I want to start this post by clarifying what I mean with animal protein, any kind of animal meat (red, white or seafood) or products derived from animals like dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk) and eggs. Since we are kids, we are told that we need protein and that we get the protein by eating meat, and somehow the more meat we eat, the better. Have you ever stopped and wonder if this is really true?
Most of us don’t even know how much protein we need a day, or other protein sources besides animal produce. We get bombarded by marketing from the meat and dairy industries, and it works because we are conditioned to eat these products since we are born. I mean a lot of us love to eat things like cheese or bacon, they taste soo good, right? If you want to know why they taste so good to us, you can read my blog about this subject Why do unhealthy foods taste so good? . Here comes a harsh truth: turns out, we don’t even need to eat animal protein. The only thing our body needs that is not in plant based foods is vitamin B12, it used to be found in nature but because of all the chemicals and pesticides we use it can’t be found in nature anymore. We are eating animal protein daily and in excessive amounts causing us to get ill with diseases like diabetes or cancer just to name a couple of them. Not to mention we are destroying the environment while accepting all the cruelty these animals go thtough just to satisfy our craving. We don’t get bombarded with this information because there is a lot of money in the processed-food, meat, poultry, egg and dairy industries, so the more meat we eat, the more money they get. Documentaries like Fed Up, Forks Over Knives, Food Choices, and What the Health? explain this relationship in more detail in case you would like to know more (all available on Netflix:).
If we take the Dietary Guidelines from the USA 2015-2020, we see that they recommend 5.5 ounces (156 grams) of protein per day.
They also recommend 3.7 ounces (105.2 grams) per day of specifically meats, poultry, and eggs based on a 2000 daily calorie diet (105gr beef = 56 grams of animal protein). They do this while admitting in the same guidelines, that there is a link between meat consumption and cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer.
They also recommend adults to eat up to 3 cups of dairy per day (3 cups of skimmed milk 245 grams = 96 grams of animal protein) and 1.1 ounces of seafood per day or 32 grams per day (32 grams of Atlantic cooked salmon = 7 grams of animal protein).
This recommendations would come to 56+96+7= 159 grams of animal protein which exceeds their recommendation per day of protein intake. They recommend 5.5 ounces (156 grams) of protein per day for the 2000 calorie level diet. In other words, they want us to eat all the proteins from animal products. Though they included in these guidelines for the first time, that the protein group is also comprised of legumes, nuts and seeds and not just meats.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctor McDougall tell us that we need 5% on average of our daily calories to come from protein or 0.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Doctor Campbell thinks we should aim at 8%-10% as half of the population needs more than 5%.
Let’s compare the 2 recommendations for a woman weighing 60kg (132lbs), the US government says she should eat 156 grams of (animal) protein per day while the Doctor Campbell says maximum 72 (plant based) grams of protein per day. That is less than half the amount of protein, but the problem is not only in the amount we consume, but also in the source of that protein.
When it comes to this information I choose to believe the doctors who are not economically tied to any (food) industry and base their advice on independent scientific peer-reviewed studies. These studies are good quality research. And they are telling us that an excess of protein has been linked to an increase of chronic disease rates especially when eating animal protein.
Animal proteins (especially hard cheese, red meat, poultry; yup even turkey specially the processed kind, seafood, and eggs) contain a high amount of amino acids abundant in sulfur, not to mention the excess of cholesterol and lack of fiber, but that’s for another post. This amino acid breaks down into very powerful sulfuric acids. I’m going to get a bit specific here because it is important so that we can understand better. We find this sulfur as two of the primary amino acids, methionine and cysteine. Derived from these two, are other sulfur-containing amino acids namely, keto-methionine, homocysteine, cystathionine, taurine and, cysteic acid. Although we need these sulfur acids to survive, an excess in the amount we consume, can deteriorate our health in many ways. Here are some examples.
Osteoporosis and kidney stones
Our bodies are not able to store the excess protein we consume so it has to be broken down. This is done mainly by our liver, who gets help from our kidneys and muscles, leading to an accumulation of toxic protein byproducts.
Since we are kids we are told that if we drink milk we are going to have strong bones because our bones need calcium and we get the calcium from drinking cow’s milk, right? Wrong! The countries consuming more dairy are the countries with higher osteoporosis (weak bones) rates, among other conditions. So how is this possible? Well, proteins are acidic by nature, they are made of amino acids. To neutralize the effect of these acids, our bones release buffering materials, these buffering bone materials settle in the kidney system resulting in what we know as kidney stones. And your bones get depleted from calcium, which is quite the opposite of what they’re selling us.
Cardiovascular and mental diseases
The more meat in our diet the higher level of the amino acid homocysteine we have in our blood. When we metabolize the amino acid methionine, it becomes homocysteine and animal foods are the main source of homocysteine in humans. Several scientific studies have proven that homocysteine significantly contributes to cardiovascular and mental diseases.
- Heart attacks
- Closure of the arteries of the legs (peripheral vascular disease)
- Blood clots in the legs (venous thrombosis)
- Thinking problems (cognitive impairment)
- Alzheimer’s disease
Let’s look at my favourite example of this. When the Nazis went into Norway during WWII and took all the livestock to feed their soldiers, the people of Norway were forced to feed themselves mainly with plant-based foods. The result from this was a dramatic drop in the number of deaths caused by circulatory diseases. As you can see in the graph below, when the war ended and the livestock was back, the mortality from circulatory diseases shoot back upwards.
