enough protein.
Protein intake is considered a no-brainer. As obesity rates have doubled over the last 20 years, this is what we have been told to eat. It is common knowledge that we have to avoid sugar, refined oils, and carbohydrates, and focus on eating protein, will be good for our health and help us lose weight. Many of us have, over the years, switched to brown bread and skimmed milk.
We also believe that we need to eat as much protein as we can.
Doctors have been prescribing ketogenic diets to treat epilepsy for nearly a century, and increasingly believe it holds promise for people with Type 2 diabetes.
But the older keto regimens didn’t work for most people hoping to slim down, and there’s no evidence the newly popular keto diet will be any different.
The keto diet is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children. While it also has been tried for weight loss, only short-term results have been studied, and the results have been mixed. We don't know if it works in the long term, nor whether it's safe.