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Protein and our health

By David Coory

I thought we’d take a closer look at proteins. Apart from water, our bodies are mostly made of proteins, which form the cells of our skin, muscles, eyes, brain, hair, nails and more, even half our bone material.

We’re made up of about 250,000 different proteins. Each one is uniquely formed from some of the 21 amino acids, or protein ‘building blocks’ and stored in our liver.

Where do the amino acids come from?

Eggs, dairy, fish, meat and bone broth contain all 21 of these amino acids, but most plant protein foods like grains and beans have a few missing. When we eat protein food our stomach acid breaks the protein down into 21 amino acids and stores them in our liver.

Our liver can make 12 amino acids, but the other nine need to come from our diet.

These proteins are then carried by our blood to the cells where they are needed.

12 Amino Acids our liver makes naturally
Glutamic acid
Aspartic Acid

9 Amino Acids that need to come from our diet


What about too little protein?

If we have too little protein (less than 10% of our daily calories) it will normally cause lack of growth and development in children, muscle wasting in adults (especially the elderly) and dull hair that falls out easily.

However, in the last NZ nutrition survey, it was found that our average protein intake was quite a bit higher than our minimum needs.

Is too much protein a health risk?

Some dieticians have long thought that too much protein is harmful. However, a 32-year Harvard study of 130,000 men and women, plus a 20-year Nurses and Health Professionals study of 120,000 men and women put this fear to rest.

They found that excess protein in the subject’s diet didn’t appear to affect their health or death rates. This is because our body converts excess protein into glucose and burns it off as energy or stores it as fat.

Although excess protein didn’t appear to be a health risk, the source of their protein was.

Some risky protein sources

It was found, in these studies, some protein sources had a harmful effect on the subject’s health and death rates.

The most damaging protein source was in processed red meats and to a lesser extent, non-processed red meat from grain-fed animals.

The researchers found that for every extra daily serving of processed red meat there was an average 20% increase in their risk of heart disease or stroke and a 13% increase from unprocessed, grain-fed red meat.

Unexpectedly, their main health risk was not high blood pressure or cholesterol, but high blood fat (triglycerides).

There was no harmful effect on health when their protein sources were from eggs, chicken, fish, or plant proteins like grains, beans and nuts. In fact, it appeared that eating a high-protein diet from plant sources was favourable for cardio¬vascular health.

30% lower risk of heart attack and stroke from plant protein

Another 20-year study of 80,000 women, found that women who ate a low-carb diet, high in plant protein and good fats, had a 30% lower risk of heart attack and stroke. (This was compared to women who ate a high-carb, low-fat diet.)

Grass-fed red meat healthy

The risks reported overseas from eating red meat are due to most of their animals being grain-fed. This is because meat from grain-fed animals lack vitamin A, omega 3 and the healthy CLA Omega 6 found in grass-fed animals.

High quality amino acids can also be extracted from the bones of grass-fed cows. I drink our Bone Broth Protein Powder which is made from NZ grass-fed cows.

Warning on all processed meats

All processed red meat appears to be risky, this is because of added chemical preservatives.

The World Health Organization recently issued a clear warning that processed meat is "carcinogenic to humans", particularly with colon, stomach, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Lower Type 2 Diabetes 26% by avoiding processed red meat

A 2011 study found that by substituting a serving of processed red meat with a serving of nuts,eggs,dairy or whole grain each day resulted in an estimated 26% lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

On the other hand, by continuing to eat a serving each day of processed red meat, the risk rose 32%.