Our bodies – muscles, tissues, bones and organs are composed of proteins which are synthesised by the body and are unique to every human being. We need animal or plant protein in our food for growth and to maintain body tissues. Protein also plays many other vital roles in the human body and it can be used as an energy source.
Protein that we consume with our food has to be broken down into building blocks called amino acids. These building blocks will be used by our body to synthesise our own unique proteins.
How protein is digested.
Digestion of protein starts in the stomach where complex chains of amino acids are broken down by the digestive gastric enzymes. After the initial digestion in the stomach smaller proteins move into the small intestine where pancreatic enzymes continue the breakdown of proteins into free amino acids. When these amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream they can be recombined by the body to form specialised proteins – e.g. muscle proteins, hormones, antibodies.
Anything that is produced from meat, fish, seafood, milk and eggs is a source of concentrated animal proteins.
Animal proteins are made out of incredibly complex chains or blocks of amino acids. Animal-based sources of protein provide us what is called “complete proteins” which resemble human proteins and contain all amino acids which cannot be produced by the body.
Before our bodies can use animal protein to synthesise our own unique proteins it has to be broken down into basic building blocks – amino acids.
Why do we need animal protein?
The most important reason why we need to eat meat is because it contains 8 essential amino acids, fats and other micro nutrients which cannot be synthesised in sufficient quantities by the human body.
Vitamin B12 Meat and fish is a source of B vitamins and the only source of vitamin B12.
Omega 3 fats. This essential nutrient is found in fatty fish.
Iron. Meat is a good source of heme-iron which is more easily absorbed by the human body then non-heme iron found in plant based foods.
Zinc is found in both animal and plant based foods. Red meat, especially lamb is a very good source of zinc which is easily absorbed by the body.
These nutrients – omega3 fats, iron, and zinc are also found in plant based foods but to get enough of them we need to eat a wide variety of these foods – beans, seeds, wheat, tofu, green vegetables.
People who are used to getting these nutrients from animal sources usually need a transition period to allow their digestive systems adjust to the new foods and to learn how to extract these nutrients from plant foods.
What’s wrong with animal protein and how much meat should we eat?
Animal proteins come in a ‘package’ with saturated fat, cholesterol, uric acid, as well as sodium, preservatives, growth hormones and antibiotics fed to livestock.
Digesting animal proteins has its own problems – it is a very slow process which requires a lot of energy. Because of the length of time required for digestion consuming large quantities of animal protein may lead to purification of the semi-digested meat in the gut and constipation.
Excessive consumption of meat and other animal products is linked to many diseases – e.g. gout, various cancers, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
High animal protein diet can be very hard on the kidneys especially if your kidneys are already working hard to remove by-products of alcohol, medications or excess nutrients from the blood. 1
Another problem with animal protein is that a lot of people get it from processed meat. This is an incredibly unhealthy source of animal protein. Modern food industry zero waste production methods mean that nothing is wasted. Inedible parts of the animal carcass are bulked up with fat and mixed with all kinds of additives, emulsifiers, preservatives, and flavour enhancers to make into sausages, salami, pate and other processed meat products.
Ideally you should eat no more than 150g (6 oz) of wild caught fish or organic free range chicken twice a week. For most people that will be enough animal protein to cover all the requirements of the body in essential amino acids and vitamins.
What meat to avoid: Any processed meat – sausages, bacon, burghers, salami, ham and pâtés, any smoked meat or fish, farmed chicken and fish.
What meat is OK to eat: wild caught fish or free range organic chicken. If you want to eat red meat it should be small amounts once a week ofgrass-fed meat or venison.
There are several reasons why it is better to limit or completely eliminate dairy products from your diet.
The first reason is that our capacity to digest milk and dairy products decreases with age. As we reach maturity the milk-digesting enzyme lactase gradually disappears from our digestive system. Consumption of dairy products without the ability to digest them leads to many digestive problems.
Undigested lactose, which is a form of sugar found in milk, is perfect for breeding bad bacteria in the small intestine and the colon. The fermentation process results in production of gases that cause flatulence, bloating and abdominal pain.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include flatulence, bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. A huge number of people suffer from diagnosed or undiagnosed lactose intolerance.
Raw milk contains some natural enzymes which help to digest it but the process of pasteurisation destroys them and alters its delicate proteins. Without these natural enzymes (lactase and lipase) it is very difficult or even impossible for adults to digest milk properly.
The second reason is that producing cows are fed commercial feeds, antibiotics and growth hormones which do not contribute to the quality of the milk. These cows are bread to produce three times more milk than a normal cow would produce and they often do not seen any grass their entire lives.
The third reason is that all milk is pasteurised. This process involves rapidly heating chilled milk to about 72 C (165 F) for a short period of time.
The heat from pasteurization kills valuable nutrients, the healthy microorganisms, diminishes vitamin content, enzymes are destroyed to make milk safe to drink and to extern the shelf life.
Cheese consists of a large amount of unhealthy saturated fat, protein and salt. It is also incredibly tasty and highly addictive.
Why cheese is addictive
With every piece of cheese you get your fix of opiate releasing protein called casein.
Cow’s milk contains large quantities of casein. Cheese production process uses large quantities of milk to make a rather small amount of cheese where this opiate releasing protein is concentrated.
After you’ve eaten a piece of cheese casein releases opiates inducing calmness and pleasure. The effects are not very strong, but casein-derived morphine-like compound will keep you coming back for more.
If you like cheese choose varieties made from the milk of grass-fed animals. This cheese is very rich in nutrients and also contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K-2.
There are three reasons why plan protein is always more preferable than animal protein.
1. Protein from plant sources comes in a nice healthy ‘package’ with complex carbohydrates and fats, vitamins and minerals.
2. Dietary fibre is another reason why protein from plant sources are so important for well-functioning gut and healthy body. To stay healthy the digestive tack requires foods with fibre to stimulate the muscular activity of bowel wall to keep the food moving through the small intestine and to propel wastes through the alimentary canal.
3. With plant proteins you also get diverse beneficial bacteria which play an essential role in maintaining a healthy gut environment, or microbiome.
Protein found in buckwheat, quinoa, and soy is considered to be complete. Complete protein contains all nine of essential amino acids in equal amounts. Tofu, tempeh, or edamame beans are great sources of complete plant based protein.
Most plant proteins are not complete – they are missing some of the essential amino acids. However, we do not need the complete amino-acid profile every time we eat. It is enough to have a sufficient amount of each amino acid every other day. If you eat beans and rice, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seed you will have the right balance of amino acids in your diet.
Fresh fruits and vegetables do not contain a lot of protein as such; they provide us with the very building blocks – free-floating and ready to use amino acids. These easy to absorb amino acids are used by the body to construct our own unique proteins without the need to break down complex proteins.
A healthy diet which includes a balanced combination of grains, beans, legume with nuts and seeds will cover all the needs for the essential amino acids.