Its 2016, and the age old question that every vegetarian or vegan encounters is not going away: “Where do you get your protein from?” This question is coupled with ads that inundate us to lose weight with a high protein-low carb diet.
Dr. Garth Davis among other plant-based doctors in Rethink Food speaks out against this cultural and societal obsession. In our constant quest to think and be thin we have learned to idolize protein and demonize carbohydrates. But why?
This story dates back to the 1970s. President Nixon was attuned to the fact that as a population we were getting more overweight and heart disease was on the rise. He organized a commission together to discuss three questions: Why are we getting sick? Why are we getting fatter? Why are heart disease rates increasing? After reviewing the literature, the McGovern Committee came to the conclusion that eating animals is bad for our health. When they came out with this conclusion the industry lobbied Congress, voted McGovern out of office and food libel laws were passed that you cannot really say that certain foods are bad for health. For instance, you can say eat a low-fat diet but you cannot say a low-meat diet, even though they are synonymous.
As a society we stopped talking about food, and started talking about nutrition in terms of macronutrients. This led to our obsession with proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The common thought is we need a high intake of protein, and a low intake of carbs.
And yet eating more animal protein has only increased our waistlines. When we drink dairy-based protein shakes, eat chicken breasts, and steaks, we are consuming excess calories and excess protein. Want to know a secret nobody knows? Our body can only process about 15g to 30g of protein at a time. When people digest anything over that such as taking 40g protein shakes, it becomes straight calories because your body cannot utilize that protein. Extra calories turn into fat. Our high protein diet is adding to calorie excess leading to weight gain!
If more protein intake was helpful in preventing obesity, our obesity rates would be amongst the world’s lowest. However, our body is actually designed to thrive on carbohydrates, not protein. Our body needs carbohydrates for energy and when there are no carbs our body panics. The common misunderstanding is that carbohydrates and insulin are the problem. The prevailing thought is that carbs cause an insulin rise and insulin creates fat. The truth is meat causes insulin to rise. Even if it was just insulin contributing to the problem, eating meat would still be a culprit. What is shameful about the current protein obsession, often promoted by poorly educated health enthusiasts, is that excess protein is likely very harmful. For instance, higher protein intake increases the rate of thyroid cancer, and animal protein in particular is associated with higher rates of type 2 diabetes, as well as with increased all-cause mortality when paired with a low carb dietary pattern.
The connection between obesity and the consumption of animal products is illustrated in the health crisis epidemic occurring in Japan. Since the1950s, when the Japanese changed their diet, meat consumption rose ten-fold, egg consumption nearly nine-fold and dairy consumption nearly -twenty fold, all at the expense of carbohydrate (rice and grain) consumption. As the Japanese gradually incorporated typical Western diets, even while keeping caloric intake consistent, the rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, bowel, and breast cancer increased dramatically.
The healthiest people in the world eat categorically different to this message of “more protein, less carbs.” For instance the Okinawas live longer than anyone else in the world and have the least weight issues and zero cases of heart disease. The majority of the Okinawas diet is carbs. They eat about 80% carbs and it mainly comes from potatoes. Only about 8% of their calories come from protein.
As Dr. Rachel Whitaker in Rethink Food notes, “We have also failed to realize the amount of protein that comes from foods like spinach, kale and other green leafy vegetables are more than adequate.After all, where do the animals get their protein?”
Thus the answer to healthy weight loss is not to reduce carbohydrates, but to replace refined or bad carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, biscuits, and desserts with unrefined complex carbohydrate such as brown rice, whole-grain bread, oats, barley, steamed potatoes, and quinoa.e need to turn back to focusing on healthy, whole foods that our body is designed to thrive on. We need the fiber from plants (which animal products do NOT contain), the vitamins and minerals and yes, carbohydrates.The myth we need to face head on is protein is not the wonder nutrient that we make it out to be and carbohydrates are not the enemy.