Part 1: You Need Protein
Throughout the first 25 years of my life as an athlete, personal trainer, and image-obsessed guy, I was certain of one thing: the more protein the better. Why was I so sure of this? Because every trainer, coach, nutritionist, health expert, strength and conditioning website, body building magazine, and food company said so.
Some popular notions I subscribed to were: You need 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Have "high quality" protein first thing in the morning and before you go to bed for maximum muscle growth and recovery. Consume at least 24 grams of protein within 90 minutes after your workout. If you eat a high protein diet and you restrict carbs, your body will be forced to burn body fat for fuel, resulting in lean muscle mass.
So how did I go about getting protein? I ate the most common "high protein" foods: animal products. Eggs for breakfast, turkey sandwich or chicken salads for lunch, steak for dinner, high-protein power bars for snacks, and whey protein shakes after workouts. I never once questioned this notion, as a high-protein diet was so normal and so accepted in the fitness industry and in everyday health culture. To the average person, I was a total health freak. Yet, beneath the surface, I was battling all kinds of health issues.
It wasn't until my arthritis, skin, energy level, allergies, and overall confidence got so bad that, out of desperation, I put my high protein obsession aside and started experimenting with a whole food plant-based diet. I knew more greens, vegetables, and fruits would help my overall health, but where the hell would I get my protein?
Over the next six months of a whole food plant-based diet, every single health issue that I battled since being a child simply went away. Fat peeled off my body, my energy skyrocketed, my sleep improved, and yes... I got stronger! My body's ability to recover and put on lean muscle mass was mind blowing. What occurred was in complete contrast of everything I had ever been told.
I have now strictly followed a fully plant-based diet for 3 years. For the past 2 years, I've used no protein supplements of any kind and I'm stronger and feel better than I ever knew was possible. Whatever amount of protein I truly need, I seem to be getting it. I now realize how misinformed we all are about protein. Not only do we not need these vast amounts of it, but our immense appetite for it is a leading driver of obesity and disease.
In 2015, the World Health Organization declared processed meats a Class 1 Carcinogen and red meats (organic, grass fed, etc. included) as a likely carcinogen (Source), warning the public that we know without a doubt that meats promote the growth of cancers in the body. What are some other Class 1 Carcinogens? Cigarettes, asbestos, and tar, to name a few. Furthermore, all animal protein from various sources (chicken, fish, eggs, milk, etc.) has been shown to raise cancer growth hormone IGF1 in the body (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3).
Did you know that only 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are caused by genetics (Source)? That means that over 90% of the millions of deaths each year caused by cancers are not a result of a bad genetic draw, but rather a result of ones diet and lifestyle. It is now becoming overwhelmingly evident that those who consume diets high in animal protein are much more likely to die of not only cancer but also of heart disease, diabetes, and many of the other top killers in the world today (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, Source 6).
So how did we get here? Why does 99% of the world population still think that "high protein" diets are the best way to stay lean and healthy? It's a notion that is so ingrained in our minds and in our culture, and despite the mountain of evidence linking high animal protein diets to disease and premature death, we continue to look the other way. It's just so normal and accepted that it couldn't possibly be bad for us, right?
We are so blinded by the belief that protein is good, that we don't stop and look at food as a whole. When we eat chicken, all we think is "30 grams of lean protein." When we eat a steak, all we think is "high protein, low carb" and we're doing the body good. But, what about the food as a whole? Forget about the protein content, is chicken as a whole good for us? Is steak as a whole good for us? What about the saturated fat, the cholesterol, the hormones, the fecal matter? What about the fact that all animal protein is associated with more disease and shorter lifespans?
If the words "protein," "fat," "carbs," and "sugar" were abolished from our vocabulary, the world would be a much healthier place. Instead of looking at food as a "protein" or a "carb," perhaps we could instead look at foods as a whole and ask ourselves simply,
"Is this food health promoting or not?"
The fact of the matter is, the average American consumes twice the daily recommended amount of protein. No one is dying of a protein deficiency, yet hundreds of thousands are dying yearly of an excess of protein. Have you ever heard of the term kwashiorkor? Of course you haven't. It's the medical term for a protein deficiency. There is not one person in a US hospital right now for that reason and it causes 0 deaths per year.
So why do we continue to look at protein as the holy grail? Why do we continue to put such an emphasis on the consumption of it? You simply do not need all this protein and high amounts of it are associated with obesity and disease... not lean body mass and health.
In conclusion, I encourage you all to stop, take a step back, and look at your food as a whole. Eat the foods that are associated with less disease and longer lifespans (plant foods (Source, Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, Source 6, Source 7, Source 8)... I'm not citing anymore, you get the point) not the "high protein" ones, the "low carb" ones, the "low sugar" ones, or the "low fat" ones... just eat the healthy ones.
If cigarettes had 30 grams of protein per stick, would we all be smoking them?