Everything has a story. How did the gecko get on my second-floor balcony? He can’t tell me how it happened, but there is a story. Probably not a very interesting one and hardly a tale friends want to hear. The back story of protein and how breast milk recalculated our nutrition needs is far more interesting than Mr. Gecko’s climbing adventure.
What laid the foundation for today’s excessive intake of animal protein may have been Cicely Williams’s discovery (1933) of disease in babies. She called it kwashiorkor. Often, these were babies weaned off early to accommodate for a new sibling or mother’s lack of breastmilk. Piggybacking on her findings, the United Nations (1953) identified kwashiorkor as the cause of a protein nutrition deficiency throughout the world. To solve it was to increase our intake of protein.
Made sense. It was breast milk with its protein that helped us evolve and grow bigger brains. No wonder breastfeeding (with a few exceptions) was revered throughout the ages. It was Hera’s breastmilk that made Hercules invincible and formed the Milky Way (or so the story goes). Baby Jesus suckling at Mary’s breast is one of the most endearing images in Christianity. The holy mother exempted from sex and pain in childbirth, still blessed with this bodily function. It’s God’s way to make sure newborns are nurtured. But to make sure we are not straying onto an errant path, does human milk deliver a punch of protein?
Citing conclusions of scientists, Greger writes: If breastmilk is the nutrient among nutrients that helped us build our big brains over the last few million years, one would expect that importance to be resoundingly reflected in the composition of human breast milk, especially because infancy is the time of our most rapid growth. But this is patently not the case. In fact, human breast milk is one of the lowest-protein milks in the mammalian world… Indeed, it may have the lowest protein concentration of any animal in the world.
Study after study, science shattered the theory of pandemic protein malnutrition. By the 1970s, the recommended protein requirement was slashed. Protein for infants went from 13 percent of daily calories, step by step to 5 percent. (Pediatrics) Today’s protein recommendation for adults is less than one gram of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight.
It turns out we are more likely to suffer from protein excess than protein deficiency. (PubMed) The adverse effects associated with long-term high protein/high meat intake diets may include disorders of bone and calcium balance, disorders of kidney function, increased cancer risk, disorders of the liver, and worsening of coronary artery disease. Considering all of these potential disease risks, there is currently no reasonable scientific basis to recommend protein consumption above the current recommended daily allowance. (NutritionFacts)
How do vegetarians get their protein? The average adult requirement is 42 grams a day. The most extensive study in history (2014) compared nutritional profiles of three groups: 30 thousand meat eaters, 20 thousand vegetarians, and 5 thousand vegans, flexitarians, and no meat except fish-eaters. The meat eaters got way more than they needed. The other two groups got 70% more than they need each day. (PubMed) Value ratings of each diet: the meat eaters, rated lowest, and the vegan the highest.
Conversing with friends retired from medical professions, two things are clear. First, when it comes to the human body and corresponding pharmaceutical assistance, they are knowledgable. Second, most have not kept up with the volumes of information about foods influence on our body and chronic illnesses. They don’t understand the role foods can play in preventing, stopping, or reversing the cause of chronic diseases. That’s a big problem given the fact that poor diet has surpassed smoking as the leading cause of death and disability. In the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 94% of doctors feel nutrition counseling should be a part of primary care visits. Only 14 percent feel they can adequately discuss it. (PubMed)
People say bad genes determine future chronic issues. “Everyone in my family has arthritis.” Or. “It’s not surprising she has heart disease, both her parents died of it before 60.” That’s the old way of thinking. The good news is that some doctors are starting to talk about eating whole food to heal the body. This month, John (not his real name) learned he had significantly clogged arteries. Because of other physical challenges, surgery wasn’t an option. His doctor recommended a change in his diet to a no-oil vegan — quite a leap from butter.