Source: Strom A, Jensen RA. Mortality from Circulatory Diseases in Norway 1940-1945. The Lancet. 1951; 1(3): 126-129.
The methionine in sulfur feeds cancerous tumors. Our healthy cells can live without us eating methionine, but cancer cells are another story. The metabolism of cancer cells depends on methionine being in our diet, they feed from it. This has been demonstrated for the following types of cancers:
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Colon cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Brain cancer
Additionally, IGF-1 is insulin-like growth factor-1, a hormone naturally produced by our bodies to help us grow during childhood which decreases as we go into adulthood. If we have too much of this hormone as adults, it can promote abnormal growth, spread and invasion of cancer. Evidence has been found that meat and dairy products raise our IGF-1 levels through methionine promoting the growth of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancers.
Last but not least, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, declared processed meat as a probable carcinogen in 2015. Processed meat includes ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. The conclusions of reviewing around 800 studies by experts from 10 countries were that eating 50 grams (4 bacon strips or 1 hot dog) of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. There was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer associated to red meat consumption.
Inflammatory bowel diseases
Ulcerative colitis is an Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can potentially be life threatening. This disease can be the result of consuming too many animal foods, hence a diet high in methionine. Even a small amount of sulfur in sulfur-containing amino acids is toxic to the tissues of our intestine causing damage to the colon.
There are two types of diabetes. Type-1 diabetes happens when the cells in the pancreas producing insulin are destroyed and it cannot be cured. However, patients might benefit from eating a plant based diet. Type-2 diabetes is caused by the Western diet, and according to Dr. McDougall, medication is NOT required and can be cured by eating a plant-based diet and doing exercise.
Contrary to what we thought, type-2 diabetes is not caused by an excess of sugar. Studies have found a link between type-2 diabetes and meat consumption, especially processed meat and particularly poultry because of the high saturated fat content which prevents your cells from using insulin. High risk foods include eggs and fish. Eating one egg a week can almost double your odds of getting diabetes. Fish, especially salmon are one of the main sources of PCB’s (Polychlorinated biphenyls) and other industrial toxins that may play a role in the development of metabolic diseases like diabetes. PCB’s are considered carcinogens, and might also affect male sperm count and may be the cause for early onset puberty.
Another consequence of the sulfur in the meat you do much like, specially in methionine-rich animal protein can be stinky smells like halitosis (bad breath), body odor and farts smelling similar to rotten eggs.
On the opposite side, we have fruits and vegetables which are highly alkaline, preserving healthy bones and preventing kidney stones, and yes there is plenty of protein in these plant based foods as well. Avoiding sulfur in our diet increases our lifespan, in experimental animals it has been shown that ingesting little or no methionine coming from food makes them live longer. This goes in line with the fact that a plant based diet, which is essentially low in calories and methionine, is the best and most easy way to a prolonged and healthy life.
Below you can see an adorable poster created by Simple Happy Kitchen where they show us the plant-based sources of protein:
Now I don’t expect you to never eat animal protein ever again (but I can dream right?). Not even I can do this 100% all the time, but i do try to stick to 95%. Sometimes, I admit, a veggie pizza might find its way into my stomach somehow. There are some amazing people out there who are 100% and I feel an incredible amount of respect and admiration for them. But, reality is that eating a plant-based diet takes a while to learn and to bring to practice because it is a lifestyle change. It can be harder when nobody around you eats the same way or supports your views, but hey we got the internet now! Why do you think I started this blog?
Our body is amazing and we can reverse the damage done to it by years of eating garbage. Most people start seeing changes in a matter of days of eating a plant-based diet. I can tell you my parents got off of blood pressure and cholesterol pills by eating and keep eating this way. Personally, I have lost over 10kg and most significantly to me is that I reduced my allergic reaction to pollen tremendously. During the last years my hay fever had been getting worse and worse, I was getting asthma attacks and even had to use an inhaler (I also believe that stress and emotional traumas can play an important factor in developing allergies, but that’s just my opinion from what I’ve experienced). Some studies have found a link with respiratory diseases and eating dairy.
If a little part of you wants to make a change but finds it difficult, I’d say start little by little. Skip the beef and go for the chicken one day, skip the chicken go for the vegetarian option another day. Or simply reduce the amount of animal protein you are consuming. It was found in mice that more than 5% of animal protein in their diet stimulated and accelerated tumor growth, so maybe just reduce the amount of meat in your plate. You can also start by just changing your breakfast into plant-based, and then lunch, and then hopefully dinner. If you want an idea of what a plant-based diet is or what to eat, I would recommend you to download the app: Daily Dozen. It offers a super easy way to know and keep track of what you need to eat and actually eat every day. It was created by Dr. Michael Greger, he also wrote the book How Not to Die. A great read if you want to know more about the relationship between diet and diseases. Another book the helped me get started was the Forks Over Knives cookbook.
There’s something that I feel I need to say, and you are probably not gonna like this but, it has been admitted by health organizations that eating processed meat is as cancerogenous as smoking tobacco, I can’t help but wonder: Would you give your kids a cigarette? Then why is it ok to give them a hamburger, or a hot dog?
If all this info I just threw at you did not convince you to make a change, maybe what convinced me will help you change your mind. The consequences our diet has on our planet and the innocent and amazing animals living in it, this will be the focus of my next informative post, so stayed tuned!