Protein Basics

Protein Basics

In this first chapter of the Health Section,
we’ll discuss some basics about protein. We’ll talk later about the relationship
between animal protein and our health, but for this first chapter, let’s start
with some general information. As Dr. Walter Willett, the chair of
Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, explains, “To the metabolic systems
engaged in protein production and repair, it is immaterial whether amino acids
come from animal or plant protein. However, protein
is not consumed in isolation… …it is packaged with a host of other
nutrients” that vary depending on the source. He therefore recommends to “Pick the best
protein packages by emphasizing plant sources of protein
rather than animal sources.” Although meat has long
been touted as a “basic food group,” and many people assume it’s a necessary
part of a healthy diet, there’s a broad body of scientific
literature and studies that lead physicians like Dr. Willett and myself to
recommend plant protein over animal protein. First, it’s important to note that
proteins are abundant in both animal sources, like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, as well as
plant sources, like vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts.
Proteins are chains of organic compounds called amino acids, which are joined together by
peptide bonds. The term “essential amino acid” refers to
nine amino acids that our bodies do not synthesize and we therefore need to get from food.
With few exceptions, such as gelatin, most protein from both animal and plant sources are complete proteins, meaning they contain all of the
essential amino acids our bodies need. The fact that plants have protein is for
some reason not always well known. But just as an
example, according to the USDA, broccoli has more protein per calorie then beef. Specifically, beef has 14.63 grams of
protein in 204 calories, whereas broccoli has 17.15 grams of protein in 207 calories. This equates to about 15.5% more protein per calorie in broccoli then in beef. This well cited review in
the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition addresses protein in plant foods, noting
that most animal and plant foods not only meet, but exceed the required concentration
of essential animal acids. A joint panel of the Food
and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, and United
Nations University estimated our nutritional amino acid
requirements. When those requirements are compared
with the amino acid patterns of plant and animal sources of protein, the amount of
amino acids in all these foods was found to be “much higher (per-unit of protein) than
required.” “Thus,” the review concludes, “all usual food
proteins would readily meet and even exceed the requirement for indispensable animo acids.” To be clear, this means we can get more than enough, and even exceed our protein requirements,
including all other essential amino acids, from either animal foods or a purely plant-based diet. So, if we can get adequate protein from either plants or animals, which one should we use? Well, Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate states, “Go with plants. Eating a
plant-based diet is healthiest.” And, as I mentioned earlier, the chair
Harvard’s Department of Nutrition recommends that you “Pick the best protein
packages by emphasizing plant sources of protein rather than animal sources.” Also, physicians from
Kaiser Permanente have recently suggested the same thing,
noting in their medical journal that, “Further research is needed to find ways to make plant-based diets the new normal for our patient and employees.” And, as I mentioned earlier, that’s what I
recommend to my patients. So, let’s talk more about animal protein
and health, which we’ll do in the next video chapters.

2 Replies to “Protein Basics”

  1. Hmm, more protein per calorie in broccoli. Hahaha. Great for someone willing to eat 7 times the amount of broccoli as they would beef to get the same amount of protein! It is much more effective, and efficient to get your protein and other minerals or vitamins from eating meat. You don't need much meat but a little is better than nothing

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