In 2014, according to Open Payments data, Humira (manufacturer AbbVie) spent $119 million advertising their most profitable drug for arthritis pain relief. Manufacturers oppose any effort to take our focus from fixes for symptoms with drugs to curing underlining issues. For example, there are no studies to compare Humira to broccoli. Who would pay for such a study?
In 2011, Denmark introduced the world’s first tax on saturated fat. It lasted 15 months before it was abolished primarily because of pressures from invested corporations. (PubMed) A popular approach of food-related corporate entities is to shift the focus from health to consumer rights. As in, don’t let the [‘nanny’] state tell you what you can eat. Keep eating the food that is slowly killing you, then trust pharmaceutical companies to offer drug solutions to prolong your life. It took hundreds of millions of dollars to make Humira, a drug for arthritis, a household name. (Statistics) Most of us have never heard of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine or read their information for how to reduce arthritis pain with a plant-based diet? (Check our their podcast, The Exam Room.)
I set out to learn about the science of nutrition and later write about it because of my health challenges, chronic inflammation being one of them. Slowly, I began making dietary changes — two steps north and one or two and sometimes three steps south. The hardest part was learning I’d fed my children a mediocre diet at best, and the worst was I’d possibly added to their future health struggles.
I began to notice positive changes that motivated me to stay with the dietary changes. As long as I can remember, childhood and on, I experienced constant phlegm or postnasal drip. Then one day, it had disappeared. I’d made so many changes it was hard to figure out which food caused it. In time, there was no question. Couple of slices of cheese and my throat filled with mucus. I loved yogurt and cheese. These were my go-to for a snack. So again and again, I would think, heck, one yogurt is fine, or a few slices of cheese on toast is ok. It wasn’t, and after years of semi-denial, I quit dairy for good. The phlegm has not returned. This is only one example. There were knee pains. Stiffness when getting out of bed or off a chair. Osteoporosis. Elevated inflammation markers. Headaches. High blood pressure and high cholesterol.
When the smell of a steak on a barbecue wafts my way, I concentrate on the gains I’ve made. But the idea that our ancestors ate meat, a calorie dense food, isn’t hard to swallow. Think how many berries you’d have to pick to equal a T-bone steak. Our human ancestors saw birds swoop down from above and grab a squirrel appetizer. But chasing a buffalo or a skittish buck couldn’t have been easy which begs the question as to how much meat they got their teeth into. But loads of calories and time off from the endless picking was quite a reward. Before long, they learned that pounding the meat cut down on chewing times. Then rubbing sticks or rocks together and voila! A roasted leg of lamb.
Switching to a whole food diet calls for a host of changes. Ideally, we should eat (3) servings of beans, (1) berries, (1) of another kind of fruit, (1) cruciferous vegetables, (2) greens, (1) other vegetables, (1) flaxseeds, (1) nuts, (1) spices, (3) whole grains, (5) beverages, and Vitamin B12 and D. (From Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen app) Eating whole food mostly from plants, nuts, beans, and whole wheat means eating a lot of food. When a Big A Salad (it’s what Tim calls it) is the evening meal, it means sitting at the dinner table chewing for a good forty minutes. Tim eats salads faster than I. He suggests when we have a Big A Salad that I get a head start. Sit alone at the dinner table, chewing and chewing. That’s so not funny. Feeling full at the end of a meal rarely happens for me on a whole food diet. Hunger sensations at nights I can do without. My friend, Hannah, who has been slim all her life, calls them “fake hunger.” If it was real hunger, I didn’t have enough calories (nutrition), I would eat.
Dr. Greger, perhaps the world leader in nutrition science inquiry, writes:
The true tragedy is all the lost opportunities to address the root causes of chronic disease. Our modern medical system is great at fixing broken bones and curing infections, but it fails woefully at preventing and reversing the most common causes of death. Until the system changes, we have to take personal responsibility for our own health and our family’s. We can’t wait until society catches up to the science, because of is’t a matter of life and death. (How Not To Die cookbook)